THE NEGROS region, from where Don Papa gets its sugarcane, always reminded me of the American South: there’s the hot sun, the slower pace of life, an agricultural base, and fanciful stories hidden in every home, at least for some people.

This makes the marriage of rye whiskey and Don Papa Rum make sense for its latest variation, launched on Nov. 20: the Don Papa Rye Aged Rum. This drink is aged in rye barrels, while Don Papa is usually aged in barrels that once held rye’s gentler cousin, bourbon. This expression comes on the heels of previous ones: Rare Cask, Sherry Cask, and Don Papa Sevillana (which was finished in casks that held vino de naranja, Spanish orange liqueur).

A kit containing three bottles was delivered, sealed with a coded padlock. It contained a bottle of Don Papa Rye Aged Rum, as well as two cocktails, the Rum Manhattan (with sweet vermouth, maraschino, and bitters), and Don Creole (absinthe and bitters).

The rum by itself had an aggressive scent with notes of grass, honey, and wildflowers under a hot Southern sun. The first note did have that throaty rye kick as expected, but mellowed down into that ladylike honey and floral note hinted at in the scent. The heat was present as well, reminding one of sunbeams in the way it makes the eyes narrow. It’s like meeting a brash, swearing, smoking, but well-dressed Southern belle in her garden at the height of summer. That’s funny when you consider the masculine elements in its promotion, accompanied by bluegrass musicians during the Zoom press conference. It does go very well with hardwood-smoked beef jerky; perhaps due to their shared woody origins. While it doesn’t sound like I like her, but as I poured a third jigger in a glass, she proved to be good company. The Manhattan tasted like it should — cigar-smoky and cool — but my my, that Don Creole. It had a flirty but clean scent, a bit like jasmine, thanks to the absinthe and bitters, and was sweetly sophisticated. This wouldn’t have been out of place in the hand of a woman like Blanche Dubois.

AJ Garcia, Bleeding Heart Rum Co.’s co-founder discussed the different expressions that they’ve created. “One of the reasons why we do this is because when we started the brand, we started with one product. I think you could easily say that we could’ve sat on that one product, and just focused on that, and be very monolithic,” he said during the launch. “I think it’s always important, especially with the rum industry… to always kind of find different ways to improve the product; find different ways to offer people different experiences.”

Adding a flourish to a product that is already quite good comes from a different place: home. “When you think about rum, through the years, people think of the Carribean, Central America, South America; and then maybe India. But what we want people to know is that the rum-making tradition has been in the Philippines for about 200 years. It’s really been part of our DNA. It’s born out of the sugarcane industry, and this is a sugar-producing country.

“We should be making great rum. That alone motivates us to explore more and more.”

Don Papa Rye Aged Rum is currently available online for delivery through for P3,399 and for P3,250 and will soon be available in different brick and mortar shops. — Joseph L. Garcia