Sébastien Follope creator of the Naga brand (Thailand, Indonesia)

Meet Sébastien Follope, creator of the Naga brand

Naga Sébastien Follope

What was your background before embarking on the Naga adventure?

I studied at Kedge Bordeaux, then I worked for Bardinet (La Martiniquaise group) in export. I left Bardinet in 2007 to join a start-up, OPOSIT Wine & Spirits, a brand development agency, but the adventure came to an end in 2011. Since then, I’ve been a consultant and importer for rum brands. In particular, I’ve introduced brands like Optimus and Cihuatan to the European markets. But after a while I got the urge to create my own rum brand.

How did you come up with the idea of creating a rum brand in South-East Asia?

I was at Vinexpo Hong Kong in 2009, and I tried a Thai rum in a restaurant. And I said to myself that if one day I created my own brand, it would be an Asian rum. In 2012, I took the plunge and contacted Thailand’s leading alcohol producer and distributor, which controls 99.9% of the local market. Of their 12 distilleries, 4 make rum. I registered my Naga brand in 2013.

Why did you choose the name ‘Naga’?

It’s difficult to find brand names internationally, as many have already been registered. Naga is the name of a mythical animal from Hinduism that is found in several Asian religions and that is the protector of nature and associated with water. What’s more, it’s easy to pronounce in any language.


What was the creative process like?

I worked on my rum for a year, fine-tuning my blend with the many samples they sent me. In May 2014, I placed an order for 20,000 litres. In June my Thai supplier warned me that they weren’t going to do business with me after all. The bottling was scheduled for August and the launch for October 2014. No explanation was given. The sky fell and the adventure almost came to an end.

How did you bounce back after this initial setback?

I continued to look for other rum origins for my brand. One of my partners, who has a bulk company in Spain (rums from the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Cuba, etc.), suggested Batavia arrack from Indonesia. And in 2016 we decided to relaunch Naga not as a Thai rum, but as an Indonesian rum.

And in early 2017, the Indonesian Naga was released. But Thailand was back in the game! I had continued to maintain links with Thailand. In 2019, the supplier changed his mind and finally agreed to make Naga rum, but with a ban on Thailand (or Thaibev) and a whole bunch of other related mentions on the label. So I launched a Thai cuvée in 2020 with Dugas, called Siam Édition.

The Kingdom of Siam is the old name for Thailand. Until recently, I was the only Westerner allowed to sell rum from Thailand (without saying so). Then this year they decided to sell their 12 year old to other operators (well, to everyone), and finally allowed Thailand to appear on the label… But I’m still the only one who has any of their other quality rums, such as the 10 Year Old or the Full Proof.

Naga gamme

How are your rums produced?

For my 10-Year-Old Kingdom of Siam, I receive 60 to 63% provenance rum from Thailand, depending on the year. It is distilled in columns at around 70%. The ageing is done on site. The distillery is at sea level, but we use topping up with accounts of the same age, which reduces the loss of alcohol.

Once in France, we add water to bring it up to 40% and 0g of sugar. Every year I also release a full proof. The 2011 was 63%, the 2012 will be 61.2%… My reference, Shani, is a 62% Thai rum aged in Pedro Ximenez casks for 15 months. This is real ageing, not just a finish. It is finally reduced to 48%. And in the new releases section, there’s a 12-year-old and a full proof 2012.

What about the Indonesian vintages?

I’m bound by confidentiality clauses and I can’t name the two distilleries I work with, because it’s a Muslim country. In particular, they make molasses rum called Batavia arrack (Batavia, the former name of Jakarta, a former dominion of the Netherlands, the Batavians, editor’s note). For a long time, Batavia Arrack was considered a quality rum in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.

Why is it that the bottle doesn’t say ‘rum’?

It’s not quite a rum, because Batavia Arack is fermented using red rice that has been malted and fermented. Less than 2% of the alcohol comes from the rice. For this reason, we can’t really talk about rum, which has to come 100% from sugar cane.

How is rum produced?

Distillation takes place in stills and columns, and reaches between 70 and 85%. The rum is aged in teak and American oak barrels. When the rum arrives in France at 67%, I reduce it and add a little sugar (6g). I don’t specify the age, even though I’ve been told it’s 7 years old. I also have a reference that has aged in new cherry wood barrels and I age it at 67%, and another that is finished in Saint-Emilion red wine barrels, Château Pas de l’ ne.

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