It seems like every celebrity has a tequila brand these days, with The Rock, LeBron James, and Nick Jonas all jumping into the world of agave spirits over the past year or two. But for multi-talented pop star Bruno Mars, it has always been about rum. After SelvaRey came onto his radar a few years back, he knew immediately he wanted to get involved with the brand and is now a co-owner and creative director helping to guide its global vision.
Up until now, SelvaRey consisted of two premium expressions—a white rum that has been aged and then charcoal filtered, and a chocolate-flavored expression. Both are single estate rums produced in Panama by master blender Don “Pancho” Francisco Fernandez. He has been a “maestro ronero” (or master rum maker) for five decades, initially in his homeland of Cuba and since the ‘90s in Panama. Fernandez oversees the entire operation, which is notable for employing sustainable practices like eschewing chemical pesticides and reducing its carbon footprint by recycling waste as fuel and fertilizer.
There have been some changes to the brand recently, including an updated bottle design and the addition of the aged, ultra-premium Owner’s Reserve expression. For this brand-new release, Mars worked closely with Don Pancho, who selected 15- to 25-year-old rum to blend together into a flavorful sipping spirit. Notes of banana, brown sugar, tropical fruit, and oak mingle together on the palate, followed by a long, lingering finish. Owner’s Reserve ($149) is now available in limited quantities.
Mars talked to Departures in an exclusive interview about the new Owner’s Reserve rum, how he got into the spirits business, and what some of his favorite cocktails to make at home are.
Over the past few years, it seems like tequila has been the spirit of choice for celebrities to get involved with. Obviously, for you it was rum. Why?
I met the founders of SelvaRey about seven years ago, after I was sent their white and chocolate rums. The rums had won a bunch of awards. They tasted like tropical luxury, like being transported on a vacation. I started having the rum shipped to me regularly, and over time built a great relationship with Seth [Gold] and the founders. I knew they had something special so I came on board to bring whatever magic I could to help build this world. But really, the best thing about this is that you can take me out of the equation and the rums are still award winners.
What was your experience and familiarity with rum back when you started the brand? How much did you know about the category and were you always a rum drinker?
Growing up in Hawaii, rum was what I was most familiar with—mai tais, rum punch, mojitos, piña coladas. I’ve had phases of getting into different cocktails and spirits, but rum has always been my go-to.
Was launching an ultra-premium expression like Owner's Reserve part of the plan from the beginning? Were you personally involved in selecting the rum that would go into the blend?
Honestly, it wasn’t part of the original plan, but I was very involved. It was something I wanted us to develop because dark, aged rums are my favorite. I knew what I wanted. It had to be not just the best, it had to blow other rums out of the water. Thankfully, our distiller in Panama is a genius. I asked Don Pancho if he could make something like that for us. We went through a bunch of versions and landed on the Owner’s Reserve. It’s the greatest rum I ever tasted. It needed to be something that would impress the biggest rum or even whiskey and tequila experts. But at the end of the day it just had to taste delicious. And it does.
In your opinion, what are the characteristics of high-quality rum?
To me, the beauty about being in the spirits category is that it’s very yes or no. It either tastes good or it doesn’t.
How did your relationship with Don ‘Pancho’ Francisco Fernandez come about? Were you familiar with him as a rum maker before you started working together?
My relationship with him came from meeting the partners at SelvaRey, who had worked with him to develop the white and chocolate rums. They told me who he was. His story is incredible. He’s the real deal.
What are some of your favorite rum cocktails to make at home?
Rum and ginger ale is the easiest way to get the party started. When I want to show off, I make a mean piña colada. And when I’m hosting serious VIPs, they get treated to a mango colada, but only in mango season… obviously.
What are your hopes for 2021, both personally and for the growth of SelvaRey?
I hope non-rum drinkers are ready to jump on this rocketship with me. And to the rum drinkers out there, ask yourself, why would you buy rum from a pirate when you can buy it from a player? Insert sassy sparkle emojis.