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Podcast

Ron Santa Teresa Rum with Alex Noriega

We talk to Brand Ambassador, Alex Noriega about solera systems, cocktails and what makes Santa Teresa 1796 so special

By: Tiff Christie|September 15,2021

Located in a land of turbulence, Ron Santa Teresa is Venezuela’s oldest rum distillery, and actually the third oldest distillery in the world.

For over 200 years, the brand has walked the delicate tight rope of political and economic upheaval, looking to their rum and their community as a way through the chaos.

Santa Teresa 1796 was created in 1996 to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the Hacienda and has proved its ongoing popularity with rum drinkers due to both its flavour and production method.

To find out more, we speak to Brand Ambassador, Alex Noriega about 1796, Solera systems and how the rum can be used.

For more information, go to santateresarum.com

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Tiff: Located in a land of turbulence, Ron Santa Teresa is Venezuela's oldest rum distillery, and actually the third oldest distillery in the world. And for over 200 years, the brand has walked the delicate, tight rope of political and economic upheaval, looking to their rum and their community as a way through the chaos.
Santa Teresa 1796 was created in 1996 to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the Hacienda and has proved its ongoing popularity with rum drinkers due to both its flavour and production method.
To find out more, we speak to Brand Ambassador, Alex Noriega about the brand, Solera systems and how the rum can be used.
Thank you for joining us, Alex.
Alex: Thank you for having me Tiff, it's an honour and pleasure,
Tiff: Now you are a brand that has survived wars, revolutions, invasions, and dictators. What is it about Santa Teresa that you feel is so special?
Alex: Santa Teresa, 1796, for starters, it’s the world's first premium rum to really employ the Solera method, which is an artisanal processing method.
It's really used to create smooth, dry rum that helps the complexity of blending light rums, heavy rums and pot still rums with their age s all between four to 35 years in bourbon barrels, and then we further process them in our solar system.
So Santa Teresa 1796, it's exceptionally dry. You know, on your palette, you can get notes of tobacco, leather, molasses, and of course dark chocolate, it's probably the most prominent one besides the molasses, of course, but we're not only just a super-premium rum with a unique taste and our production process, Santa Teresa has always worked to be a positive force in the community.
An example of this is Project Alcatraz. It's a program created by our current CEO and a fifth-generation family member and rum maker, Alberto Vollmer. It was a reform, in 2003 it was initiated where criminal gangs in Venezuela were able to combine vocational training, values, formations, psychological assistance, formal education and a particular sport known as rugby. And then through rugby, the values of respect, discipline, teamwork, sportsmanship and humility are taught as keys to success in life. So it was a perfect sport to really use in this program. I'm happy to say that the program has rescued hundreds of men from crime and has lowered the region's homicide rates by 90%. So it's a pretty big deal.
Tiff: That's impressive. Now, how do you incorporate 200 years of history and tradition into a single expression?
Alex: Well, everything needed to make Santa Teresa 1796, it all comes from, from our hacienda, you know, we are a single estate. The sugar cane to the water has all been sourced from right here in our lands, from the local farms in the Aragua Valley, all the way to fermentation through distillation, ageing and blending, it all happens there. That's what a single estate is and that's what we are. So by staying, to our roots, we quite literally pour a legacy of our five generations of rum making and Venezuela history into every bottle. And that is the result of Santa Teresa 1796.
Tiff: Now the rum is a blend of both column and pot still. Why is that?
Alex: Correct. So employing the artisanal method with our pot still, that's where most of our pot still rum distillery is going to become from, and you're going to get a lot of those characteristics of what truly is rum, in that notes of vanilla, caramel, chocolate, tobacco, and it gives it more of an artisanal approach.
And then we have our column distillations, where are you going to get the other two of our rums, we have our heavy rums that only touched the first column of our column stills. And then we have our lighter rums, which are going to touch all four columns.
So then now we have three different rums and then that's pretty much why we use them, to really combine a complex style of rum, that's going to give you that unique flavour, especially when we get into ageing.
Tiff: Speaking of ageing you are doing it in French limousine Oak. What flavours does that give to the rum?
Alex: Well, our French Oaks is more of a maturation vat, so we use them primarily just for resting. So the difference between the French Oak versus the American oak, why we use the French Oak to rest of our rums. It gives you more, they're a little bit tighter on the grain, so it gives you a little softer and flavour notes. So after ageing in those ex-bourbon barrels, we moved them to the solar system, rest in our French limousine barrels to give the nice soft, softer notes, so you'll get, dark chocolate notes again. A little bit of baking spices, like cinnamon, and just a lot of softer all around
Tiff: From there they go into a solera system. What made you think to adapt the Sherry technique?
Alex: To commemorate the bicentennial 1996 Alberto Vollmer's, his father my boss, his name is Alberto Vollmer Herrera, challenged the company to develop a rum that could leverage all of the rum-making mastery and craftsmanship, learned in the first 200 years.
