Home The Washington Diplomat Top rum, cigar brands take center stage at Dominican Embassy event

Top rum, cigar brands take center stage at Dominican Embassy event

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Top rum, cigar brands take center stage at Dominican Embassy event
From left: Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York); Dominican Ambassador Sonia Guzmán; Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos; her husband, Patrick Ward; and Cid Wilson, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. (Photo by Deyanira Felíz)

Ask any elderly Dominican gentleman what’s the secret to a long, happy life, and he’ll likely respond with some humorous reference to “the three B’s” — Brugal, Bermudez and Barceló. These are, of course, the country’s three leading rum brands, and together they’ve helped make the Dominican Republic one of the world’s leading producers and exports of quality rum.

Likewise, the Caribbean nation of 11 million leads the world in cigar production, with US consumers snapping up 85% of the country’s $1 billion in exports last year. With COVID-19 limiting the ability of cigar aficionados to frequent their favorite bars and restaurants, online stogie sales boomed last year. As a result, cigars now rank fifth in D.R. export value, right behind gold, electrical products, textiles and medical devices.

Women sort tobacco leaves at General Cigar in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

On July 15, Sonia Guzmán, the country’s new ambassador to the United States, hosted a reception at her Washington, D.C., residence to promote both products. At the event, some 120 guests enjoyed premium cigars while sampling top Dominican rums, as well as coffee and chocolate.

“It is an honor for me to welcome you to this night of Dominican cigars and rum — two industries of tradition and vital importance for the Dominican Republic,” said Guzmán, 73, the daughter of Antonio Guzmán, who served as president of the country from 1978 to 1982. “That is why for me, as a Dominican ambassador to the United States, it is a great joy to share with all of you, family and friends, this tasting of two products that are part of our country brand.”

The Brugal rum distillery in Puerto Plata is the largest of its kind in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Hendrik “Henke” Kelner, president of ProCigar, called the cigar a “loyal friend” that helps smokers “endure loneliness without trauma or bitterness” in hard times.

“We want to thank our friend, the cigar, for its company in this serious pandemic,” said Kelner,  who at 75 is considered the maven of the Dominican premium tobacco industry. “The cigar filled us with faith and hope that together, we were going to go through this situation and return to our usual life.”

From left: Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith; Dominican Ambassador Sonia Guzmán; Alejandra Hernández, deputy chief of mission; Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luís Borunda; and Daniel Avila, economics attaché at the Colombian Embassy. (Photo by Deyanira Felíz)

Also in attendance: Víctor Bisonó Haza, the country’s minister of industry, commerce and small- and medium-sized enterprises; Iván Hernández, executive director of INESPRE (Price Stabilization Institute); Biviana Riveiro, executive director of ProDominicana; Roberto Herrera, president of the Dominican-American Chamber of Commerce; and Vinicio Subero, vice-president of the Dominican Association of Rum Producers (ADOPRON).

A few politicians were also present, including Adriano Espaillat (D-New York), the first Dominican-American member of Congress; Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan); Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos of Rhode Island; Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith; and Luís Borunda, Maryland’s deputy secretary of state.

Cigar workers at La Aurora factory in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Despite the pandemic, overall Dominican exports to the United States reached their third-highest level in history in 2020. Along with Cuba and the nearby US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it’s among the world’s largest exporters of rum—a liquor distilled and fermented from sugarcane juice.

“Legendary brands with high international recognition, such as Barceló and Brugal, are found in every corner of the world, from the vibrant streets of New York to Spanish terraces and to the beaches of Southeast Asia,” said Guzmán.

A concrete lion guards the Barceló rum distillery in Santo Domingo. (Photo by Larry Luxner)