American Rum Report #10 — July 5, 2019

Good morning!

The best way to recover from a rum-fueled evening of grilled meats and exploding airborne objects is to let an email full of the latest American rum stories gently wash over you.

Fortunately, that's exactly what you opened.

Let's get to it.

~ In This Report ~

#1: Caribbean Journal releases its annual list of the 10 best American rums 🏝️

#2: Bayou Rum opened its $8 million barrel library and event center 🐊

#3: An American rum distillery made Martha Stewart's list of favorite American-made companies 👩🏼

#4: The founder of Panamanian distillery Pedro Mandinga Rum recommends an American rum in her interview with The Rum Lab 🇵🇦

#5: Maggie's Farm and Oak & Cane are expanding distribution 🚚

#6: Privateer's Bottled-in-Bond rum missed the cut for Tales of the Cocktail's "Best New Spirit" Top 4 😔

#1: Caribbean Journal releases its annual list of the 10 best American rums 🏝️

For the most part, I'm not a fan of "best of" or "Top 10" lists.

There's a spectrum of their quality, and the one I'm featuring here isn't too bad, but they usually end up telling people what to think about rum instead of teaching them how to think about rum.

It's a similar issue to the one Eric Asimov identified about wine reviews in his article for the New York Times titled, "It's Time to Rethink Wine Criticism." Asimov wrote:

"With nothing else to go on but these reviews, consumers are not liberated by knowledge; instead they are bound to reviewers, dependent on the direction of the critical thumb. The best consumers can do is to learn whether their own tastes correlate with one reviewer’s more than another’s."

That said, regardless what I think about "best of" lists, there is significance to a Caribbean-focused website going out of its way to highlight the best American rums for the seventh year running. It speaks to the growing influence of the category, something the site notes in the list's introduction: 

"Since we began highlighting rums made in America, there’s been a boom in American rum production, with distilleries popping up from Newport to Hawaii — and the quality has been rising, too."

This is good to see! Especially if the site's claim that it's "the world's largest website covering the Caribbean" is true.

Anyway, let me show you their list so we can all fight about it. I've also included an excerpt of their comments on each rum/distillery, but you can view the full thing here.

Papa's Pilar: "The brand that includes a blend of rums from across the United States, Central America and the Caribbean has become a favorite of rum aficionados."

Siesta Key Rum: "This is as good as spiced rum gets, thanks to the rummaking genius of distiller Troy Roberts."

Koloa Rum: "Hawaii has a full-fledged rum industry of its own, but no rum has been able to carve out a stronger position than Koloa, which produces a range of spiced, flavored and white and aged rums at its Kauai-based distillery."

Bayou Rum: "The growth of Bayou Rum in recent years has been perhaps the most impressive in the recent rise of American rum."

Richland Rum: "One of the few American rums that can hold up (and, partisans say, beat) its Caribbean colleagues."

Thomas Tew Rum: "[Newport Distilling Company has] taken things to the next level with the Limited Release Reserve Batch that’s a robust 50 degrees, with rums aged from 7 to 10 years."

Privateer Rum: "In keeping with a movement in the rum industry away from adding sugar, dosage and flavoring, Ipswich, Massachusetts-based Privateer Rum is making what it calls rum 'of honesty and purity.'"

Key West First Legal Rum Distillery: "This Key West institution makes a hearty portfolio of rums, led by the rum that started it all, the 'Key West First Legal Rum,' an exceptionally brash rum with a sweet edge."

Montanya Rum: "A new entry to this list, Montanya is the latest example of great rummaking Colorado, a rum that’s distilled as high up as any other on earth (9,000 feet) in Crested Butte, Colorado."

Wicked Dolphin Rum: "Florida has become arguably the epicenter of rummaking in America, and that’s in large part to the work of distilleries like Wicked Dolphin."

Seems a little Florida-centric, no?

Anyway, rather than arguing about what a completely subjective list based on a small number of people's tastes got right or wrong, I'd love to know what you think about rum-related "best of" lists and/or reviews. Do you find content like that useful? If not, what do you wish you saw more of instead?

#2: Bayou Rum opened its $8 million barrel library and event center 🐊


Speaking of Bayou, the Lacassine, Louisiana distillery continues to expand.

According to this article, the barrel library will give the distillery "abundant space to house thousands of barrels of premium rums and make way for new innovations in the rum and rum liqueur categories."

With the resources of Stoli Group behind it, Bayou is certainly in position to be one of the biggest ambassadors for the new wave of American rum. Its likely to have one of the largest stock of medium- to long-aged American rums in the country within the next few years, along with wide distribution. Significant influence over global perception of the category may come with that.

#3: Martha Stewart digs Richland Rum! 👩🏼

So of course I can't resist including this story.

Martha Stewart's magazine/website listed Richland Rum of Richland, Georgia as one of their favorite American-made companies.

Unfortunately, the blurb in the article contains a few inaccuracies.

