Parce encapsulates the spirit of Colombia in every aged bottle
Parce — a home rum for Vail
Parce is featured at several Eagle County restaurants: Sato, The Rose and Juniper in Edwards, vin 48 in Avon, Ti Amo in EagleVail, and Kelly Liken, La Tour, Terra Bistro, Matsuhisa and Up the Creek in Vail. It’s available by the bottle at several liquor stores, too, including Riverwalk Wines and Spirits, Avon Liquor, Beaver Liquors, West Vail Liquor Mart and Grappa Fine Wines. For more information about the rum visit parcerum.com
How does one bottle a cultural experience? This was the idea behind Parce Rum, a new high-end Colombian sipping rum produced by Cordillera resident Brian Powers along with his brothers, their Colombian business partner and a Colombian father-and-son-master-rum-blending duo. What exactly were these guys trying to capture in that bottle though? In late May I headed down to Medellin, Colombia along with Brian, his brother Jim and a Vail hospitality crew made up of Steve Negler, owner of Ti Amo restaurant in EagleVail, and Mark Summers, mixologist from The Rose in Edwards. We wanted to learn firsthand what it meant to bottle the Colombian experience.
Armed with little more than vague misconceptions about the country, we discovered that Colombia was like nothing on earth — and neither was the rum. The one-two punch makes Vail a fitting launch pad for the spirit.
A Vail Valley resident since 2010, Brian and his family are inextricably connected to Colombia. His family’s business, Powerseal, has been based there since the ‘90s, thanks to his brother Pat. Pat fell in love with the country — as well as his wife, who is Colombian — and moved the business. Brian visited often due to his work with Powerseal, and he and his wife adopted their daughter in Colombia. The Powers siblings, along with their Colombian business partner, Jamie Uribe, wanted to bottle the Colombian experience in the form of a high-end sipping rum. A lofty goal, but a worthy one.
Parce is Colombian slang meaning “my good friend” or “buddy.” It comes in two vintages, aged for 8 and 12 years respectively. Both spend time in charred oak Jack Daniels barrels, imbuing them with a single malt scotch or whiskey essence. But though it’s all about Colombian, Parce has some Vail in it, too. Not only is the valley home to Brian and his family, but also he received support — both moral and financial — as he developed Parce. He considers Vail the perfect launching pad for the rum.
“Vail properties are world class, as are the restaurants and bars in our valley,” Brian says. “People in our community have high expectations because of the quality of goods and services here. 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 make that happen, he enlisted the expertise of Negler and Summers, both of whom have many years experience in the Vail Valley’s hospitality scene; I was there to document the process.
The question still begged to be asked: What did three Irish-American brothers from Chicago know about making Colombian rum, and what was the Colombian experience? Like many people, I associated Colombia with cocaine, drug dealer Pablo Escobar and 50 years of civil war that tore the country apart and made it a dangerous place. So Brian decided to share the Colombian experience with me, along with Negler, and Summers, Over the last weekend in May the four of us headed to Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia and the center of much of the country’s drug and civil war violence during the 1908s and ’90s. Needless to say, it was with some trepidation and excitement that we landed in the city late at night. We would soon meet up at our hotel with a crew from Chicago, including Paul McGee, nationally renowned mixologist and co-owner of the tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash.
The city is surprisingly impressive, even under the cover of darkness. It is laid out in a beautiful long valley with high-rises climbing the steep walls which encircle the lower inner city. Our hotel was located in the center of an incredibly hip part of Medellin. Modern eclectic designs blended perfectly with slightly erotic artwork and European style. After checking in, we met the rest of the crew, including rum blender Brojen Fernandes Domecq, at the hotel’s rooftop bar, Envy, for a nightcap. With its glass-sided swimming pool, surrounding designer couches, a DJ playing down-tempo lounge and views across the entire city, the bartenders seemed to have less of a job and more of a lifestyle choice. The lifestyle choice was reiterated that next morning as we watched from our breakfast table as a steady stream of the world’s most beautiful people came to sweat at the hotel’s famous gym. The sight was almost enough to motivate me to work out, except that the competition was completely demoralizing and my schedule far too busy.
As part of the production of Parce rum, the Powers brothers and Uribe wanted to give back to Colombia. By partnering with the Colombian environmental organization, Contreebute, they set up a social initiative unique to the liquor industry where for each bottle of Parce rum sold, a tree is planted in Colombia to help protect biodiversity and prevent deforestation. The trees are planted and tended by local farmers. Together they were working to instigate local employment, water preservation and deforestation, all through the sale of rum.
That night, watching Paul McGee muddle up delicious rum concoctions in Pat’s high rise apartment overlooking the city, I considered what an ingenious idea it was to be an environmentally-conscious drinker.
“You are very tangibly helping out the country of Colombia and we are, too, and that’s part of our mission as well.” Jim explained. Bottoms up to that.
