"Luca you are my friend, you are my brother, you are my son..."
Here we go with the first part of our Interview with Luca Gargano from VELIER...
The interview was originally made in french, but you will find below an attempt of english translation (im french after all, and like all french i am lazy...and bad when it comes to speak or write in english, or something else...). But if someone wants to improve it, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello Luca, can you tell us more about yourself and your career, and what led you to rum?
I am a young 57 year old man who started very early, at the age of 18. In the 70s I became the brand ambassador of St James's rum (from Martinique). One day I arrived in the Caribbean following the organization of a trip, a kind of competition for representatives who sold St James rums, and at the time there was still no television, it was just before mass tourism. When I arrived in Martinique I fell in love with the tropical air, rum, girls ... for a 18 year old boy it was an amazing experience, and from that very moment I am in love with rum. Later when I turned 27 I started my own company by buying Velier who was a rather small company at that time, and from then I mainly focused on rums.
when was released your first bottling ?
I began by importing several brands of rums (as exclusive importer) in the 90s, which was immediately a great success in Italy. Here in Italy the rum market really took off during those years, and now rum's consumption has exceeded whiskey. All men under 40 years of age consume rum, and actually started drinking rum before whiskey. And with Velier I created this movement, this mode of consumption. In the late 90s, during a trip to Damoiseau distillery (in Guadeloupe) i found a rum that was 'set apart' because it did not fit the standards of the INAO ( national institute of appellation of origin) because it contained a small percentage of molasses rum. They have to only bottle pure sugar cane juice to obtain their AOC. It was distilled in 1980 and kept its full degree (fullproof) (60.3 °), a sort of black sheep because Damoiseau didnt think he could sell it. I tasted it and immediately found it exceptional, so I decided to buy all their stock and leaving the rum fullproof. After dealing with Damoiseau, I've realized they didnt sold me all the stock, and they released their own "1980 rum" the same year ... at the same degree, which is quite surprising. My bottling was released in 2002, a truly exceptional rum. And at that precise moment I opened the concept of 'full proof' rum. Before that time there was no rum bottled at full proof (natural degree). And after that I started working with DDL (Demerara Distillers Limited) and Yesu Persaud (DDL's chairman).
Can you tell us why you are the only one who get access to DDL's stock? the rest of the independant bottlers used to 'simply' import rums from the caribbean and aged them in our continental climate (mainly in England and Scotland
) You know, when i started the rum was not a pretty interesting market for importers. And I was the first one to visited all Caribbean countries, and everyone always asked me "why are you interested in our rum?". And one day I visited Guyana where I met the greatest man when it comes to rum : Yesu Persaud ; First I started importing their brand El Dorado, then Yesu took me under his wing. Today he is 86 and he has done so much for rum! Two years ago he told me: "Luca, you are my friend, you are my brother, you are my son," and in 2003 he agreed to sell me a small pourcentage of DDL's stock. He gave me the opportunity to choose among the many old barrels in Demerara. Velier bottles are all official bottlings because I select them and then we bottle in England .
So you can hang out in the Diamond distillery and select whatever you want ...
Often i have to fight with Yesu to get my hands on the very old barrels! There is often a friendly rivalty, a battle between me and him because he does not want to give me the old rums, but he always end up giving it to me (laughs). And there I discovered the huge difference you get when the rum is aged under a tropical climate instead of a continental one.
Thats why I wanted to leave the Caroni's stock on its original site. It would have been easier for me to send them to Europe, but I decided to leave them there. And this experience teached me once again that the tropical aging is more beneficial, even if the angels share is much more important. I used to say that fortunately our Scottish friends do not live in the Caribbean, because they would be very sad! When you think for example that in a barrel of 25 yo rum you lost 90% of it... the 10% left shows the enormous difference with whiskey.
Rums are generally used (in the case of demerara rum) in small quantities for blends, to give them an identity, some character ...
Yes, the rum El Dorado is a blend of different 'marks': there is a base, a reference : PM (for Port Mourant) Uitvlugt (ICBU ) Enmore (EHP) and Albion (AN), which are all part of the mix. In Guyana there are the two most amazing stills in the world: the Port Mourant and Versailles stills ... both stills are always side by side at the distillery, but unfortunately we can not distill with Versailles because there are handling problems due to its age. I hope to release the last barrels of Versailles ..
