Exclusive Interview with Mr. Daniel Antonio Nunez Bascunan
It gives me great pleasure to bring to you this interview all the way from Copenhagen, Denmark with Mr. Daniel Nunez Bascunan, a true rum lover at heart. I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel a few years back at the Congreso del Ron in Madrid, Spain. During our first conversation, it was very apparent just how passionate he was about rum and of course it was only natural that we would become instant friends. Sometimes I caught myself wondering, if it were possible…. I do believe Daniel would be one of the rare humans that could actually bleed rum because it certainly does run in his veins!
It is always so nice to meet up with him and find out what rum quest he is off on. As you will learn throughout his interview, Daniel is an extremely busy man and so I really appreciate him taking the time out of his super crazy schedule to have this interview with me. I wish him and his team all the very best and I look forward to our next meeting and great conversations.
Margaret Ayala, Publisher
Q: What is your full name, title, company name and location?
My full name is Daniel Antonio Nunez Bascunan and my titles are Chief in Charge & Rum Geek Extraordinaire at either rumclubcph.com or ektespirits.com, both operating out of the old Latin quarter Copenhagen, Denmark. As you’ve probably noticed by my surnames, I’m not Danish of descend, although my passport is Danish my parents are from Chile, but due to what Colin Powell categorized as one of the darkest chapters of US foreign policy, we ended up in Denmark. My ancestors though trace back to Spain, Germany, France and the Mapuche tribe in the southern part of Chile.
Q: How did you first get involved in the rum industry?
Ohm, rum is part of my family or I usually blame my parents for my love of rum. I blame them, because since I can remember they used to take “summer” coffee (rum & Coke in a thermos with ice cubes) to the beach on summer days and enjoy it.
So when I started in the bar industry during my high school years, Havana Club launched in Denmark, so this together with the inherited love for rum, just made it my first go to spirit. I remember buying my first bottle of El Dorado 12 in 1998, which is still in my collection at Rum Club Copenhagen, before they changed the packaging and blend, to the one we know today. This love for rum also came through the menu of my first cocktail bar, Barbarellah, which I opened with my siblings back in 2004. This location was the 4th cocktail bar to open in Copenhagen and we had great success with introducing the Danish audience to the Mojito. We estimated to have produced around 250,000 mojitos during the 8 years we had the cocktail bar. Already back then the back bar was full of rum; we ended up having about 170 different rums behind the bar.
Q: I understand that you own a rum bar. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Yes of course, I had an opportunity to open a small rum dungeon (basement) in the old Latin quarters of Copenhagen and this had been my wish for some time. We ended up redoing an old 150sqm bike shop, changing it into a cozy neighborhood bar, with a classic atmosphere and a bar cabinet that would leave little to wish for. With my background the level behind the bar is contemporary modern cocktails, where the craft behind the bar is at international level, making our own juices, syrups and liquors.
The rum cabinet with over 500 expressions of rum is the main at traction for the bar; I have been working with my crew to change the way we talk about all the rum. After the whole classical/colonial division of rum traditions (it’s the categorization, where each rum tradition follow their prior colonial countries and naming that rum tradition), has been deemed obsolete, we have been inspired to star t rethinking the categorization and with the input of Mr. Seale, Mr. Biondi and Mr. Gargano, we updated our way of talking rum with our guests.
So now we are talking distillates as light, medium and heavy rums. We look at distillation techniques and producers to categorize the rums, because knowing the producers we can of ten know how they finish their product. We categorize 2 different traditions within finishing rum, a classic and a modern. Classic finish is under 15 gr. of sugar added per liter, where anything above would be modern. Sugars adding does not necessarily means adding castor sugar, they might use muscatel wine or other sweet wine or juice to add a bit of flavor profile to their rums.
We have now been open for about 2 years and people are enjoying the possibility of coming down and trying something challenging, that they normally wouldn’t and they trust my crew to guide them through the expressions in our rum cabinet.
