American Rum Report #1 — February 25, 2019

Hello! Welcome to the first American Rum Report newsletter.

Below, you'll find links and notes on the most interesting recent stories/developments in American rum. But before you dive in I want to say thank you!

Many of you have already reached out with feedback, distilleries I should add, and encouragement, and I want you to know I appreciate it.

My name is Will, and if you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas for the newsletter, please reply to this email and let me know. I'd love to hear from you and am interested in your feedback!

Now, let's get to the rum.

Wayne Curtis offers a question on that's probably the perfect way to open this newsletter: "How Do You Define an 'American-Style' of Rum?"

You might recognize Curtis’s name from his excellent book And a Bottle of Rum. For this article, he pulled out a smorgasbord of interesting perspectives on American rum from the people actually making it, like this one from Gary Ellam of Elgin Distilling in Arizona:

“Like most everything American, I believe that the style takes the best from all of the world and melds it into an indefinable, but yet immediately recognizable profile.”

I imagine we'll be trying to answer this question for a long time, and I hope this newsletter can be a small part of driving the conversation.

The Rum Reader brings us an excellent profile of the three women behind Montanya Distillers (Karen Hoskin), Privateer Rum (Maggie Campbell), and Owney's Rum (Bridget Firtle)

This story not only gives great insight into the challenges craft distillers face (and on top of those, the unfortunate ones women have to deal with), it also provides some nice context around rum in relation to the rest of the spirits world. Particularly, I liked this quote from Maggie Campbell:

“North American whiskey is a small, very self-referential world, where there’s a lot of, ‘you’re doing it wrong,’” Campbell says. “Whereas rums are unique cultural expressions, unique to the people making them, and part of their culture—not something separate they read about. The respect, culture, and community is what keeps everything so unique. It’s very important for me to be one small part of the rum world, to do my own thing and not copy someone else, to bring that same love and respect to this community.”

And that's not the only article featuring Bridget Firtle and Owney's Rum! This piece from Forbes offers some quality nerdy details on how Owney's is made.

I also enjoyed getting to read Firtle’s take on the best way to continue expanding Owney’s reach:

“The key, Firtle believes, is in advancing rum’s excellence as a mixer in a cocktail, especially one like the daiquiri. ‘Owney is not just a sipping rum,’ she insists. ‘I’m on a mission to free the daiquiri from the blender and change the perception of what the drink has become over the past 50 years or so, and I firmly believe that the daiquiri deserves to sit amongst the classics—a martini, Manhattan or an old-fashioned—and become a true signature drink of quality for a bar.’”

I’m about halfway through my own bottle of Owney’s Rum (which is a blend of Owney’s Distiller’s Reserve unaged rum and an imported 2-year Trinidadian rum) and I will cosign—it makes a fantastic daiquiri. But Owney’s isn’t the only American brand offering up a daiquiri-designed American/Caribbean rum blend...

Maggie’s Farm Rum collaborated with Pittsburgh tiki haven Hidden Harbor to create the perfect daiquiri rum with the just-released Hidden Harbor White Rum.

It's a blend of 60% Maggie’s Farm white and 20% Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share, with the remaining 20% a blend of Jamaican, Guyanese, Martinician, Bajan, and Trinidadian rums.

Pittsburgh Magazine noted that the idea to collaborate on a daiquiri-engineered rum was just one of many ideas the distillery and bar had floated: “They'd talked about a collaboration for a few years, and while other ideas such as an aged-rum blend or tiki bitters were floated at some point, ‘Making a white rum blend made better use of what Maggie's Farm does,’ says Hidden Harbor co-owner Adam Henry.”

In their own newsletter, Maggie’s Farm wrote that this might be one of the first “commercially-packaged white rum blends conceived and created as a collaboration between a tiki bar and distillery.” This is an interesting tack, and one that I think might pay off over time. If a distillery wants to increase awareness of their rums, finding a way to get into the obsessive mouths of tiki enthusiasts isn’t a bad plan:

  • Step 1: Tiki enthusiast visits tiki bar and discovers the establishment makes an incredible daiquiri.

  • Step 2: Tiki enthusiast purchases the rum used to make said daiquiri so they can continue to enjoy them at home, while also coming away with a nice memento of their visit (given the Hidden Harbor branding on the packaging).

  • Step 3: Tiki enthusiast discovers the product was produced by local distillery Maggie’s Farm. Tiki enthusiasts visits the distillery and/or purchases additional Maggie’s Farm products. Becomes lifelong customer. Spreads the American rum gospel.

Or something like that, anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Anheuser-Busch InBev is acquiring Cutwater Spirits. It will be the beer behemoth's first acquisition of a spirits company.

You may be familiar with San Diego's Cutwater Spirits (formerly part of Ballast Point) for their Three Sheets rums, but as soon as I saw this news my mind immediately went to a different part of the distillery's product portfolio:

Canned cocktails.

Brewbound's coverage of the acquisition seems to confirm that the distillery's success with ready-to-drink cocktails was a major motivator of the deal:

“Whitworth (A-B InBev VP of North American Sales), who expressed excitement about the future growth possibilities of the Cutwater’s canned cocktails, said he was drawn to the acquisition opportunity because of the company’s 'innovative and disruptive approach.'”

The article also notes that Cutwater's dollar sales of RTD cocktails grew 356% from January 2018 to January 2019.

Meanwhile, the press release announcing the deal barely mentions anything about Cutwater's spirits. This quote from Marina Hahn (New Business Cofounder at A-B) focuses exclusively on the RTD cocktails:

“We have tremendous respect for the brand that Cutwater Spirits has created and cultivated in just a few years and look forward to working with them to expand their premium canned cocktails to consumers across the U.S.”

Of the 14 canned cocktails listed on Cutwater's website, two feature their Three Sheets White Rum: the Three Sheets Rum & Ginger and the Three Sheets Rum & Cola.

I'll be interested to see what happens with the Cutwater line of rums going forward.

Quick Hits:

Louisiana Spirits Distillery's Bayou Rum debuted its latest release: Bayou Rum XO Mardi Gras — it's a pot-distilled, Louisiana cane sugar- and molasses-based rum that's solera aged six years in used bourbon and sherry barrels and bottled at 80 proof.

Baton Rouge single estate distillery Cane Land Distilling Company has changed its name to Three Roll Estate thanks to trademark issues — According to the article, the company’s plans to distribute overseas pushed them to go with the name change since the trademark dispute stemmed from a Netherlands competitor with a similar name. After a little trademark searching, I'm guessing that competitor is Cane Island Rum, a brand owned by Netherlands company Infinity Spirits. But I haven’t seen official confirmation of that anywhere.

Here are the winners in the Rum category from the 2019 American Craft Spirits Awards — Tattersall Distilling of Minneapolis took home the top honor for their Barreled Rum. I happened upon a bottle of their Blackstrap Rum (the unaged version of the base used in the Barreled Rum) at a store in Nashville this weekend and brought it home. It's got a smoky, peppery-ness to it that I enjoyed.

The Rum Lab's interview with Joe Swanson, National Spirit Specialist at Vision Wine & Spirits, has a few American rum thoughts — "Geography and craftsmanship are beginning to emerge as powerful differentiators. Some of the newer brands in the US have helped crack this door open in a meaningful way. Maggie Campbell from Privateer Rum, for instance, is measurably improving the rum category through her work. I think that in 5 more years, we will start to see more transparency in rum marketing, especially regarding age statements and additives. The modern spirit consumer demands this transparency, and premium rum can embrace that demand."