At 28, Jassil Villanueva is following the footsteps of four generations of master rum blenders in the Brugal Rum family. The family’s first female Maestra Ronera, or master blender, Villanueva is the tastemaker behind the 127-year-old company based in the Dominican Republic. The rum industry’s youngest master blender talks about taking on the crown jewel in the brand’s portfolio: the limited-release Brugal Papá Andrés, which retails for $1,500 per bottle.
Why did your family decide to start releasing the Papá Andrés rum to the public, even in small offerings?
The Papá Andrés blend is named for the company’s founding father, Don Andrés Brugal, my great-grandfather. Traditionally created only for consumption by the family and very close friends at special celebrations, in 2013, 500 exclusive decanters were released for the first time. The public release allows for the family to share the legacy of Don Andrés Brugal and provide rum drinkers, connoisseurs and collectors with a new expression of extraordinary quality to enjoy and to treasure.
The rum-distilling business has long been male dominated. Was it ever a struggle for you to become a master blender since you are young and a woman?
My age has not affected my becoming a Maestra Ronera. Growing up in the rum business, I was able to start training at an early age. As for my gender, I studied and worked extremely hard to get where I am today and perfect my craft as a Maestra, so it feels great to lead the way for the future women in my family and the rum industry in general. There is a stigma that only men can be Maestro Roneros. However, women are proven to have a stronger sense of smell and therefore, some might say, make even better Maestras!
What does it mean to you to be the first Maestra Ronera in the Brugal family and also the youngest Master of Rum in the industry?
The spirits industry is steeped in tradition, so to be able to break some of those traditional barriers feels great and is truly such an honor.
When did you start getting involved with blending and making rum, and what do you love about it?
I remember exploring the aging warehouse at an early age, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from university that I truly became fascinated with the process. What I love about it is how you can play with different aged rums to achieve new liquids, new bouquets, a variety of colors. Each barrel, each warehouse offers something new to discover.
Did you have to convince your family to let you blend the limited-edition Papá Andrés rum?
I am fortunate to be at a company that is interested in hearing everyone’s opinions and ideas. It was a great honor to be chosen to blend this year’s edition, based on my vision for it.
What experience, passion and perspective did you bring to this rum offering that makes it different from past blends?
Papá Andrés is the only one that does not follow a standard formula of our core line of rums, but it was something I could express myself through creating. We called it the Alegria edition because I wanted it to evoke happiness and joy. It is subtly sweet, complex, smooth and something truly different and worthy of enjoying. You can’t help but be happy when you take a sip.