And this is where we realize that Yesu was truly a great man, when he decided to centralize everything in Georgetown, he decided to keep alive all the stills. A multinational would never do that and would prefer to get rid of the stills, produce more and faster ...
You often go to Guyana?
Yes at least once or twice a year. If you go to Guyana, you understand that this is a truly unique country, always in the colonial period, a very different mentality. I remember the first time I went, they would never let me go alone. there was no risk, but they did not used to welcome someone, so they wanted to avoid any "risk". Sometimes I put my arm out and the driver told me "no no mr Gargano, get back inside now! "(Laughs). Yesu is an extraordinary man, he really created something unique, and he continues at 86...
It is almost impossible to get your hands on some of your first bottles, I think about the first Port Mourant who came out with vintages from 1972, 74, 75 ...
I have this unique opportunity to choose very old rums, and I honestly think that in a few years the ones I had the chance to select and bottle will be collector items, like old whiskey Macallan. The Port Mourant bottles of the 70s are actually the only ones I bought in England. Yesu asked me to find the barrels that were sold by mistake, exceptionnal rums according to him. When I managed to find some i bottled them. All other rums are official bottlings, fully aged in Guyana.
The idea of "Pure Single Rum" is important to you, 100% pot-still rums...
Producers and distillers now have the opportunity to make 100% pot still rums (unlike blend), but do not. Yet the result is a rum that comes to one degree lower (of alcohol) compared to a simple column, giving a product that has a huge capacity for aging, much more complex and therefore interesting. Today we made rum as the Scottish used to make whiskey 60 years ago, making blends of rum produced in a column and a rum produced in pot still: Appleton, diplomatic, Appleton ... but tomorrow they can decide to make a 100% pot still rum.
The first single malt has been officially bottled in 1967, its really young! And it will be exactly the same with rums. I'm sure that in 2 or 3 years a lot of distilleries will start to make 100% pot still rums, and their products will take a lot of value for everybody, for us consummers.
I often meet people who come to me and say, "I am a whiskey lover and I never drank rum, rum is a pretty basic product and all that, but your rums are exceptional and they can be compared to great whiskeys ", so things are moving today and there is still enough distilleries to produce Pure Single Rhum. Without being a label or something official, but that could be at least a category created by fans like you and me and it would be a very good thing, to understand the difference between a rum distilled in pot still, and the industrial rum, distilled in a column with 95% alcohol.
Can you tell us about your joint project with Capovilla, RUM RUM?
This is a dream, an idea I had when I was 18 and when I was in the West Indies: produce agricole rhum in a different way. And this is where RhumRhum was born in Marie-Galante, in collaboration with my friend Capovilla, the best distiller in the world.
For this project we took two technical innovations, not technological: we ferment pure sugar cane juice without adding water, and we are the only ones to do it. We distill the pure juice, and then make a long fermentation of 10 days, during which we control the temperature, and this is what develops the unique aromas of sugar cane. In fact we distill sugar cane like a pear or an apple. And then we have two small copper stills and we make a double distillation.
Right now we are bottling Liberation 2012 (bottled in 2013). The date refers to the time when we put together the rum, where we 'liberate' it ... the first bottling was 2.5 years (Liberation in 2010) and the new one is 5 years old, the result is exceptional, it is better than the first bottling. This is exactly the same product but older, which is really interesting since you can compare them.
I will launch a website before th eend of the year : www.OLDRHUM.com
I think i do have the largest collection of 'old' rums. And I want to share this collection because there are really amazing bottles, rums from the 70, 80, 90 .... And I will launch an online shop.
i have just launched my latest project : the Clairin of Haiti. Few people know the Clairin, yet they are exceptional. In haiti you can find very old varieties of sugar cane like the Cristaline cane, which are still grown in a very natural way, without chemistry. And these are the only rums in the world directly fermented with their natural yeast in cane juice. And the aromatic level is truly amazing. Right now I'm crazy about Haiti and Haitian Clairin ...
And I just had the permission of Haitian's government to open my own Clairin distillery on a small island south of Hispaniola: L'Île-à-Vache. This is great, the beginning of a great adventure.