By Jose Hoffmann
1. Who is Carmen López de Bastidas?
Carmen López de Bastidas is Venezuela’s first certified female Master Blender who has been, for the past 32 years, passionately developing the exquisite profiles of Ron Carúpano. She was born and raised in the coastal town of Carúpano (Venezuela) and before devoting her full time to rum, Carmen moved to Caracas to study and obtain her Chemistry degree, starting her career as a Quality Control Specialist.
In 1990, Destilería Carúpano, a local rum manufacturer, reached out to her, offering to lead their newly-created quality control department. Ron Carúpano has been a family-owned business since its foundation in 1762, with ambitious hopes and determination to expand to the international market. For this reason, the company needed to standardize its production system to ensure consistency and quality.
The board of directors understood they needed someone with a strong chemistry background to help them get the company to the next level, so they entrusted Carmen with this colossal task. That is why she is responsible for the award-winning commercial and prestige lines of Super Premium Venezuelan Ron Carúpano, setting the tone and paving the way for women to lead in the world of Rum. In her own words, being a rum master blender means “having the capacity, the taste, and olfactory sensitivity as well as the dedication to know how to mix different types of rums with different aging vintages to create extraordinary products that elevate every occasion in life”.
2. What does the rum mean for you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
For me, Rum means passion. It is my life; I love rum, and I love what I do. I fell in love with it when for the first time I saw a golden waterfall coming out of a barrel, giving me those rich perfumed aromas and inviting me to taste it, that’s when I said: this is for me, this is my life. Diving into this world 32 years ago was the best decision I have ever made.
3. Three essential characteristics that define the rum according to your perspective.
First of all, what should define Rum is its authenticity. When I think about Ron Carúpano I truly envision the magic happening inside those barrels, resting, totally undisturbed. Because the unique characteristics that each rum develops are impacted enormously by the location where it is aged. In the case of Ron Carúpano aging near the sea, around mountains in the Macarapana Valley, united with the humidity and temperatures high & lows generate an exceptional microclimate that gives our rum unique traits that no other place could give it.
Second, craft credentials are important. Quality should be rum´s flag and for that, a lot of professionalism and mastery are required balanced out with the love and dedication put into the process. I blend to offer a top-quality rum to everyone who has the opportunity to taste the ellipsis we call rum.
Finally, beauty and character are essential. Rum is a distillate that captivates the palate with its flavors. It has personality, strength and is very different from others. It has an elegant and arrogant personality that enlightens those who taste it. Rum, if I may say so, is our country as a brand; a Venezuelan rum identifies us with our work, with our land. It is easy to love rum because it provides the best moments.
4. What is the most important contribution you have made in the rum industry?
I think about my dedication. As a woman, I feel proud to venture into a profession that was a man’s dominated area until not long ago, but we discovered that many women are also rum lovers, and it is their favorite drink at the time of a toast!
For that reason, I feel proud to be an example for other women who dare to grow in this profession and get to know rum. As women who have that finesse in our palate, in our sense of smell, and that characteristic delicacy, we can now choose to make rum as a profession and excel. I invite you to dive into this world because it is genuinely fascinating!
5. Benefits that the rum industry has given you?
The world of rum never ceases to amaze. This industry has allowed me to kickstart and accelerate my professional life. 32 years ago, this seemed practically impossible as I was also a mother & a wife. It has permitted me to feel proud of myself every single day.
Another benefit is the amazing people I have encountered on this journey, especially my coworkers whose love, affection, and respect I value enormously. The admiration I feel for every one of them is genuine.
My mission is to create a rum that is appealing and seductive to the palate, so every time someone reaches out saying he or she is in love with Ron Carúpano, my heart becomes filled with pure joy as I make honor to Venezuelan Rum.
6. What´s another thing you are passionate about, in addition to rum? Why?
Cooking for my family and my closest friends is something sacred. It is a moment that allows me to connect with my loved ones and for me, those moments are priceless. Cooking enables me to experiment, blend, and do what I love the most, elevating the occasions with beautiful, delicious, and elegant creations!
7. What is your favorite place for drinking rum?
I wouldn’t talk about my favorite place. I would talk about them. Because a good place is any scenario where I can share rum with dear people, with people who value what I do and who value rum. I love to drink rum with someone who wants to share that passion with me, so whenever you want, reach out and I’ll be happy to toast with you while we enjoy a delicious chat.
8. Favorite drink + Recipe
A drink that I love is an author Cocktail called “The Carmen” created by Carlos Bustamante, head bartender of Alto Restaurant, a highly recognized venue in Caracas.
