Rum is possibly the most storied spirit on the planet. Made from sugar cane, which grows around the world, rum has been distilled for hundreds of years, likely since the 1600s. Rum distilleries actually existed in the U.S. long before whiskey or gin was ever made. It more commonly lends itself toward sweet island-inspired cocktails that conjure up images of pirates, parrots, beaches and bikinis. However, when Cordillera resident Brian Powers and his two brothers decided to bottle their Colombian experience, they had a very different rum in mind. Four years in the making, that idea comes to fruition this week with the Vail launch of Parce Rum.
A taste of Colombia
The story of Parce Rum begins, though, with an Irish American family from Chicago and their connection to a country and culture through business and family. It is the story of how three brothers were so inspired by the beauty and hospitality of the country that they decided, in honor of their late father, to create a high-end, authentically Colombian sipping rum.
Colombia is more commonly associated with cocaine, drug lords and civil war than high-end rum. However, for the Powers family, the country offered a much different personal experience. They were initially introduced to the country in the early 1990s when younger brother Patrick headed there to scout out opportunities to expand the family’s water, oil and gas pipeline business.
In spite of the danger and instability of the country at that time, Patrick was welcomed with unparalleled hospitality by the Colombians he encountered. He soon met his wife and started a family there. As brother Brian and father, Edward, followed him there for work, they also fell in love with the country. Brian adopted his daughter from Colombia and the family ties to the country grew stronger. Jim was the last of the brothers to visit and he too fell for Colombia. He describes the “surprising positivity (and) infectious enthusiasm for life that you pick up on.”
‘Bottle this experience’
Three months after their father died of cancer in 2010, the brothers met at Pat’s finca (a Colombian farmhouse), 35 miles southwest of Medellin, to mourn the loss of their dad and celebrate his life.
Sitting on the veranda, they took in the expansive views of the Cuaca River Valley while sipping Colombian rum and telling stories about their dad. It was there the three brothers had a moment of divine inspiration, Brian said.
“We need to bottle this experience,” Brian said. “We need to bottle the Colombian experience in honor of our father,” they agreed.
Since they knew nothing about making rum, they turned to their Colombian business partner, Jaime Uribe, who connected the brothers with Colombian father-and-son duo Arthur and Brojen Fernandes Domecq.
“We wanted the best Colombian rum masters because we wanted it to be authentic,” Brian said. “We found the best in … Arthur and Brojen Fernandes Domecq, who have a collective 50 years experience making rum.”
Bridging the best with the rest
After three-and-half years working with Brojen and Arthur, the Powers brothers and Uribe now have their own unique Colombian rum, available in both a 12-year and 8-year vintage. They named their product Parce, a Colombian street slang meaning “my good friend” or “buddy” because it seems to fit the vibe they wanted: authentically Colombian, relaxed and familiar. For the partners, who were literally trying to encapsulate the Colombian experience in a bottle, it was important the rum evoke the sensations of the country from its flavor profile to the environment in which it is enjoyed. As Jim Powers explains they wanted their rum to be “the bridge between the best of Colombian culture and the rest of the world.”
Rum is typically enjoyed either neat or on the rocks in Colombia so it was important that the rum also be able to stand on its own legs rather than as a mixing liquor.
The 12-year rum is medium to full bodied with flavors of toffee, dried fruits, brown sugar and vanilla rounded off with a smooth mocha, nut and pipe tobacco accent finish. There are lingering notes of coffee, cocoa and leather that all lend themselves to the Colombian lifestyle. The 8-year vintage offers a more playful version of the rum, with flavors of candied fruits and cherries, hints of vanilla with a light easy body and a smooth finish.
“These rums have been blended and aged in coffee country in Colombia, evoking the rolling hills and luscious green country side. This aging is done at the foothills of some of the highest mountains in Colombia,” Brojen Fernandes Domecq said.
Both vintages are aged in charred American oak Jack Daniels barrels, giving the alcohol a single malt scotch or whiskey sensibility. For Mark Summers, mixologist at The Rose in Edwards, this is what makes Parce unique.
“I think what Parce has that no one else has is the fact that it has the whiskey element going on,” he said. “Rum is usually aged in oak but not charred, choice American bourbon barrels so that’s why it pulls out those flavors (and) cuts into the sweetness, so it allows the rum to be mixed in whiskey-style cocktails instead of just sweet (drinks).”
The Vail connection
For Brian, who has called the Vail Valley home since 2010, it was important that Vail not only be one of the launching pads for the product but that the community also take some ownership of it. Powers has received a great deal of support for Parce Rum from the Vail community. As a high-end resort town, Vail prides itself on offering not only premium products but also a premium experience.
“People in our community have high expectations because of the quality goods and services here,” Brian said. “We feel we have delivered a premium, quality product that fulfills expectations of an international product whose launch can be embraced by the Vail Valley.”
To help facilitate the relationship between Parce and Vail, Brian enlisted the expertise of Summers and Steve Negler, owner of Ti Amo restaurant in Eagle-Vail, as experienced professionals in the Vail hospitality scene. Neither Negler or Summers had ever been to Colombia before, so neither understood exactly what Brian was trying to bottle. Until this spring.
In late May, Brian accompanied the two to Colombia to introduce them to the culture behind Parce. During a long, eventful weekend where they enjoyed the surprisingly hip, cosmopolitan city of Medellin as well as the relaxing beauty of the countryside at Pat’s finca, both developed a new appreciation for both Colombia and rum.
For Negler, Parce summed up Colombia for him.
“You see that bottle and I get it now…. the taste, the culture, the energy,” Negler said. “Those were the things that really stood out to me in Colombia, outside the vast beauty of it all, but I don’t know how you bottle that. I think that is what they are trying to emulate with Parce — hanging out with good people and relaxing.”
Dominique Taylor is a freelance photographer and writer based in the Vail Valley. For more information contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.dominiquetaylor.com or follow her @taylordmedia8.