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“I’m 29, but I like to joke that I have 27 years of experience in the alcohol industry,” says Alexandra Dorda, daughter of Tad Dorda, the co-founder of leading vodka brands Belvedere and Chopin. As a second-generation spirits entrepreneur, Dorda recently started her own brand, but rather than choosing the family tradition of vodka, she launched Kasama Rum, a beautifully aged golden spirit that’s inspired by her Filipino mother and Polish father’s unique heritage. Unlike many other rums found at liquor stores around the United States, Kasama is distilled in the Philippines using local produce and techniques and then brought to the family’s distillery in Poland to be bottled and packaged before being distributed in the United States.
Although Dorda has always been deeply entrenched in the family business, she spent the past four years working at a private equity fund in Warsaw, Poland. Quickly realizing this wasn’t where her passion lay, she started dreaming up plans for Kasama on the side. Using every spare weekend, spending nights after long days at work, and even sneaking into the occasional empty conference room, Dorda was finally ready to launch her labor of love in 2020. While the pandemic upended her plans, particularly given its damaging impact on the hospitality industry, Dorda decided to instead use social platforms to convey her brand’s unique story. Currently, Kasama is available at over 250 liquor stores across the United States. Earlier this month, the company launched its DTC operation and is now available to shop online.
As for anyone curious about what Kasama tastes like, I spent the past few weeks sipping on the rum, and let’s just say it’s a liquified pineapple-upside-down cake with a heady alcoholic kick that goes down really smooth. Delicious? One hundred percent! It’s perfect with some ice but really shines when used to whip up cocktails. Curious to learn more about the brand’s Filpino-Polish connection, I chatted with Alexandra about how her background shaped the brand, smashing tropes and giving Filipino rum a spotlight on a global platform, and why the overlooked spirit finally needs to get its spot in the sun.
Given your family’s long history of producing vodka, what made you pick rum?
I have been in the space for a very long time and have observed the alcohol category my whole life. And I always loved rum, especially because I love tropical cocktails, but I noticed there was nothing in the category that felt like it was for me. There are pirate rums and sailor rums and everything is fixated on this nautical trope. I have no interest in being a pirate, so I sort of observed this and didn’t really think it was my place to launch a rum until I learned a few years ago that the Philippines was one of the biggest rum producers in the world. And I had this ‘aha’ moment where I realized that I could launch this rum that I wish existed, which was more modern, convivial, and approachable for a millennial while celebrating the Filipino heritage that I’m so proud of.
Rum is usually associated with the Caribbean. We would love to learn a little bit more about the history of rum in the Philippines.
The Philippines is actually one of the biggest producers of rum in the world. The biggest rum brand is not Bacardi, but rather a brand from the Philippines. But it’s just mostly consumed locally, which is why a lot of people don’t know about it. We have a long history of producing rum since the Philippines was actually a Spanish colony for over 300 years, and that’s where the tradition comes from. It’s interesting because it’s just new information to a lot of consumers here in the United States.
What makes the rum-making process so unique in the Philippines?
The process itself isn’t different, but a lot of aspects of it are special. For example, the distillery is located amongst the sugarcane fields, so we source all our sugarcane locally from the region around the distillery. Sugar cane is actually native to Southeast Asia, so it’s fairly new to the Caribbean and was only brought there in the 1500s. We have some of the best sugarcane in the world. Something else that’s unique is that after the rum is distilled and aged, we actually bring it to our family’s distillery in Poland, where we blend, bottle, and package it. I can’t confirm, but I’m quite sure that we’re the only rum brand in the world that’s actually bottled in Poland, and to me, that’s very special to be able to connect all the three countries that I’m from — it’s distilled in the Philippines, bottled in Poland, and then enjoyed here in the United States!
What are some of the most unique factors about Kasama?
The taste profile is very different from many other rums out there. The golden color is because it’s an aged rum that lays for seven years in oak barrels. It’s not heavily spiced, and it’s not overly sweet, which many consumers expect rum to be like. It’s very light, it’s very sippable, and it has really beautiful tropical notes of pineapple and vanilla. Plus, in terms of the branding, it’s really a breath of fresh air in the category — a category that’s really in need of that. We wanted to get away from these nautical tropes and away from the pirate and sailor rums and present something that was fresh, modern, and fun.
Rum isn’t perceived as one of those everyday spirits you pop open after a long day at work. What are some ways you’re trying to change that perception?
A lot of people in the industry have been saying that rum is going to be the next whiskey or bourbon. I think that rum has everything going for it. It’s an aged spirit that people find really interesting. And because it’s distilled from sugarcane, it has a sweeter, approachable taste profile. Rum almost always comes from a tropical place, and there are really positive connotations around vacation and around that carefree lifestyle. I think that rum has everything going for it, we just need to tell the story better.
What are some of your favorite ways of enjoying Kasama?
I enjoy it neat, but I also enjoy a cocktail. For instance, I like to mix Kasama with coconut water, which is very light and refreshing, or pineapple juice. Another favorite is to blend up watermelon juice in the summer and just mix Kasama. When I’m feeling a bit more adventurous, I make a twist on a classic Daiquiri, which is usually lime juice, rum, and simple syrup. And instead of lime, I like to use calamansi, which is a Filipino citrus. It’s a tiny little lime that is a bit sweeter. So I like to make a Filipino Daiquiri with Kasama, calamansi juice, and simple syrup.
What impact has the pandemic had on your business?
We were supposed to launch in May 2020, but that got delayed for many reasons. First and foremost, everyone was just scared. It wasn’t a time to launch a brand. And a lot of places were closed and just trying to survive, so we had to push back the soft launch until September 2020. It’s also been difficult because typically you build new alcohol brands in restaurants and bars, where you work with bartenders and meet consumers and have them try your product. Since that’s not really possible, it definitely makes it harder. It has been challenging, but it’s something the whole industry is facing, and it forces you to be creative about how you tell your story online.
For folks who are new to rum, and especially to Kasama, how would you entice them to give your product a try?
It always starts with your eyes and nose. You always see the bottle and smell the product before you get to taste it. We worked really hard to tell a story with our bottle and show that it’s something for millennials and people like me. The second thing is that the nose is really fantastic on the rum. It has beautiful tropical notes, so if you can get them to smell it and it smells nice, they’d be more willing to try it. I have noticed a lot of people who say they don’t like rum, but then they try Kasama and they’re surprised at how much they really like it because they haven’t realized that rum could taste like this. We’re very excited to help bring new people back to rum, and I think it’s going well so far.