· 70% Pure chocolate liqueur· Condensed milk· Coffee liqueur· Carúpano 21
This needs to be “layered.” Fill the glass in order of reading, so the rum ends on top. (Secrets of the Cocktail)
Garnish: Cinnamon stick
9. Why is it important to educate the rum consumer?
People must know about rum to understand its value and appreciate it. Because unfortunately, people don’t know rum in-depth. Education is important because sophistication can be embraced when consumers understand the complexity of the liquid, the diverse aromas and flavors developed during alcohol evolution, and how versatile it is.
I am happy that we instruct society about what Venezuelan rum means in every tasting and moment we share with an audience. I love when we find ourselves in these scenarios with people who want to learn about rum.
10. Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum?
I suggest studying the rum, its origins, and becoming genuinely interested in understanding the structure, tone, and flavors within premium Rum. Anyone can become a connoisseur, but dedication is necessary since the liquid becomes more complex as it rests more in those oak barrels. We understand that during the last couple of years perception towards rum has shifted and it is now considered a more premium drink. Thus, consumers are beginning to move past the misconception that rum is just a fun drink, or a mixer lacking character.
The criterion to judge has shifted towards discernment, heritage, and craft. Therefore I would recommend looking at those characteristics when training the palate to truly understand the notes and the reason behind each bottle, regardless of the brand you prefer.
11. How can rum contribute to improving the crisis in some countries?
I believe that rum, in one way or another, contributes to times of crisis. When people take a sip of rum, they concentrate on those aromas they perceive, which may help them in a moment of loneliness and problems, always responsibly of course, but I cannot hesitate to say that it is a good companion through rough times. However, aligned with the recent consumer awakening, where premium rum is being more appreciated, rum is an industry that is growing steadily and fast, generating profitable results to rum producing countries’ economies, alleviating the crisis, and filling their population with energy, passion, and faith!
12. Is the commitment to sustainable development the key to success for thepermanence of the rum industry in the world? Why?
I believe sustainable development within the different areas it covers is an essential element of continuity of the Rum Industry and it is the responsibility of us, rum producers, to become not only a force for growth for the business but a force for good for the environment and the communities we impact. The reasons are multiple, from practical reasons relating to environmental health and the quality of sugarcane crops to social reasons related to stepping up and understanding that communities are the people behind each brand.
In the case of Ron Carúpano, maintaining a great relationship with the Carúpano town community is pivotal, that is why throughout our history we have kept close ties to local hospitals, schools, and participated in water sanitation projects that allow the proper development of our people. We annually carry out reforestations in the neighborhood of Chuare, plant trees, and always keep in mind the preservation of nature.
We are a company that is very mindful of sustainable development because, in the end, we recognize that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves.
13. Who would like to meet in the rum industry? What would you say to him/her?
I would love to meet Lorena Vasquez, the master blender of Ron Zacapa. I would enjoy a good rum on the rocks with her and chat about her trajectory, about the challenges she had to overcome.
I would tell her that I admire her, that I am here for her, and that I am truly happy that other women dared to step up and open the journey for women who are also rum fans.
14. What are your next goals in the rum industry?
When I started my career the goal was to standardize our formula. Before that, rum was created and recreated from memory, just like a soup. I am proud to say that the job was done and the result is beautiful. My goal is to share that result with the global community, to enlighten palates around the world with our creations, and to represent my beloved country in the best way I know how to: providing the best rum possible to elevate the occasions.
15. Plans you have when you leave the rum industry.
The truth is that I have thought about this. But my conclusion always is that even if I need to stay at home and go to the warehouse less frequently, I will be with Ron Carúpano until the end of my days. Even if I am very old, if you need me, I will be there. Because I don’t give up just like that.
16. Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry?
One of my favorite things in the world is speaking with bartenders. They are the evangelizers of rum culture and are responsible for taking the beautiful message that rum carries to all the consumers. In Ron Carúpano we are strong believers that moments and stories matter. In that sense, I believe that bartenders are responsible, to a large degree, for making those memories possible and elevating occasions through their creations.
We are not a pretend rum. That is the most powerful statement we would like our bartenders to know. Even our youngest rum of our commercial category holds within a strong character an uplifting note that is truly gratifying. So we would love to empower them always having the confidence that the final result will be of the highest quality no matter the tone of the creation, a fun cocktail, an elegant mix, or a strong neat.
17. What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry?
That they continue working with passion, that they stand on the shoulders of all our work to venture on new projects and help this industry continue growing, to train, to study, to go beyond, and to make honor to rum through education and mastery.
18. How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?
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