Two years after a pandemic that put the spirits market on hold, Ian Matthews, head of Proof Strength returns to promote his latest baby, Ron Colon (Salvadoran) rum with the desire to “shake up established codes!”
What a pleasure to see Ron Colon land in France! With its bottle shape inspired by the wine world to attract attention, a label with a modern design paying tribute to El Salvador, blends that arouse curiosity (rum/coffee, rum/rye), and a desire to offer depth in the tasting for bartenders always in search of new flavors.
Ian Matthews chose to receive us in the hushed setting of the Royal Monceaux (8th arrondissement), just as spring is settling in the capital and the terraces are filling up.
And he did not come empty-handed. With him, the entire Ron Colón range that he is proud to present to us. The sommelier, who is curious to see the scene, hastens to bring us five glasses adapted for tasting. The serious stuff can begin.
A life of a globe trotter
But let’s start at the beginning, that is to say, with the astonishing journey of Ian Matthews, an inveterate Globe Trotter, who travels the planet according to his professional experiences. “I started in a French bistro in Amsterdam that had 1 spoon (the equivalent of a Michelin star) as a dishwasher.
Little by little, I ended up in the kitchen! I discovered what teamwork was all about to achieve a common goal. With a commercial streak in his blood, Ian began selling snowboards in ski resorts. Barman by night, vrp by day, the network starts to grow. We are in the early 2000’s and the sales of the Austrian company Red Bull are exploding in Europe. Ian was recruited by the brand to develop the African market.
He stayed for eight years. “I understood with Red Bull what the public expected from a brand, the desire to be constantly stimulated. During my African experience, I did everything I could to make sure I was never bored.
Based in Tanzania, he blossomed, met his future wife and created a nightclub “Club Sweet” (closed today), where the big names of the Dutch electro scene flocked. His role was to canvass bars, restaurants and other nightclubs, train the teams and build marketing campaigns to seduce the public. The African page is turned without regrets, to open on another adventure.
Daring blended rums
Today at the head of Proof Strength, which distributes premium spirits in nearly 90 countries, from the Netherlands to Romania and Tanzania, Ian has a global vision of what bartenders expect. And he wants to conquer the global cocktail scene with bold blends of spirits.
He admits: “The strength of our brand is that each of the partners has a solid background in the restaurant business. We know the expectations of bartenders and customers. Offering a rum made up with added sugar was not even an option,” insists Ian, who stands at a height of 6 ft 3 in.
Among the rums brought by Ian Matthews, the first of the series is intriguing. The eye is drawn to the neat graphics of the label. The colón, El Salvador’s emblematic motto (until 2001) paying homage to the famous conquistador Christopher Columbus, brings personality to this bottle.
With a smile on his face, Ian begins his story, “In 2018, Pepijn Janssens and Thurman Wise, colleagues and first and foremost friends, decided to travel to South America to find the perfect place to make a rum for bartenders/aids. El Salvador, a country known mainly for its coffee (more than 80% of which is exported) caught their attention.
My partners and I wanted to create a product that would be the ideal partner for the modern bartender,” insists Ian Matthew. Our Ron Colón Dark Aged 55.5° is a complex blend of three rums aged at the source with no added sugar. The first, aged six years and distilled in column stills at El Salvador’s only distillery (which also produces Cihuatán).
The second, a three year old Jamaican rum, distilled in a Charentais still and the last, an unaged rum distilled on the famous Caribbean island. Once made, with the angels’ share being 8% in El Salvador, the rums are repatriated and bottled in the Netherlands.” The rum is then infused for 48 hours at room temperature with a bourbon coffee planted at an altitude of 1700 meters, in the heart of a volcanic region, produced by the Trigueros family.
The result is astonishing, the delicate chocolate notes brought by the coffee mingle with the subtle banana aromas coming from the rum. Knowing that this rum also exists in a version with a lesser degree: Ron Colon Coffee Infused 40,5°… and in a non-infused version: Ron Colon – High Proof Aged Rum. Another UFO completes the range: a 50/50 Rumrye, composed of a six-year old El Salvador rum and a four-year old whiskey. The result is disconcerting: the roasted notes brought by the aging in oak barrels take over the rum.
And soon, a RhumZcal!
Now the question arises, will the Parisian cocktail scene be receptive to these hybrid products? For Ian Matthews, there is no doubt: “We have arrived in 2020, the pandemic has slowed our momentum but not our thirst for conquest!
With Ron Colón, we have already reached 72 countries. Thanks to the positive feedback from the rum fest (April 2-4, 2022) we hope to increase our distribution.” The next launch, scheduled for September, a RhumZcal (a 66% rum blended with a 33% Mezcal), is likely to be a sensation among fans of the famous Mexican brandy!