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It opens by describing Richland as the "only single-estate rum producers in the country," which isn't true. Three Roll Estate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for example, is another single estate rum distillery in the U.S. (meaning the distillery grows and processes the cane that goes into its rum).

The article goes on to say that Richland starts each batch with "only the purest organic Georgia sugarcane instead of molasses, an inexpensive and less flavorful alternative."

By "purest organic Georgia sugarcane," it's referring to the cane syrup the distillery uses in its fermentations, which it makes by boiling fresh-pressed cane juice in large kettles. Does this result in a delicious rum? Yes! Is cane syrup more or less flavorful than molasses? No!

It drives me crazy when distilleries put down molasses as an ingredient that's somehow "lesser than" whatever they use because it's not as "pure." Just stop it. Let your rum stand on its own without slandering an ingredient that's at the heart of many of the world's best rums. You may think cane juice- or cane syrup-based rums taste better than molasses-based rums, but they are in no way more or less flavorful.

But hey, let's focus on the positive—thanks for the shoutout to American rum, Martha Stewart!

#4: The founder of a Panamanian distillery recommends a Vermont rum in an interview with the Rum Lab 🇵🇦

I always enjoy the "Rum Connoisseur Interview of the Week" at the beginning of the Rum Lab's weekly newsletter, and the June 26 edition featuring Christiane Silberwasser, founder of Pedro Mandinga Rum, was no exception. 

Of particular interest was her response to the seventh question: "What do you think needs to happen to grow the category of premium rum?"

Silberwasser said:

"Rum needs to go through the process of what happened in the craft beer industry when people began to ask for the artisanal or small-batch product. We need to request craft brands in our cocktails at bars and ask more details about what we are drinking. Once the consumer really begins to understand what it takes to create premium rum, they will request it more and more."

She reflected this belief in her recommendation for a rum that someone who likes Scotch should try: Maple Cask Rum from Mad River Distillery in Vermont, a pot-distilled demerara sugar-based rum that's aged in rum barrels that previously held Vermont maple syrup.

This is something I believe American craft rum producers do have on their side. For the ones who are doing it right, increasing consumer interest in transparency and process does nothing but highlight the things that make their products stand out.

Check out the full interview (and subscribe!) here.

#5: Maggie's Farm Rum and Oak & Cane are expanding distribution 🚚

If you're in Ohio or Tennessee, you just got easier access to a little more American rum. 

As of July 1, Maggie's Farm's 50/50 Pineapple Dark Rum (which I've heard great things about) and falernum (again, great things) are being distributed in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati agency stores. It's not quite the same as getting LeBron back, Ohioans, but it's close.

If you're down in Tennessee (like me), you may have started noticing bottles of the Ft. Lauderdale-based Oak & Cane in stores. Here's a description of the rum from the press release announcing the expansion:

"Oak & Cane embodies its name by focusing on the traditional methods of Rum production that require particular attention to detail: hand-harvesting the sugarcane, pressing the fresh sugarcane juice, Double distilled (Pot/Column), bathed in fresh orange peels, and well rested for 6 months, on White American Oak with a medium toast."

I have to admit, the "bathed in fresh orange peels" bit, which is described on the Oak & Cane website as a "proprietary smoothing process utilizing Florida orange peels" turned me off a bit. "Proprietary smoothing process" sounds like the title of an MBA student's mixtape. And the fact that the rum is produced by a private label distillery (Citrus Distillers) for the brand isn't encouraging either. But it is intriguing that they're using fresh cane juice in the base (though I do wonder if cane juice is the only cane product used in the fermentation—the website describes it as an "agricole" base, which I'm sure won't sit right with many).

Perhaps I'll just have to grab a bottle so I can form an opinion by, you know, actually tasting it!

#6: Privateer's Bottled-in-Bond rum missed the cut for Tales of the Cocktail's "Best New Spirit" Top 4 😔

As I noted in Report #9, it was big news that Privateer's Bottled-in-Bond rum was named a Top 10 finalist for the "Best New Spirit or Cocktail Ingredient" award at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards.

Sadly, however, it didn't make the cut when they narrowed the field down to a final four at the end of June. The four finalists are:

  • BERTOUX Brandy

  • Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Boca del Cerro

  • Fords Gin Officers' Reserve

  • Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum

Still, like I mentioned in the previous report, making the top 10 is still a great win for Privateer and the American rum category.

Plus, as a global rum fan, I still have the wonderful Plantation Xaymaca to root for.

My whole reaction here has been the embodiment of the legendary Alonzo Mourning GIF:

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For all my American readers, I hope you had a great 4th yesterday! (For my non-American readers, I hope you had a great 4th too. Because there's no rule that says regular ol' Thursdays can't be special.)

I celebrated with an appropriately American Hurricane featuring Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum and Maggie's Farm's 50/50 Dark (yes, I know my garnish and ice game needs work):

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Lost Spirits Navy Style is...a beast I still haven't quite figured out how to tame. But I think the .75 oz Lost Spirits to 1.75 oz Maggie's Farm is closer to the right ratio than I've gotten in the past.


Will Hoekenga