And of course we use our extended knowledge of flavors in rum to make amazing classic cocktails. Let me explain myself, I consider myself an old school bar tender, I do understand modern mixologist need to reinvent themselves, but I very much appreciate simple cocktail with no more than 3- 4 ingredients. Unfortunately I see some cocktail menus around the world that seem to be addressed to fellow bar tenders, more than the regulars in the bar. So with the knowledge of rum, we play a lot around blending different rums in the cocktails, so that we can achieve complex flavors, through different distillates, but still keep a clean palate where ever y taste can be tasted.
Q: Is this the first or the only rum bar in the city? If not, what sets it apart from the others?
There is another location, Brass Monkey, which is a tikibar, which has had a collection of rum. But more importantly any well assorted restaurant in Copenhagen, will today have at least 4 - 6 different aged rums, most in the category candy for grownups or gateway rum. Sorry let me explain my self, so I don’t sound rum snobbish. This category is for me the door opener for most new rum enthusiast, if they are not used to drinking neat spirits. This category is characterized by heavy sugared rums, most of them of lighter rum profiles. This category of course covers expressions by brands like Zacapa, Millionario and most that comes out of the Oliver & Oliver factor y in Dominican Republic.
I really don’t mind this category; my biggest objection is that the brands are not being honest with their production methods. Don’t deceive the consumer cause they will find out about your product. Already today the informed Danish rum drinker knows that any bottle that says “Sistema Solera” is trying to mislead the consumer. There is only one actual Solera I know of, the rest seem to be of the planet mars, cause nobody has seen them and I’m not talking about the 30 barrels stacked horizontally in the entrance at a bottling facility in the tourist area, that usually are for show only. This categories lack of transparency and deception with the fake numbers on the labels really annoys me, because If some of these producers like DI AGEO really wanted to be honest, transparent and morally respectable, they should remove the 23 from the front of the label and put 6 on it if they wanted to keep a number, because EU laws dictates that the years stated is the youngest in the blend, but DIAGEO didn’t, they only removed años beneath the 23. DIAGEO could learn a lot from somebody like Ed Hamilton and his line of products, they are 100% transparent and traceable, go to his website and you can follow every movement and shipment, it something that I aspire to be able to do…
Primarily rum club is for me the first 100% rum focused bar in Copenhagen and doing it without the hoola and tiki lifestyle, that follow many rum bars. Let me clarify I really don’t mind a great tikibar as Martin Cate’s Smugglers Cove in San Francisco or any well done tiki bar for that matter, but what I wanted to create was a venue for rum enthusiast where the rum came first and not the Hawaii shirt or anything else for that matter, as my slogan for the bar is: It’s all about the rum.
Q: Is it true you’ve also developed your own rum brand? Was there a specific niche you were trying to fill with it?
Yes, I was fortunate to be contacted by one of Denmark’s largest liquor store chains, to develop a new product range for the Scandinavian rum market and of course I couldn’t say no, this was a opportunity that I couldn’t miss.
Through my research into the rum-producing world I got quite disappointed, because it seemed that the marketing departments ran off with the truth many years ago and personally I’ve been peddling the marketing deception for a decade. The lack of regulation and the lack of implementing the little regulation there was surprised me a lot, it would be great if the EU finally got it fingers out and actually implemented EU law 110/2008. The amount of flavors and extracts added to rum astonished me, which under lined my two objections to the rum market and led me to my two first choices, which was to first of all make a honest rum brand, with 100% transparency and traceability or let me say as much transparency that the industry allows me to have, there are limits to what I can get away with. Secondly I did not want to add anything to my rum non-spiced blends, the only elements that I gave myself to work with was wood and sugar.
So all our blends are openly declared on our website, with the individual ages of the blends we source out of 4 different distilleries in the Caribbean; Jamaica, Southern Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad. If you know the rum world, you know that there is only one operating distillery in Guyana, the same for Trinidad and there is only one in Southern Barbados, so now you know from where I source my liquids to the blends we do, without naming the producers of our liquids. Besides this we are completely open about our use of sugars, which also comes through the back label on the bottles.
