pepe margo
Aruba's first true rum distillery is in downtown Oranjestad.

A Rum Movement Is Growing in Aruba 

By: Alexander Britell - September 29, 2023

Down a quiet street in an industrial quarter of downtown Oranjestad sits a century-old home with brown wooden shutters and a barrel out front. 

It’s an area that has become an increasingly hip corner of Aruba, home to a growing number of high-end eateries and the palpable feeling of urban rebirth. 

In the early 20th century, it was the home of Aruba’s first printing shop, and the residence of Dominica Wever and his wife Catarina Margarita Arends, a popular cook who would soon earn the moniker “Pepe Margo,” as the neighborhood Pepe, or “godmother” in Papiamento.

Inside the home.

Today, Pepe Margo’s house is the epicenter of another first for Aruba: the island’s first true rum distillery, where the distillery that bears her name is now the birthplace of a new rum movement on the island. 

It’s the brainchild of Jonathan Harms, whose portfolio also includes Curacao’s popular Ron San Pablo, and who saw the need — and the demand — for the island’s to boast its own premium, locally-made spirit. 

The still.

The new rum is produced with a German copper column still, molasses from South America and high-ester yeast, with operations kicking off just four months ago. 

While the focus will be on aged rum (in a collection ex-bourbon barrels and, soon, ex sherry, too), Pepe Margo is already bottling its white rum, in a blend with three-year-old rum from San Pablo. 

It’s called Nautical Rum and it’s already on offer at the distillery, joined by another distillate: Aruba’s first-ever gin, made using local Aruban fruits. 

rum on a table
Nautical Rum is the company’s first expression.

The result is something eminently mixable and, on a hot Oranjestad afternoon, an ideal sipper with an ice cube and a leather chair. 

Because, beyond the small-batch distillery, the home is a destination unto itself, with comfortable, luxurious seating and a full bar, with rums, gin and other spirits and a selection of cocktails to boot. It’s the sort of place you can spend all day — or retreat to the cistern-turned-meeting room in the back, which has become a popular spot for business meetings downtown. 

It’s a new attraction for downtown Oranjestad, open daily and serving up rums and cocktails through the evening hours.

back of home
The back of the home is a popular event space.

“The plan is to have a good product you can be proud of,” says Distiller Ric Vijsma, who is very much a jack of all trades at the still. “We’re getting a lot of good feedback.”

Pepe Margo is part of a burgeoning rum renaissance on an island that has long had a rum culture – Aruba’s myriad rum shops are an essential part of local life — but has never really produced a premium rum, with the island’s rum bottlings historically coming from imported bulk rum. 

Another brand, Bodegas Papiamento, has also found renown in the last two years with a premium aged product sourced from Panama and bottled in Aruba, with plans for a higher-level expression and, in time, a Papiamento distillery on the island. 

It’s all part of a new push to cultivate an appreciation for premium rum on the island, where rum has always been a staple but now has, well, new godparents. 

For more, visit Pepe Margo.

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