Tradition and modernity collide with Kasama, a new rum brand founded and helmed by Alexandra Dorda. In many ways, Kasama was born from Dorda’s family history. The daughter of one of Chopin Vodka and Belvedere’s co-founders, Dorda says, “I joke that I’m 29, but I have 27 years of experience in this industry. I was two when my dad started his businesses.” After working for years in the family business in Poland, Dorda began forging her own path, which led to a passion for rum. While she had the benefit of a deep familiarity with distilling, she also found that there was a connection to rum beyond her own enthusiasm for it. “I learned that the Philippines is one of the biggest rum producers in the world,” Dorda says. “My mother is from the Philippines, so I had this ‘aha’ moment that I could create the brand that I wish existed while also celebrating the Filipino culture that I’m so proud of.”
Many people likely think of the Caribbean when they consider rum, but the largest rum brand in the world is actually Tanduay—a Filipino producer. The Philippines is the second-largest rum market in the world per capita. So on both the production and consumption side, the Philippines has paved the way for the tropical spirit. “We love our rum,” Dorda says. “The Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years and that’s where the rum distillation comes from. But sugarcane is native to Southeast Asia. It’s native to Papua New Guinea and it came up through the Philippines to mainland Asia and was only brought to the Caribbean around the 1500s. Even though rum is very closely associated with the Caribbean, we’ve been making it for a long time too. And because it’s native to our region we have some of the best sugarcane in the world.”
Dorda was excited to embrace her heritage and combine it with her family’s expertise in order to craft a brand that was not only new and youthful, but also expressed something personal. “One of the goals of the brand is to breathe fresh air into a category that’s really in need of it,” explains Dorda. “It’s a category that’s very tired. And it shouldn’t be. There’s no reason that rum should be languishing in the liquor store aisles as it does. As a category we’ve done a bad job of telling a compelling story about rum because of this fixation on nautical tropes… I never felt like any of the brands were talking to me. They were all pirate-, sailor-, and captain-focused. It felt so disconnected. It was so irrelevant to me and also irrelevant to the spirit in the bottle that I loved so much.” She wanted to create something appealing, approachable and contemporary. “And, I personally feel very passionate about helping to put Filipino craft on the map,” she tells us.
Dorda accomplished this by building her brand in the Philippines. Unlike huge companies that establish production facilities off-site, Dorda was adamant that Kasama (a Tagalog word that translates to being together or companion) be distilled in the Philippines. “We tried to bring the history of Filipino distillation together with the modern aesthetic in a way that feels fresh and exciting,” she says.
“We want to honor the long history of rum making that we have in our islands, but the purpose of the brand was to create something that felt more modern and relevant to a millennial consumer—someone like myself,” she says. “Our culture has been influenced so much by other countries: Spain, America, China, the Middle East. But there’s also an indigenous Filipino culture, and I think Filipino culture comes across as ‘exotic’ and unique, but it’s also very familiar and inviting because it has elements that most people are familiar with.”
That begins with the flavor profile—a sweet, vibrant, delicately floral rum that will play well in cocktails—but Dorda follows through with Kasama’s branding and packaging. “It’s very Filipino to mix a lot of different colors so the packaging is very colorful,” she explains. “Lots of Filipino designers work with embroidery and mother of pearl and lace all mixed together. So we tried to embody that. We have a ‘more is more’ attitude.”
“I’m so passionate about it because it pulls together different parts of my heritage that’s very special and unique,” she explains. “I think people are looking for something like that and I think there’s a curiosity to try new things.” Again, this harkens to contemporary quality and heritage influence, family history and the future of spirits. Dorda says she’s excited for people to say, “‘Oh, this is a rum from the Philippines and I’ve never heard of that,'” she explains, adding that, “Well, we’re one of the biggest rum producers you’ve never heard of.
Images courtesy of Kasama