So Santa Teresa, 1796 being the first super-premium rum to employ this solera method. It's an artisanal processing method. It creates a smooth, dry, and complex blend of light rums, heavy rums and pot still rums aged between four to 35 years in those bourbon barrels. And for the processing in the solera, it features an unexpectedly dry flavour, tobacco, leather, molasses and, dark chocolate. So as far as I know Santa Teresa, 1796 is the only rum that is produced using the traditional Spanish style solera system. The Solera system gives Santa Teresa 1796 great viscosity and an overall consistency since when it was first created in 1992. It also softens the rum and gives it a distinct aged aroma that is shared amongst the other blends.
Tiff: People are quite fascinated by Solera systems. What do you think that is?
Alex: One element to be honest is the consistency, it gets better with time over time. Another is homogenising of the smoothness. We believe the extremely slow and never-ending blend of the different types of distillates and ages that go into our solera allows for a smoother, richer, more refined end result. We have the lab results to back that perception as well. And almost 25 years of blind and third-party tasting notes to reinforce it. But most of all, we have the, wow, of every new person that discovers Santa Teresa 1796 and that's a blessing of it all, it's that wow factor.
Tiff: Do you want to go into a little bit more detail about how it's set up and how it actually works?
Alex: Yeah, sure. No problem. Solera is basically a process for ageing liquids, such as wine, beer, vinegar, brandy and rum by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages with the average age, gradually increasing as a process continues over many years. So the process of this labor-intensive process is a maintenance of a reliable style consistency in the quality of the Santa Teresa 1796.
From Santa Teresa, 1796 solera's fourth row, which is the one closest to the floor, that's our solera row that word is derived from the word suelo. So therefore Solera is the one closest to the floor, right? So we empty each barrel by half and all that liquid is passed through 11 vats. We top up to the fourth row of barrels with half of the liquid from each barrel, from the third row immediately above.
If that makes sense. But then we top off the third row with half of the liquid, from the barrels from the second row immediately above. So it's like pretty much a giant cascading system.
Tiff: waterfall
Alex: first exactly, Tiff, you get the idea. So then finally we topped the first row with our mother rum or what we call in solera refill which is above in a blending tank, right? With all of those runs that are aged separately, blending together on between four to 35 years old.
Tiff: And how long does that process actually take for it to move its way down?
Alex: Usually give or take about four years, for that whole process to be completed.
And from that aspect, we then go into our limousine vets for that final resting phase.
Tiff: Now age references is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of Solera. Do you think people put too much value on age?
Alex: That's a really good question. So one thing I can say about rums and laws about in Venezuela especially, we do have a domain of origin, so in Venezuela, i n order to be a rum, it has to be aged for a minimum of two years. So I know a lot of makers out there, they try to steer away with putting that youngest age statement on the bottles. And in Venezuela, that's the case. You always have to put the youngest on the bottle. So for Venezuela rums, especially with Santa Teresa, you won't see an age statement on our bottles, but especially like a big imprint on the front of our bottle. Cause we, we are a blend of rums that are aged between four to 35 years. So at the end of the day, it's the quality and what I believe in.
But do people judge spirits too strongly by how old they are? Do you think?
I guess in a sense, if it's older, it's better. So I'm going to, I'm going to stick with it with that answer right there. The older, the rum, the older, the whiskey or whatever it is, technically it's a little bit more expensive.
People I would say we think about putting too much value of age, but again, like Solera is a method for fractional blending. And it's a great example of how great rum is. Like it's a blend of four to 35 years. And you still get this unique flavour and all its essence, exceptionally dry flavours and a bang for your buck for what it is.
In general, you're going to get beautiful amber, copper colour hues, very sharp, bright, dark tannins, bright tannins, big teardrops, falling down to the glass as you pour it. Then once it hits the palette, always wakes up all those endorphins in your mouth. The second sip to acclimate the palette started getting a lot more flavours.
Tiff: What has the reaction been to the rum?
Alex: I would always encourage you to try it neat, or on the rocks for your first time and the reactions that I usually get it's, the wow factor of how people are always. In shock at how dry it is for being such a rum. And that's just because of all those artisanal techniques that we use and in our blending factors, especially with the Solera flavours.
Once you drink it neat or on the rocks, you can truly taste the full flavour notes of the rum, but you can always get creative with it as well. Santa Teresa 1796 offers an ideal based to create a variety of cocktails from spirit-forward old fashioned to your tropical daiquiris.
Even the most developed traditional scotch or whiskey lovers would be pleasantly surprised by trying whether it is neat or in a cocktail. One can definitely appreciate, the layered richness that comes from our traditional Solera method, as well as the unexpected dry finish of Santa Teresa, 1796.
Tiff: If someone's experiencing the rum for the first time, how would you recommend that they do that?