The next day, we headed out to Pat’s finca (a Colombian farmhouse) 35 miles southwest of Medellin. A former stables, it had been expertly converted into a huge house, which sat high on the side of a hill looking down on the magnificent Cuaca River Valley. The house itself slept up to 30 people with an open plan layout in which only the bedrooms were closed to the outdoors. The rest, including the living room, the kitchen and the dining room with its full view of the valley, were essentially open to the elements. We watched in skeptical amazement as huge yellow butterflies seemed to appear on cue around the heavily weighted down fruit trees and gardens that surrounded the property. Steps leading down to a pool, which also had panoramic views of the valley and a lone tree to shade it, completed the picture-perfect estate. The tree, we learned, was the same tree featured on the Parce label, referencing their tree-planting program.
The finca, by design, naturally lent itself to social gatherings and relaxation. As more family and friends arrived, we filled our afternoon in true Colombian style: eating, drinking and relaxing. We drove into town to purchase a pig from a local farmer to kill, cook and eat together. There was an afternoon swim session throwing kids around the pool and then as the cook prepared our pig over an open stone stove, our group rode horses and mules back into town to enjoy freshly cooked empanadas with spicy salsa and drinks at a small bar with some locals. Returning in the dark to the finca, we sat down to enjoy an amazing spread of food and more rum cocktails family style with a crowd of newly made friends. The rest of the evening was filled with music, dancing and some competitive variations of billiards. For Negler, that was the experience that Parce captured in a bottle.
“The name, Parce, is ‘bro, companion, compadre.’ What do you want to do with people like that? You want to hang out and have good times,” he explained. “It makes you want to slow down. It makes you want to relax and enjoy, appreciate. … I think that is what they are trying to emulate with Parce — hanging out with good people and relaxing.”
It was at the finca a few years ago that the brothers had originally conceived of their rum plan. Brian explained that three months after the death of their father, the brothers found themselves gathered together to mourn their loss and celebrate their father’s life.
Pat explained that he and Uribe had always wanted to promote the Colombian way of life in the U.S. — “work to live” instead of “live to work.” But they didn’t know quite how to capture that Colombian spirit. As they sat there enjoying Colombian rum, Brian describes having a moment of divine inspiration between them all.
“It was like (our father) was there with us,” Brian says. “We knew we wanted to do something to bring a piece of Colombia to the States because of Pat’s experience here, and coming down here we knew what a special place it was. We were all drinking rum and it was almost like we all looked at each other and were like ‘Let’s bottle this experience.’ We’re looking out on this fantastic view saying, ’Let’s do this!’”
“Our father liked his cocktails in the afternoon, and it would be the perfect way to celebrate his life while doing something together that, if he was alive, he would have been involved with immediately,” Pat said.
“We said as three Irish Chicago brothers, we like a good spirit — but we know what we are good at and what we are not good at, and we didn’t know the first thing about making a premium rum,” Brian explained.
So the brothers turned to Uribe for help. For Uribe, the Colombian in the partnership, making a high-end sipping rum meant creating a product that would tell a story from a defferent perspective than the one most people have of Colombia. Here was a high-quality legal product of Colombia that was not about drugs or violence but instead showcased some of his country’s best qualities.
“We wanted the best Colombian rum masters because we wanted it to be authentic,” says Brian. So Uribe connected them with Arthur and Brojen Fernandes Domecq, the father-and-son duo who, between them, have a collective 50 years experience making rum.
Part of coming up with the authentic Colombian flavor profile was creating a product that could be enjoyed in typical Colombian style, either neat or on the rocks.
“It’s about standing on its own legs and having its own kind of character. (There are) lingering notes of coffee, cocoa, tobacco, leather, nuts to tie it to Colombia. All these flavors are indicative of the country,” Jim explains.
Jamie describes it as “strength, character, mysterious. You taste the rum and you start feeling different things in your mouth. It’s an evolving flavor profile — exotic, romantic.”
For Summers, as a veteran mixologist, this was very different from the typical flavor profiles of most rums on the American market. “What Parce has that no one else has is the fact that it has the whiskey element going on. It’s aged in bourbon barrels, which no other rum is aged in. Rum is usually aged in oak, but not charred choice American bourbon barrels, so that’s why it pulls out those flavors, cuts into the sweetness so it allows the rum to be mixed in whiskey-style cocktails.” Rum cocktails in America are more commonly associated with sweet fruity drinks like mojitos, rum runners and piña coladas. “I think that’s where this rum holds itself in a different playing field, because you can mix it into very well balanced cocktails, which is what people want these days.”
Driving back to Medellin for our last night in Colombia, through small towns and lush landscapes, we were intrigued by our experience. It was amazing to see the energy, endurance and passion for life of the Colombian people. Outside the thriving city — full of chic hotels, restaurants and designer stores — were traditional Colombian communities full of pride without ego for their country and culture. Here were people driven not just to survive, but to blossom and be the best version of themselves. To show the world that they were much more than their violent history. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed and thanked by the Colombian people for coming to Colombia, as they are all very aware that as a country they are still very much judged on their violent past.
This was our lesson. “I think there is so much more to that country. It’s got such great depth,” Summer says.
“I didn’t know what they were trying to capture, until I saw the agriculture and the flavors of Colombia and saw the people there,” he says.
Parce, through both the bolder 12-year vintage and the more playful 8-year vintage, seemed to reflect that depth while contradicting our preconceived ideas of the country and of rum. Yes, a fitting spirit for a valley full of educated and adventurous spirits.