Rum with a punch

Rum with a punch

Rum with a punch


Ron Abuelo

A bottle of whisky sitting on a square of smoke, surrounded by the rich aroma of rum and punches.

A happy accident led to the discovery of Three Angels, a premium rum in Ron Abuelo’s range of exceptional spirits

The “Angels’ share” describes the amount of spirit in a cask or barrel that is lost to evaporation. It is usually around 8 per cent in Panama, but at the Varela Hermanos distillery, the Ron Abuelo casks stacked at the highest level were found to be losing as much as 15 per cent. Rather than lament this lost liquid, the brand’s expert distillers discovered that the dramatic changes caused by such a large loss produced a drink that was truly special – a premium rum they promptly and aptly christened Three Angels, adding it to their range of exceptional spirits.

“Basically, it came about by accident,” explains Luis J Varela Jr, the CEO, who is from the third generation of the family-owned company. “When we tried a bottle of Ron Abuelo Two Oaks taken from the highest rack, we were met by an explosion of taste and aromas. The daily changes in temperature and humidity had created something completely different, and we decided on the spot to make it a new product.”

The history of Varela Hermanos dates back to 1908, when Varela’s Spanish grandfather, Don José, established the first sugar mill in the recently formed Republic of Panama, gradually moving into spirits, making rum from molasses and sugar cane juice. After leading the Panamanian market for decades, the company started to expand internationally through Ron Abuelo around 20 years ago.

The brand’s premium range of aged rums includes Centuria, which celebrates over a century of craftmanship, as well as the Finish Collection – rums that are finished in sherry butts (Oloroso), cognac casks (Napoleon) and port pipes (Tawny). The exploration of different finishing woods led to Two Oaks, a 12-year rum that is finished in extra-charred virgin American oak. Three Angels is taken from these casks, drawn exclusively from those stacked at the very top of the warehouse shelves. “The Finish Collection got us into a world of different woods,” says Varela. “We generally use American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, but it has been fascinating to work with wood from different parts of the world, in particular with virgin oak.”

It is this variety of expressions that demonstrates the adaptability of premium rum. “One of the advantages of rum is that it has a versatility that not many other spirits can match,” says Varela. “We can do cocktails, we can do a perfect serve – a drink close to neat but easy to fix, such as rum with orange peel and coffee beans – and we can do rum neat or on the rocks. Gin is good for cocktails, single malt should be neat, on the rocks or with a touch of water. Rum can do everything.”

A man standing in front of wooden barrels full of rum.

Even more variety is planned for the brand thanks to the introduction of new distillation equipment, a pot still – part of an exciting project that also includes increasing production from 100,000 casks by 20 per cent to meet demand. The pot still provides variety in terms of profile and the potential for even more flavours and aromas, as well as special editions.

While the distillation column still provides a very consistent type of rum, “the pot still will allow us to showcase everything we have learned through all our years of distillation experience,” explains Varela. “We will continue learning and experimenting – and will passionately honour our unwavering commitment to push the boundaries of rum-making.”