Rum is in Jassil Villaneuva Quintana’s DNA. She has been watching and learning the secrets of rum production from her predecessors from very early in life. In 2011, at the age of 24, Jassil was appointed fifth-generation Maestra Ronera and officially recognised as the youngest rum master in the world by the World Record Academy. Jassil tells us how she has been infusing Brugal with her dynamism and modern and innovative approach to rum-making.
LM: What was it like growing up in a family where producing rum was the family business?
Jassil Villaneuva Quintana: I am part of the fifth generation of the Brugal family, so I’ve been aware of Brugal since I was very young. I grew up listening to my parents, my uncles and my family tell the stories of Ron Brugal and its traditions.
I later came to understand that I was also a part of that legacy. I didn’t start working for the company until the rum masters of the fourth generation noticed that I had developed a great sharpness in my nose and palate, able to identify the finest details in every glass of rum.
LM: Growing up, did you aspire to join the family business?
Jassil: I realised that I was part of the Brugal legacy early on, and knowing that I had the opportunity to be part of something so special became fascinating as I grew. Later in life, the fourth-generation rum masters noticed that I had the necessary skills and senses – my nose and palate – to be trained to become a Maestra Ronera. That’s when my career began, and I started producing one of the most international brands in the Dominican Republic.
LM: When did you become serious about getting involved in Brugal?
Jassil: I was in my mid-teens when the 4th generation of Maestros Roneros noticed I had a sharp palate and nose, and from there, my training began. At Brugal, being a Maestros Roneros is an appointed position, not one you can apply for, so it has been a great honour to be a part of and continue my family’s legacy.
LM: How difficult was it to learn everything about the business?
Jassil: It takes a lot of study and training – to develop your palate, nose and ability to pick out the subtle flavour profiles in the casks and the rum. Fortunately, understanding and family secrets are passed down from generation to generation, but that does mean 134 years of information to take in.
LM: Tell us, what does your average day look like?
Jassil: My workdays are never the same—being a Maestra Ronera has many responsibilities. Some days, I’m travelling; other days, I’m hosting visitors in our production plant for training. Other times, I’m focused on new product development in our ageing warehouse or scheduling tasting sessions with the other Maestros Roneros for sensory evaluations of our products and meetings to educate and develop or to ensure the quality of our rums.
This is in addition to managing and filing reports, following up on projects, and releasing our rums before they go to the production plant, as each of the production lots must be sensory-approved by the rum masters. This process is integral to maintaining our Brugal quality.
LM: Now, you were appointed fifth-generation Maestra Ronera at such a young age. What was that like?
Jassil: Immensely exciting and rewarding. Combining tradition and innovation is difficult and intimidating because it is a big responsibility. It requires original thinking and a willingness to take risks while respecting the history of doing things the way they’ve always been done.
All eyes are on you, and everyone expects big things, but at the same time, it’s a welcomed challenge because I’m doing something I love. Becoming Maestra Ronera allowed me to open new doors in the spirits industry for women of my generation and future generations. I love being immersed in the wonderful world of Rum creation, honouring the legacy of Brugal and being part of the brand’s future.
LM: What does the training process entail to become a Maestra Ronera?
Jassil: A lot of training is necessary to develop the highly refined sensory skills and deep knowledge base of the products based on their signature bouquet of texture and scent, as well as the ability to taste and identify the fundamental differences in the composition of each unique rum blend.
Training involves exposure to the rum-distilling process and study of the various fragrance notes, appearances, and consistencies of each rum. Every so often, the Brugal family will search among the family for those with the talent and potential to become Maestros Roneros.
I was part of this search a decade ago, along with 11 of my cousins. I was the only woman in the search at this time, and I was grateful to be chosen and become the first female Maestra Ronera in the company, a position I am honoured to hold.
As a Maestra Ronera and fifth-generation family member, I have had the opportunity to observe and take part in a proud legacy. One of my challenges in this role is to keep the Brugal legacy strong.
LM: Tell us about Brugal 1888 – what makes it special and unique?
Jassil: The key characteristics of our rum are the inimitable quality, classy woodiness and well-balanced flavours. These are prevalent as a result of several essential details, such as the quality and purity of our unique spirit, the water from the springs in Puerto Plata, the unique climate of the region, our capacity to accommodate a great number of high-quality casks in our ageing warehouses and the skills and expertise passed down through five generations of Brugal family Maestros Roneros, secrets that are to this day still kept in the hands of the family’s rum masters.
Brugal 1888 is a double-aged rum that is first aged in Bourbon casks and goes through a second ageing in Sherry casks to create a complex yet perfectly balanced sipping rum that evolves in the glass. The first maturation in bourbon American oak casks adds a woody dryness, with distinctive caramel, vanilla, coffee, and toffee notes on the nose.
This is beautifully balanced during a second maturation in sherry Spanish oak casks, which adds roundness and a slight sweetness on the nose, with notes of red and dried fruits on the palate.
Brugal 1888 is the perfect rum to sip and enjoy neat. However, it is also the ideal base for classic stirred cocktails because of the depth of flavour achieved through the double-cask ageing process.
LM: Can you share with us your favourite rum recipe?
Jassil: It has to be a ‘Don Nano Favorite’ cocktail with a pour of Brugal 1888 over a coconut water ice ball. It is inspired by 4th Generation Maestro Ronero Don Fernando “Nano” José Ortega Brugal’s favourite way to drink Brugal.
The coconut water pairs deliciously with the prominent wood influence in Brugal 1888 to deliver a simple yet mouth-watering serve that is slightly sweetened and perfect for sipping on as an aperitif. Once the ice begins to melt, the sweetness comes through. It’s a variation of an Old-Fashioned and proves rum is a fantastic spirit to sip and savour.
Brugal – Where and How?
For more information on Brugal, visit www.brugal-rum.com/en.
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