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Sonrisa Rum: A quality brand that’s genuinely aiding the Puerto Rican community

Sonrisa Rum bottles with colorful background
Sonrisa

Today, in true Dan Gaul fashion, the man with the plan sits down with Shareef Malnik (co-CEO and founder) and Jae Goodman (co-CEO and Founder), both from Sonrisa Rum. The idea is to get a backstory about the brand, learn a little about where these influential leaders come from, and maybe sip a little of the beverage. Above all, the rum takes center stage, and we really get the opportunity to learn why Sonrisa stands out in such a competitive market and why that’s so exciting for the future of the beverage. I highly recommend watching the full interview for yourself, as always, but I’ve also gathered a few choice tidbits to share below. Let’s pour a glass.

The origins of Sonrisa Rum

Dan Gaul: “If you could give us some highlights of how y’all met, what made you get into the rum business, and what’s your passion around it?”

Malnik starts with the answer to their connections, which makes a lot of sense in hindsight: “We’re actually family, so this is a family business, and we run it with family values.”

Then he explains how he’s always wanted to get into spirits.

“I have 30 years in hospitality and many years in finance. I’ve been approached by many startups [in the spirits business] to join their boards, and they just didn’t seem like they had enough of those boxes checked,” Malnik explains. Eventually, he was approached by his cousin, Jae Goodman, who had been incubating an idea to start exactly that — a rum and spirits company — but needed a business partner.

Rather reasonably, Malnik asked, “Hold. Before we start that. Why do you want to [make] rum?”

“There’s white space there,” Goodman says, making it clear he wanted to chase an untapped potential. Goodman then explains how he was able to recognize that white space or availability, having worked with many established brands, helping to market their products so they could break out into the mainstream. More specifically, the spirits business as a whole is seeing a spat of evolution, with vodka, tequila, and even brown spirits like whiskey or bourbon becoming incredibly popular in today’s markets. Goodman saw rum as the next frontier, as you might expect.

But more than just white space or opportunity, Goodman was invested in helping the Puerto Rican community, one of the core reasons why rum is what it is today.

“Those are our American brothers and sisters. We gotta stand with them. We feel it’s incumbent upon us to help them.”

On finding quality rum

Sonrisa Rum Reserva bottle Puerto Rican made sipping rum
Sonrisa

Dan Gaul: “I personally love rum a lot, but I find it really hard to find high-quality rum. A lot of it is super heavy in sugar, so what differentiates your rum — Sonrisa Rum — from the rest of the market in terms of flavor, nose, and how you’re making it? Why should somebody be excited about it?”

“In terms of the drinkability, it’s very selfishly motivated,” Goodman admits. “Like you, it sounds, I wanted to be able to order a sipping rum at the bars that I tend to go to.” He then explains how almost anywhere you go, if you want top shelf, you’re paying a lot of money for it. Goodman wanted Sonrisa to be more accessible. “I don’t care how much money you have. $50 is a lot of money to pay for a glass of anything.”

“What we wanted to do, was blend something that could be the world’s finest sipping rum but at a price that’s accessible, whether you’re buying it at retail or buying at a bar,” he says. “Secondly, we believe rum — as I suspect you do — really mixes well in classic cocktails when you get the right rum.”

More importantly, Goodman explains that his original intentions were to create a silver rum that could be enjoyed naturally as much as it could be mixed. “We didn’t [necessarily] create something to be sipped, but we wanted to distill and blend something that could be, that had its own taste profile so that mixologists could take a silver rum and do something interesting with it,” he says. “Not have to blend it with something sickly sweet, but actually use light, fresh juices — maybe the way they’re used to tequila today.”

“We wanted to architect something where $1 from every bottle of Sonrisa goes directly to Puerto Rican small business.”

Malnik adds, “We want to do for rum what Patron did for tequila.” In other words, make it much more interesting, accessible, and downright palatable.

Giving back to Puerto Rico

san juan old town puerto rico
John and Tina Reid / Getty Images

Dan: “You guys have a major mission with the brand, which is giving back and having a community impact. Can you tell me a little about what you’re doing there?”

Goodman explains, “The genesis in terms of even why Puerto Rican rum really starts with why Puerto Rico. Shareef grew up in Miami, so it’s the backdoor, right? There’s such a great Puerto Rican community in Miami, so he’s always had an affinity for it. I’m a young kid from New York. My Mom worked for American Airlines, and one of her jobs was to train the new colleagues as the brand expanded throughout the Caribbean. The home office was in San Juan. I [spent] a lot of time there but also got the beautiful feeling of Puerto Rican people, and that stuck with me throughout my life.”

Then he explains how, as an adult, it broke his heart to watch the community deal with devastation and destruction from natural disasters like Hurricane Maria. “The same thing happened during the pandemic,” he says. But he also points out that local corruption ensures when they do get relief, the resources often end up in the wrong hands: “The money never makes it to the people who are most closely associated with the national product of Puerto Rico, which is rum. The restaurant owner, the bar owner, the ice delivery person, the farmer.

“So we wanted to architect something where $1 from every bottle of Sonrisa goes directly to Puerto Rican small business,” he adds, crediting his co-founder Shareef as responsible for making that movement possible.

Malnik expands: “We created a foundation, and we created it in Puerto Rico, so $1 from every sale — not the profits — goes into this foundation. Generally, we’ll distribute once a quarter, but we’re gonna wait the first year because we don’t have enough sales to make an impact [yet].” He also explains that the foundation’s board includes several Puerto Rican citizens who are intimately familiar with the community and understand its needs. The leaders take the guidance of that board, as well as the guidance of the local distillery.

“Those are our American brothers and sisters. We gotta stand with them. We feel it’s incumbent upon us to help them,” he says.

It’s certainly inspiring to see a brand not only giving back to the right community but also really taking responsibility for the related operations to ensure the right people are getting those resources. As Malnik says, too many big companies are more concerned with profits and so won’t really help local communities without grants and incentives. It’s a shame that’s where the majority of American business is, or rather the state of modern capitalism, but there’s no shying away from that.

It’s inspiring to hear, see, and learn from more down-to-earth leaders who understand the plight of the average person, particularly within the Puerto Rican community, and who have their sights set on truly making a difference. One could say then that this rum is genuinely about Puerto Rico and its people, maybe even more so than its founders.

The best way to drink Sonrisa Rum

Dan Gaul: “How do you envision people enjoying Sonrisa Rum?”

“The real answer is, however the hell they want to,” Goodman says. “You know we’ve put a rum out there that has so many — forgive the phrase — use cases. Occasions that the beverage industry likes to say, and we’ve really expanded the occasions, we think, with sipping and the classic cocktail mixing.”

“But our very specific answer is we did an exhaustive survey, and every single image they could find was rum during the day. So, we want to signal to people who might otherwise be reaching for a fine brown spirit, for fine tequila, or fine Mezcal, that this sits alongside them,” he says.

“We own the night.”

Really, what Goodman’s saying is that Sonrisa Rum can be enjoyed alongside some fine, premium spirits at times when you’d normally be thinking about beverages other than rum. Thanks to Sonrisa’s accessibility approach, rum will essentially become a more premiere beverage without that added cost.

An interview for the [rum] ages

To close this out, it’s a very interesting interview, and again, I highly recommend watching for yourself. I know Dan is with me here, but I’m very curious to see how Sonrisa’s mission plays out, both inspiring and supporting the Puerto Rican community. Plus, let’s be honest: it’s rum, and it sounds absolutely delicious.

Briley Kenney
Briley has been writing about consumer electronics and technology for over a decade. When he's not writing about deals for…
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