Santa Teresa, the other face of Venezuela

30 April 2023 | Interviews & Meetings
Santa Teresa, the other face of Venezuela
Interview with Benjamin Nolf, Ambassador of Santa Teresa
Hello, thank you for granting us an interview for the Excellence Rhum blog. Santa Teresa is a story that goes back a long way. Can you summarize this story for us?

Good morning ! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present Santa Teresa 1796. Indeed, to trace our 227 years of history we must go back to 1796, the date on which the Hacienda Santa Teresa was created. It is a family story spanning five generations, which has gone through difficult periods such as the war of independence, dictatorships, invasions, nationalizations, financial crises and even gang problems.

In 2003, three members of the "La Placita" gang broke into the Hacienda and ambushed the guard to steal his weapons, then fled. The Hacienda is home to one of Venezuela's most successful businesses and CEO Alberto Vollmer doesn't want it to become an easy target. He asks his head of security to get his hands on these individuals to offer them a deal: work for Santa Teresa for 3 months, housed, fed or hand them over to the police. The criminals agree. It is from there that the Alcatraz project was born: a vast program for the reintegration of ex-criminals, ex-gang members, prisoners, into society. To help them, different types of school and professional training, psychological monitoring and the practice of rugby have been offered to them. Rugby was an unknown discipline in the region at that time, but Alberto loves the values ​​it transmits such as team spirit, courage and humility.

Today, it is a pride for the 1st Venezuelan rum to have recruited 11 gangs to date and to have reduced the crime rate by more than 75% in the Aragua Valley. Some of them have become Alcatraz Ambassadors and meet people in the streets and prisons, while others have become coaches or players in the Venezuelan national rugby team: Alcatraz Racing Club.

Venezuelan rum has a Protected Designation of Origin. Can you give us the outline of this DOP? What about adding sugar?

The D.O.C, abbreviation of Denominación de Origen Controlada, is the equivalent of a local AOC in Venezuela, created in the early 2000s. To benefit from this designation, Venezuelan rum brands must meet several criteria, the main ones being:

• The raw materials must be of Venezuelan origin.

• All production steps must be carried out in Venezuelan territory.

• The rums must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels.

• No additives likely to modify the taste (vanillin, cinnamon, glycerin, etc.) are authorized. However, the addition of sugar and coloring is permitted.

In the case of Santa Teresa, all of our sugarcane is grown and harvested on the fertile lands of Hacienda Santa Teresa located in the heart of the Aragua Valley. Our rums are aged for at least four years, and up to 35 years for the Santa Teresa 1796, in three different types of barrels (ex-Bourbon, ex-Scottish, French Limousin). Of course, we don't add any chemicals or coloring.

Regarding added sugar, we want to be transparent and specify that we add less than 3 g of sugar per liter of pure alcohol. We keep this quantity very low to preserve the dry and surprising texture that characterizes Santa Teresa 1796.

For the Santa Teresa 1796, the brand's flagship reference, you highlight the "real solera rum". Can you enlighten us on this concept?

La Solera is an artisanal method of "dynamic" aging and blending originating in Andalusia, Spain. Widely used in the world of sherry and brandy, it was then exported to other areas such as rum, champagne and whisky. The philosophy of this method consists in bringing together old brandies with younger ones, who will together continue to educate themselves and each bring out their strengths.

At Santa Teresa 1796 we are pioneers in the use of Solera in the world of rum. We respect the origins of this ancestral method by stacking four rows of barrels. None of these barrels is ever completely emptied, which is a very important notion for the appearance of the blend. The row closest to the ground (sol = suelo = solera) is the Solera. The liquid is withdrawn there for the bottling, and the vacuum created in the Solera is completed by the row above (criadera), which is itself completed by the row above, and so on until the highest row, where we integrate our new liquids. Our Solera allows us to guarantee a certain consistency of taste, character and color over the years, which avoids any artificial additions. It is thanks to the Solera that Santa Teresa 1796 is completely natural and perfectly balanced!


