By Erin Thompson • Pacific Daily News • July 15, 2010
Valentino Perez knows first-hand what a tricky art distilling alcohol can be. The owner of Guam’s Own distillery, Perez has spent months perfecting the recipe for rum and whiskey.
“There’s a ton of technical knowledge involved,” says Perez, whose Guam’s Own products have been on retail shelves since March.
A former financial analyst and commercial banker, Perez decided to put business and science skills — he has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a master’s in business — to work.
“I have a good history in chemistry and physics,” says Perez. “And that coupled with the fact that I used to brew beer back in college, made the learning curve extremely short.”
Using a still in an Anigua warehouse, Perez says he worked to perfect the distillation process, which uses fermented carbohydrates and sugar to create a “mash.” If the distillation from the mash isn’t just right, you can end up with a product that’s rough going down, says Perez.
“We’ve had a lot of trial and error with this, we’ve come up with a product that we absolutely adore,” says Perez. “We’re very proud of how smooth our product is.”
But, it’s not just the technical process of making the spirits that Perez had to get the hang of. Like many local entrepreneurs, Perez has had to struggle with how to market the product in a place where more established, off-island brands can actually be cheaper than locally made products.
“It’s extremely hard to be competitive with anything made on this island,” says Perez.
He’s hoping the business will find a niche market for people seeking products made on island, as well as those seeking a smooth shot.
So far, so good.
Irene Mesa, owner of the Hagåtña cafe Barista Blends, decided to switch from her usual brand of rum to Guam’s Own to make the her cafe’s rum cake. The result is a light and fluffy dessert with a edgy rum bite. She says that interest from her customer base increased when she told them she used locally produced rum for her popular rum cake.
“You actually get a lot of people wanting to try it, and get a lot of good feedback about it,” says Mesa. “They have said ‘yeah, this does taste better,’ compared to the one I used before.”
Mesa says despite the rum’s higher cost, she now prefers it to other brands.
“His product is really good so I consider it more of a premium product, compared to the rums I buy,” says Mesa.
While the distillery currently only offers rum and whiskey, Perez says he has experimented with vodka, and hopes to soon roll out a line of aguayente — the name for a traditionally home-brewed local spirit that roughly translates as “moonshine.”
“It’s a matter of going back to tradition,” says Perez.
And although the company faces tough competition on an island where locally made doesn’t necessarily bring an immediate cachet to the minds of consumers, Perez hopes that the quality and unique local stamp of the product will attract locals and tourists alike.
“This is not some off-island company saying ‘Hey, here’s stuff made on Guam,’” says Perez.
“It’s kind of cool when you can say I know the guy that made that.”