Next I wanted to make a range of reproducible rums, which quickly let me to the other disappointment, that most reproducible Caribbean rums could never be older than 12 years. This of course meant that there were a lot of rums out there, that seem to have quite a challenge justifying there age claims, unless they of course are one of the big players on the market like Appleton, Foursquare and so forth.
So I ended up choosing to names to all our blends, so there is no age statement deception on the bottles, I basically ended giving them my working tittles for the blends as names, so, for example, my light rum is called EKTE Light & Dry. I liked the idea of tittles which for me tells a lot more to the end consumer about what he is supposed to expect, than some silly age statement that says nothing about the liquid inside the bottle. Let me explain myself, the age that a liquid spends in a barrel means absolute nothing if you know anything about spirits, cause there are so many variables that come into place, first of all what liquid are you putting into your barrel, light or heavy spirits? Secondly, has the barrel been used before?? Has it been re-charred, rinsed? Where is it aged in the warehouse? Where is the warehouse geographically?? and many more variables.
I also opted for a higher baseline of abv through the entire range. I still don’t know which rum god got down from the sky and told everybody that they should bottle at 40 abv. I like rum that flavors of rum, hence I like my rums less watered down, so our baseline abv. Is 43abv, even though we have a blend at 38abv and another at 47abv. This higher abv also makes our blends expressions work perfectly behind the bar, where of course we also use our blends. Basically all our blends can be enjoyed neat, but also works brilliantly in cocktails, as the blends also can be rum marks/profiles behind the bar. For example, our EKTE Pungent & Geeky blend is a beautiful full bodied Jamaican rum expression and works amazingly in a classic Old Fashioned, due to the body and the 47abv.
On top of everything else I also wanted to create a new look for a rum bottle, cause I’m really annoyed with the lack of innovation in our category, please could we stop using palm trees, pirates, haciendas, old men, barrels, plantations and parrots, sorry Mr. Seale no disrespect ever meant your liquid is beautiful and you have been using the parrots for decades. This of course meant that my amazing art director, Ms. Fibæk-Mikkelsen, had a challenge, cause as she was looking forward to make a rum brand, but had not counted on me eliminating most elements that dictate rum to the end consumer.
Besides the above I especially didn’t not want any numbers on my blend bottles, cause I would not like to deceive the consumer as many in our industry do, with cask no. 23 and all the other numbers trickery. So taking the new design framework and turning into a design style took us quite some time and came out really beautiful, which comes through on our look for the bottles and everything we do– I think we have succeeded in creating a new look for a rum bottle. Besides all of the above, what I did first was call up a old friend, Mr. Christian Schjerbeck, that had been building brands for others, out of his company in Guangzhou China, for a decade and a half, and asked him if he was up for a bit of rum fun. Christian said go go go and here 18 months later, a lot of choices later and we just launched our rum brand at 4 fairs all over Europe, MixologyXTrends (Madrid), German RumFest(Berlin), Bar Convention Berlin and UK RumFest (London).
So we are very pleased to see that the consumer responds really well to this whole new approach to a rum brand, we had nothing but compliments on all the fairs we just did. People react very well to our full transparency and honesty, which a lot of consumers find liberating, after all the deception that a lot feels is going around. It seems that the rum drinker in Europe is really enjoying our approach and seems to hit the spot. I must say I’m also very satisfied that our rum profiles seem to hit the palates as expected.
For instance the German rum market is known for being a bit to the sweeter side, so out of our range it was the Spiced & Rich and Dark & Aged, which hit the spot on the German Rumfest. Where when we introduced our range to the UK audience at the UK Rumfest, it was very noticeable that there was a tradition towards heavier rums, with the influence of the navy rums, such as LAMBS, so the rum profiles that went really well were the more full bodied rums with marks of Aged & Geeky and Pungent & Geeky, which hit the spot.