Alex: Neat or on the rocks. Daiquiri cocktails are always fantastic. Rum Manhattans, rum juleps, negronis are always perfect cocktails to use for Santa Teresa 1796. Now, if you want to play with a little bit more citrus, I would definitely recommend, a Daiquiri, Mojito or even an old Cuban, it's one of the greatest strengths that this rum has is its versatility. No matter what spirit you generally prefer, they can always found a counterpart in this rum.
Tiff: Have any bartenders made cocktails that you didn't expect with the rum?
Alex: That's a great question. Let me think of any bartenders. Yeah. I actually, had an account actually made me something out of his own creative mind and I was very intrigued about it.
It was actually one of the bars here in Miami. It's called Kaori and it was a red bean colada. It blew my mind away and I remembered the recipe. So I'm going to share it with you. Now again, it's very crafty, so I don't think it's very easy to make at home, but it was delicious. It had a red bean paste. So red beans. Lime juice, pineapple, coconut milk, and a little bit of cinnamon, grated cinnamon on top with beautiful crushed ice. I had this beautiful like purple Brandy colour, and with this mint. And it was delicious and it just proved, the versatility of the rum.
It was a, the red bean colada is what's, what he called it. And it was amazing. It blew my mind away. And it was one of those things that I was like, man, you really truly are speaking to the versatility of our rum. So it was amazing how this bar would have created something so unique.
Tiff: Now, if consumers were going to take away one thing from their experience with Santa Teresa, what would you like that to be?
Alex: I would really want them to really enjoy the dram with somebody and share their stories and really see what family and heritage is like our very own heritage is a big part of our identity so that the history of Santa Teresa is deeply intertwined with the history of Venezuela.
And throughout that history, we have always worked to be a positive force in the community, like Project Alcatraz, it's one of those things you talked about earlier and, so just enjoy this with the community and being involved is the main thing that I want consumers to really take away with them. This is a rum to be enjoyed with others, with the community.
Tiff: Now, speaking of Project Alcatraz, how important are social transformation initiatives like that, to the brand?
Alex: As mentioned before, Teresa 1796 does a lot more than they make rum.
The brand constantly strives to give back to its community, whether it be in Venezuela, through programs, like Project Alcatraz or to the hospitality and industry as a whole, like we did back in 2020 with the launch of our Crafted Together limited-edition bottle. Which was a wonderful initiative that brought 26 bartenders together to design a very unique bespoke label that showcased how they were staying strong in the face of the pandemic or during adversity.
So the sale of the bottle supported a $10,000 donation to the USB G support fund, as well here in the United States. So that was really very unique and a lot of bartenders and hospitality individuals are very supportive of what we did. With that community, grew extensively, our Santa Teresa community grew extensively during the pandemic. And it's because we like to interlock arms and always be there, like a family. So that's how we help the community is how we grow. As the community grows, so do we.
Tiff: Now, if people have tried rums from other areas of the Caribbean, what will they find different about a rum from Venezuela?
Alex: Little thing, you'd probably find the most different from Venezuela. It's what location obviously, and Venezuela is actually deemed to creating one of the best molasses out there, and several producers from the Caribbean actually purchased molasses from Venezuelan rum producers, especially from our Hacienda.
It's one of those things that primarily to Santa Teresa 1796 is been making rum, since 1796, so we're actually the third oldest rum distillery in the world as well. And so it's pretty unique to have.
Tiff: What does the future look like for Santa Teresa?
Alex: We keep going strong. We keep moving. We're just taking it one step at a time and, smiling back at adversity, whichever comes our way.. So the future looks solid. It looks very gold and I'm happy to say we're doing very well, with the brand across many countries, and especially around the world. All I can say is we're very thankful and we're going to keep doing what we're doing and it's thanks to consumers and people who enjoy our rum is the main driving force. It's the people behind the rum as well, that make it happen, so we're going to keep ongoing
Tiff: Talking of where it's available, obviously that would be throughout the US, whereabouts elsewhere?
Alex: So it's available in select retail stores nationwide. And of course, online recently we launched a new label program where consumers can add their personalized touch, upon purchasing their bottle of Santa Teresa, 1796. You can find that on passionspirits.com. So www.passionspirits.com.
Tiff: And outside the US where else is it available?
Alex: Any e-commerce websites or any duty-free stores? You can find us for sure.
Tiff: But what countries are you in?
Alex: Yes. Latin America, as well as Mexico all over Latin America, especially in South America and Europe. Where in England or Great Britain. I add Spain, Italy, Germany working our way into the Asian market as well. That's what we were available and in France as well. Excuse me.
Tiff: Now, if people want more information, they can, of course, go to your website, which is santateresarum.com or connect with the brand on your social.
Alex: Yes, that is correct. On our socials or our Instagram check us out at @santateresarum
Tiff: Thanks so much for joining us, Alex.
Alex: Thank you Tiff for having me. It was a wonderful time.

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