|Francisco "Don Pancho" Fernandez and Carlos Esquival|
Yolo’s flagship 10 Year Old Rum is blended with rum that’s distilled and aged at Consorcio Licorero Nacional in Panama City. It’s a deep amber-brown, with notes of vanilla. The taste is rich with flavors like cake batter and toffee. On the side of every bottle is the sentence “Blended by Francisco Don Pancho Fernandez.”
Don Pancho became the head of research and development for rum at the Ministerio de la Industria Alimentaria, which was the government owned agency responsible for the Cuban beverage industry. That’s where he picked up the nickname Minister of Rum. He worked for brands like Matusalem and Havana Club, which led to the nickname Great Grandfather of Havana Club. Don Pancho’s career in Cuba lasted 35 years. Pernod Ricard acquired the rights to distribute Havana Club in 1993, but Don Pancho didn’t come with the brand. He moved to Pesé, Panama, a region known for its sugar cane, where he worked for Ron Abuelo and helped rebuild Las Cabras distillery with a friend named Carlos Esquivel.
There are people that question whether Don Pancho, , the legend, exists. “If you had Googled Don Pancho when we started Yolo rum, you’d have thought he was a fictional character”. “There are conspiracy theories about him even existing, like, ‘Oh, he never existed before 1998.’ That’s because he was in Cuba.” Guerin says that he had to educate people on who Don Pancho was. He’s modest and doesn’t seek accolades or publicity. “The people who question him—none of that bothers him,” says Guerin. “I say, ‘We have to do this to counter,’ because I want to help fight his battles for him, but he doesn’t care.”
Don Pancho gave Guerin the blend that’s now Yolo on the first try. “He basically told my wife that he had it ready for us when we showed up,” says Guerin. “And he told her, ‘This is the standard that all rums should be held to.’ Once we tried it, it just blew my socks off.” .
Guerin started a rum brand because he wanted to share the Central American rum that made him fall in love with the spirit category. Through a series of fortunate events, he ended up working with the man who helped popularize Havana Club, one of the most storied names in rum. There were probably easier paths to getting a rum brand that didn’t involve Guerin trying to convince people of his master blender’s authenticity. But hey, you only live once