We have also received a lot of praises on our brand new approach to a rum brand design, so it’s with a lot of pride and joy that we already now, can say that only after being active with the brand for 4 months, we already have distribution in 3 countries and we are talking with another 3 countries, which will be more than we would have expected on a small new rum brand. It seems that everybody is reacting very well to our entire new approach of talking and showing rum…
Q: How did you come up with the name for the rum? Was this name your first choice?
We named our brand EKTE SPIRITS, originally EKTE RUM , but we ended up at an awesome location in northern Spain for our 3rd batch of EKTE rum, where we have access to 2 beautiful old Cognac Alambics, that I will not be able to keep my hands off for long, hence the change to EKTE SPIRITS. We actually already used these beauties for the 3rd batch, as we used them to make a rum based vanilla distillate that we add as our spice in our EKTE Spiced & Rich blend, which if you ask me is the first delicate spiced rum, where you can still taste the rum and that has a dry finish, which was very important for me, cause I really hate the over sugared and heavy colored mainstream spiced rums.
This name came after we had some legal issues with our first name, Rum Club Rum, so opted for the option of taking the Nordic word of marriage, EKTE, ÆGTE or ÄKTA and turning into our name EKTE, cause our start has been in the marriage of alcohols as we are an independent blending house.
Q: Please tell us about the rums in your portfolio, plus any others that might be in the works. for the blends.
• EKTE Light & Dry, which is a blend of aged and un-aged rums that we marry in virgin American oak before bottling at 43abv, this is a beautiful medium bodied blend of pot and column still rums, which consists of 70% fresh Trinidad column still, 10% fresh Jamaican Pot still and the last 20% is a 5 year old blend, we source out of Southern Barbados.
• EKTE Spiced & Rich is a version of a delicately Spiced rum, which was one of my largest challenges, because I really don’t like spiced rum and getting to this result took some trials. But basically we took our white rum at 75abv and left it to infuse with Organic Bourbon Vanilla for 4 weeks, then we redistilled that so that we got rum based vanilla distillate that we could add back into the rum. On top of this we played a bit with some cane honey for coloring and some inverted sugar for a bit of sweetness.
• EKTE Dark & Aged is our version in the Category: Candy for grownups or Gateway rum. This is the only blend we have watered down to 38abv, because we still wanted to introduce heavier Pot Stilled liquids to the regular consumer, which might be more used to lighter column distilled rums as many of the sweetened rum consist of these kinds of liquids. This blend consist of 10% 8 year old Barbados blend, Pot and Column still blend, 45% 5 year old Column still out of Trinidad, where we source a Latin Style “añejo” rum, and 45% Guyanese Pot Still blend. This we add caramel coloring, a bit of inverted sugars, where we have raised the fructose and taken down the glucose level to give a dryer sweetness. This really is a gateway rum, should be enjoyed neat…
• EKTE Aged & Geeky is my version of a medium bodied dryer rum at 43abv aka geeky abv’s, where predominant flavor profile comes from the Guyanese pot still, like the Dark & Aged but with a bit of 3 year old Jamaican pot still blend in it, to add a bit more body.
• EKTE Pungent & Geek is the blend I did for myself and I like Jamaican rum, so this blend has a lot of flavor from the Jamaican Pot still blend we source. This blend consists of 40% 3 year old Jamaican Pot Still blend, 40% 8 year old blend out of a Southern Barbados distillery and the last 20% is the 5 year old Trinidad blend we use.
Besides our reproducible blends portfolio, we are also releasing some single cask rums, where we have full traceability to its origins. The idea with these releases is to bottle them at cask strength, from about 58abv to 68abv and they will be proper limited releases of 250 – 300 bottles of each, because that is what I can get out of a cask after 12–23 real years, that has been consolidated. Right now our distributor in Denmark has picked 6 different cask releases we are doing, retailing from 175 USD to about 350 USD. We are also doing proper work on the packaging, because I’m very tired of beautiful liquids being sold in awful cheap packaging, because some independent bottlers don’t have the passion to keep raising the bar in the rum market and we need this if we want the category to keep growing.
