Don Q Master Distiller Sylvia Santiago (Interview)

Published by The Rumlab ago about the Don Q company

Don Q Master Distiller Sylvia Santiago (Interview) article cover image

SILVIA SANTIAGOSn. VP Manufacturing & Rum Master BlenderDestilería Serralles


By Jose Hoffmann


1. Who is Silvia Santiago?

Ms. Silvia Santiago holds the position of Senior Vice President of Manufacturing at Destilería Serralles, Inc. She began her career in the Company in 1973 working with the fermentation as a microbiologist and continued moving to other positions such as Laboratory supervisor, Director of Quality Control, Compliance Director up to her current position. Besides being responsible for the entire manufacturing process, starting with the purchase of sugarcane molasses up to bottling the finished product, blending, and tasting distillates and aged products is part of her daily work.

Silvia is the product of the public education system in Puerto Rico, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Natural Sciences at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. She completed her degree in Medical Technology and then earned her degree in Chemistry from the same institution. Later she completed her Masters in Global Management.  She is married to Roberto Velazquez, “the wind beneath her wings”, and she is the mother of three children, Robert, Estrella and David, which are the inspiration in her life.

2. What does the rum mean for you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

Rum is the center of my work, the reason why I work. I fell in love with rum since the very first day I started working. I was greeted by the smell of molasses, absorbed by the yeast and the fermentation, captivated by the distillation process, and mesmerized with the mystery of the ageing and the barrels. The rum process caught me right from the start.

3. Three essential characteristics that define the rum according to your perspective.

There are different styles of rum and new ones are coming to the market too often. Not necessarily all are good. But for me, (1) rum must have a clear definition of its class – appearance, aroma, taste -, (2) ageing is best, to give depth to the product, and (3) it should have consistency, maintain its character through time.

4. What is the most important contribution you have made in the rum industry?

Help to elevate the category to its proper place, educating all types of audiences on the superb characteristics of rum.

5. Benefits that the rum industry has given you.

The opportunity to learn about products, about processes, meeting extraordinary people. Also, to present Puerto Rico as the producer of the best rum in the world.

6. What’s another thing you are passionate about, in addition to rum? Why?

I love to read, but do not have too much time for that.  So, years ago I discovered audiobooks. What a blessing!

7. What is your favorite place for drinking rum?

Any place is good, but at home, at the end of the day, sipping a Reserva 7 is the best way to relax and welcome the night.

8. Favorite drink + Recipe

I like my rum straight, savoring each flavor. But this cocktail is delicious:

Reserva 7 Old Fashioned:

– 2 oz Don Q Reserva 7

–  ½ tsp. sugar

– 1 Dash of Angostura bitters

– 2 dashes of ginger extract

– 1 Orange peel

– 1 Maraschino cherry

A – Place the sugar in an old-fashioned glass. Add the dash of bitters and the two dashes of ginger extract. Muddle the mixture. Add rum and stir. Add ice and stir again until well chilled. Garnish with orange peel and maraschino cherry.

B – *Garnish up to discretion

9. Why is it important to educate the rum consumer?

Nowadays the customer seeks information to make decisions on buying a product. There is a lot of misinformation regarding rum. Our product has tradition, has technology, there is a lot of care in the manufacturing process. It takes years to obtain good quality rum. We, the people who understand all of these elements, have the responsibility to educate the consumer so they have the facts to choose rum as their favorite product.

10. Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum?

Use all your senses! Listen when you remove the cap, when you pour the liquid… observe the rum, the color, the clarity of the liquid, watch for the density when you swirl the rum… smell and find the notes of wood, vanilla, smoky character of the barrel, fruity traces coming from the fermentation or nutty and dry fruit when the rum is really aged… taste and feel the initial slightly sweet note coming from the alcohol, the unctuosity of aged rum balanced with the flavors matching the aroma, and slowly swallow the rum feeling the warmth expanding in your throat, in your heart, where a good rum should be felt!

11. How can the rum contribute to improving the crisis in some countries?

Beginning with the raw material to make rum, cane sugar. The agricultural phase is needed, and those countries could help their economies working that phase.

12. Is the commitment to sustainable development the key of success for the permanence of the rum industry in the world? Why?

Improving on sustainability is an intricate part of our process will help our industry and at the same time, little by little, will be improving the world. We are using resources from the land, if we don’t take care to keep them in good shape, there won’t be those resources in the future. We owe that to the earth.

13. Who would like to meet in the rum industry? What would you say to him/her?

No one specific and at the same time all who works in the industry. Whenever I meet someone who shares the same passion for the product and the process, there is not enough time to keep talking!

14. What are your next goals in the rum industry?

Keep looking for new products to please the customer.

15. Plans you have when you leave the rum industry.

Still thinking, but no plans to retire yet.

16. Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry?

The Bartender is so many things in one! Most importantly, they are our ambassadors.  The customer seeks in the bartender the expert to answer all their questions. A bartender well educated in rum is key to promote the product.

17. What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry?

Never stop listening to the customer and never negotiate quality.

18. How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?

Facebook page under Silvia Santiago and, of course, DonQ.com