A cocktail with Santa Teresa ?

Benjamin recommends tasting Santa Terezsa 1796 in an Old Fashioned. 

Many cocktail recipes are available on Benjamin's Instagram account (ben_spirits). Subscribe to his content!

How is Santa Teresa 1796 rum produced? How would you describe its taste?

I must admit that we take no shortcuts and that our production steps are complex for a Hispanic type rum.

It all starts in our cane fields. The Aragua Valley offers us a unique climate and exceptional fertile land for our sugarcanes. From this cane, we obtain molasses loaded with sugar and flavors. We ferment the molasses in two different ways: a first continuous fermentation 7 days 24/7 and a second in parallel which can last up to 4 weeks. It is quite rare, even unique, to have such a long fermentation in this typology. Then comes the distillation step. We use two types of stills, column still and pot still. From these two stills, we get 3 different styles:

• Light rum: taken from the 4th column at +/- 95% alc/v. It is the backbone of our blend. This juice brings us structure but also notes of pepper, floral and a slight citric side.

• Heavy rum: taken from the 1st column at +/- 75% alc/v. It is the richness and the fruit of Santa Teresa 1796. It offers us notes of fresh fruits such as apple, pear, pineapple and hints of spices.

• Pot still rum: double distillation in pot still at +/- 83% alc/v. All the complexity and the crazy side of Santa Teresa 1796. We find the markers of pot still rums, ripe, candied, fermented fruits, empyreumatic notes.

Aging cellars for the production of Santa Teresa 1796
Nancy Duarte, Maitre rhumière chez Santa Teresa

We then age our three styles of rums, reduced to 63% alc/v, separately in bourbon casks. Then comes the expertise of Nancy Duarte, our Rum Master. She tastes the different juices daily in order to select the most mature for the blend. Nancy will select up to 30 rums from 4 to 35 years old for each of its batches. The challenge is to respect the recipe originally created in 1992 for each blend. This blend will then integrate our Solera where it can finally blend with the previous blends. This Solera uses Scottish oak barrels that have contained whisky. Before bottling, we let our rum rest in 19 hectoliter French oak barrels from Limousin which also respect the philosophy of the solera, that is to say never to be completely emptied. In these casks we find the "Mother rum", the first blend created for the launch of the Santa Teresa 1796 in 1996 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Hacienda. From there, each bottle contains a drop of the original rum.

Then comes the bottling after the reduction and filtration, then the application of this emblematic red wax, done by hand. Here is the long manufacturing process of the Santa Teresa 1796.

All these steps give us a sweet, dry and incredibly balanced rum. To describe its tasting, we begin by observing its naturally clear and mahogany robe.

The attack is frank without being aggressive, giving way to a nice roundness with notes of spices, cocoa and coffee. Dried fruit and banana follow quickly, before discovering a lingering length. Rancio, leather and tobacco complete this tasting. I recommend this rum to the seasoned amateur, but also to the novice.

The Santa Teresa 1796 has enough character and complexity to delight the amateur, while being sufficiently accessible not to destabilize the novice. I have also noticed that more and more whisky consumers are won over by the Santa Teresa 1796.

Sugarcane field at Santa Teresa
There is the Santa Teresa 1796 rum, but there are also other references at Santa Teresa. Can you please present them to us and possibly tell us their type of use?

In France, our strategy focuses only on our high-end reference, the Santa Teresa 1796. However, in other countries, it is possible to find our entry-level references, such as the Gran Reserva (2 to 5 years) or the Linaje (3 to 14 years) with its black bottle, which are perfectly suited for use in cocktails.

It is important to note that the long fermentation, distillation in pot still and aging in solera are exclusive to Santa Teresa 1796. I recommend drinking it neat or in cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or the Daiquiri. Maybe by the end of the year I will have new things to present... See you at Whiskey Live 2023 😉

You can also find cocktail ideas on my Instagram account (ben_spirits) as well as information on bars offering Santa Teresa 1796.

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Interview by

Matthieu Lange
Conseiller en spiritueux