Q: Over the past year I have heard of several new rum brands coming out of Denmark.
What, in your opinion, is the cause for this growth? Rum is huge here in Denmark, where aged rum is being sold more than aged whisky. The Aged rum category has been growing with around 40% ever y year for the last 2–3 years and that’s why there are new brands coming out of Denmark. There are different ways of approaching making new rum, for example, we have Skotlander Rum out of Aalborg, who makes small batch rum using Brazilian molasses and they distill their own beautiful liquid, which they age in small virgin American oak, great stuff. Then we have some less attractive brands, where they seem to reinvent history and basically lie to the consumer on the origin of the rum and add a ton of extracts, aromas and coloring to make the rum appear more aged, than it actually is. My largest objection to this is, that if the consumer ends up drinking this over flavored and sugared rum, that has been added through a “stock” by a flavor company, then this consumer will be extremely disappointed when he tries a rum without added flavor, because honest rum producers can never create that intense flavor profile without extracts and aromas. It’s like if you think that water should taste like Coca Cola. My second objection to this category is that people can end up paying for a Ferrari but get a Fiat. I think that the mayor reason why the rum category has grown so much is that DIAGEO , with Zacapa, have invested heavily into marketing of the Zacapa brand, which is the gateway rum for many rum drinkers. This has also influenced that most of the rum sold here in Denmark is in the category of Candy for Grownups. Fortunately I already see a trend for customers trying drier rums, after they have gone through the heavily sweetened rum. For example, I did a little dance in our prep area of Rum Club, because no later than 14 days ago, I heard 2 young guys coming to the bar asking for a glass of Port Mourant 1997, from the Velier collection. This means that the education of the consumer on the different stills is working…
Q: Do you think Denmark is ready to hold its own Rum Festival?
We do actually have some spirits festivals, a lot where rum features heavily, but there are none to date that have a proper rum festival at an international level, like German Rum Fest or UK Rum Fest, where the rum is the main at traction. A lot of the festivals we have today unfortunately end up being one day binge drinking, especially the one we have where you only have 3 hours to tour the stands. I know that there are par ties trying to get such an event to Denmark, but I’ve also heard that the budget for execution of the event is insane, so right now they are trying to land a major sponsorship agreement, but don’t worry I’ll keep you posted on this.
Q: If our readers want to contact you, to learn more about your bar or rums, how may they reach you?
Of course everybody is allowed to do the classical social media stocking, either through Facebook or Instagram and anybody who wants to talk rum is welcome to write me through my personal webpage, but they can follow us on the following websites, where they will find the links to our social media sites:
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Yeah please read through the lines of the marketing departments and inspired by John Stewards “The Daily Show” good bye messages, CALL OUT THE BS. For example, when one of the largest rum brands go on the market with a limited release, where they have planted 24 herbs and spices next to their barrels, which has influenced the flavor… Can I get a BS… Next is I would love to have the entire food and beverage industry, stop saying years after the names of the expressions, until the date when the rum industry starts having some standards that they will follow.
To all the industry people reading this, please take on the challenge, do some innovations instead of just going down the same trail as the last centuries and please let's make this category grow together, but it will never be through deceiving the consumer with misleading numbers on the front labels and misleading production methods like “Sistema Solera”.
Again I don’t want to sound bitter, but after seeing what’s going on, we need regulations and ingredients list could be the way forward and the EU should start implanting their own laws, because then a lot of labels would have to be redone.
My last point with the implementation of regulations is that I want “the rum category to go down the whisky road”, to quote Mr. Seale (Foursquare), and not the vodka road. With this I mean that I want the rum category to be an intrinsic value market, where there is real value behind the product, and not a perceived value market, where it only comes down to packaging. I mean what the difference between the 20 and 50 dollar vodka, the packaging. In the rum category, unfortunately, we are already going down the vodka road and some of us in this industry are trying to push towards intrinsic value, instead of this perceived value market, and this objection to the rum category could easily be projected over to the world economical problems of modern capitalism…
Thank you Margaret…