Back to the genesis and the secrets of the Colombian rums finished in barrels of Coloma coffee liqueur, with its maestro, Alberto Constain.
Distance and covid obliged, it is by videoconference, at noon in Bogotá time and 7pm in the metropolis that we managed to reach Alberto Constain, director of Coloma rums. We were eager to hear about his rums, which are finished in ex-coffee liqueur barrels.
And he would tell us how his family progressed from coffee producer to coffee liqueur producer to rum producer in a country where the state owns the distillation monopoly. Surprised, Alberto answers us in perfect French. “My parents have always been very fond of French culture and they put me in the Lycée Français Louis Pasteur in Bogotá, where I learned your language”, he tells us from the Colombian capital where the brand’s offices are located.
The hacienda, a family property for 150 years, where the rums are produced is located in the village of Fusagasugá, 1h30 away. One should not imagine the hacienda or even the offices surrounded by huge fields of sugarcane. In fact, sugarcane does not grow at these altitudes: 2,600 meters for Bogotá and 1,700 meters for the hacienda.
However, the altitude and temperature of the latter are perfect for growing coffee. So it is with coffee, not rum, that our story begins. Specifically, when Alberto’s grandfather (Alberto Constain Medina) decided in the late 1950s to produce high quality coffee.
From coffee liqueur to rum
And what about rum? The idea actually comes from Alberto’s father, who is also named Alberto, Alberto Constain Cenzano to be precise, a “bon vivant”, who loved good wine, cognac… and rum. “He set out to make the hacienda into a kind of castle, an estate that would produce coffee liqueur. We had coffee but we had to find rum”, his son tells us today.
The problem was that in Colombia, the government had monopoly control over the production of alcohol, especially over distillation. So the Constain family started buying rum from the state-owned company about 30 years ago to age it in the hacienda, because old rum is used in the composition of their coffee liqueur.
The product quickly became a real hit in Colombia. But Alberto senior did not give up, he wanted his rum. However, he had to bite the bullet because the legislation prevented a private company from producing a spirit that was 38 or 40% vol. “This law was finally changed in 2005, but my father died and he never saw our rum, for which we are now better known than for our liquor”, regrets Alberto junior. Since 2005, Coloma has had the right not only to age, but also to bottle and market its rum.
But the family business did not take off right away, and it was because of a mistake, or rather an accident, that Coloma rum was finally born a few years later. “One of our two cellar masters, Sandra Reategui, mistakenly aged some rum in a barrel that had contained coffee liqueur. It gave the rum a taste, it had changed its character,” explains Alberto. Since that incident, we discovered a way to give our rum a very strong identity of its own and we continue vintage after vintage to reproduce this happy mistake.”
The secrets of Coloma’s production
Since then, the identity of Coloma rum is the finishing in ex-coffee liqueur barrels. All the rums spend a few weeks or months in ex-coffee liqueur barrels. For the 8 year old, it will be 3 months, for the 15 year old it will be between 3 and 5 months. And for the Single Cask it will depend on the editions.
Before that, of course, they have been aged in ex-bourbon barrels like most of the traditional Spanish rums. The rum used is a molasses rum that has undergone a slow fermentation, between 10 and 15 days, in order to obtain a greedy, round rum. And yet it is not particularly sweet: 16g/liter for the 8 year old, 14g/liter for the 15 year old and 12 or 13 g/liter for the Single Cask. The distillation itself is done on industrial columns but the rum comes out at a relatively low degree, between 75 and 78% ABV in order to preserve its aromatic properties.
The whole process is done under the close supervision of Coloma’s two cellar masters: Sandra Reategui and Judith Ramirez. In the team, Sandra is in charge of innovation, testing new formulas and the Single Casks. Judith is more in charge of the blends, she manages the minimum aging and aromatic profiles.
“They have been working together for about thirty years. They are very complementary and get along very well, they even finish each other’s sentences,” says Alberto. “I’m very happy to work with them, especially since it’s not common to have female cellar masters in the rum business in Latin America.”
And what about the age of the rums? For the Single Cask, it depends on the year of the vintage. For example in the 2008 it’s a 13 year old. Concerning the 8 years old and the 15 years old, these are averages. In a blend of 15 years for example, some rums exceed 15 years and others are a few months younger, and it is the passage in ex-coffee liqueur barrels, which will harmonize all that. The youngest of the rums in the blend will be 15 years old at the end.
Conquering the French palate
Since 2016, Coloma has had a general supply agreement with the Dugas house. “They have helped us a lot, we are very happy with this partnership,” says Alberto. “In total, our production is 80,000 bottles per year, which is quite small. Our rums are rather suited for export because they are relatively expensive products.”
Colombians would rather drink rums produced by public companies, less expensive, aged for less time, 3 years, 5 years, or with the solera method. In his range, Alberto has a soft spot for the Coloma 15 year. “It is a round and bold rum but with a lot of character,” he says. “It is a little more technical than the 8 years old. Its flavors will go a little longer on roasted coffee.” But at the end of this year, lovers of ‘rons’ (and coffee!) will be able to discover Coloma’s new single cask, vintage 2008. “This one had a shorter finish than usual, as it spent only 30 to 45 days in ex-coffee-liquor barrels,” reveals Alberto. “But these were used less than two months ago, so the coffee notes and the toasted notes are very present.”