American Rum Report #11 — July 19, 2019
Good morning, and happy Friday!
There are some big ideas on rum in this edition, so why waste time on a snappy intro when we can just dive right into them?
~ In This Report ~
#1: American rum producers make the case for a Straight Rum designation to the U.S. government 🏛️
#2: A Supreme Court decision might indirectly allow more rum producers to finally ship across state lines 🤞🤞
#3: Bayou Rum is investing $4.5 million in expanding production, and it would like a tax break 💸
#4: Papa's Pilar, the rum brand from Key West, is extending its European distribution 🇪🇺
#5: Quick Hits—long-aged American rum in Martha's Vineyard, Jimmy Carter sells $50,000 of Georgia rum, and another lazy claim of rum being "easy" to make ⚡
#1: American rum producers make the case for a Straight Rum designation to the U.S. government 🏛️
All the way back in Report #6, I mentioned that the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (AKA the folks who make the rules about liquor) was accepting public comments on updates it had proposed to distilled spirits regulations.
It seemed like a great opportunity for rum producers and consumers to advocate for the types of changes many of us have talked about for years—more transparency requirements, clearer standards of identity, and maybe just half the attention that's paid to whiskey in the Federal Code of Regulations.
Fortunately, several rum producers did exactly that! And an interesting commonality emerged in the comments submitted by American producers—the request for a Straight Rum standard of identity.
What is Straight Rum? Well, if you're wondering if it's basically the rum version of Straight Whiskey, you're basically right.
Maggie Campbell (president and head distiller at Privateer Rum) summed it up well in her comment (which includes many other excellent ideas, in my inconsequential opinion):
"As a major proponent of transparency and with a strong awareness of consumer’s desire to make fully educated purchasing choices we would greatly appreciate seeing Straight Rum and Bottled in Bond Rum officially regulated by the same standards as Whiskey."
Essentially, that means Straight Rum, like Straight Whiskey, would be required to have no coloring, flavoring, or blending materials added. It would also need to be aged for 2 years or more in new oak barrels.
Andrew Cabot, founder and CEO at Privateer, submitted his own comment that makes a detailed (and compelling) argument for why a Straight Rum standard identity would be a good thing.
I recommend you read the whole thing at the link above (all comments are public), but the basic gist is that Straight Rum would allow consumers to make better informed purchasing decisions. Instead of having to always wonder questions like, Is this rum flavored or sweetened? you could confidently purchase rum that's verified to be free of additives.
Furthermore—and I believe this important—Cabot makes the point that a Straight Rum standard of identity doesn't force producers of non-Straight Rum to do anything differently. They can continue to call their products rum. The existence of Straight Rum doesn't disparage regular Rum any more than Straight Whiskey does Whiskey.
But like I said earlier, the folks from Privateer aren't the only ones beating the drum for Straight Rum.
Andrew Lohfeld from Roulaison Distilling in New Orleans included his own ideas and recommendations for a Straight Rum standard of identity. Tim Russell from Maggie's Farm Rum in Pittsburgh submitted a comment that echoed the same recommendations.
Lohfeld's thoughts differ slightly from Campbell and Cabot's recommendations in that he allows for distinctions between Straight White Rum (which would not require aging), Straight Unaged Rum (which would prohibit aging), and Straight Aged Rum (which would require 2 years of aging, though he doesn't specify the type of barrel).
If you're interested in checking out other notable rum-related comments on the TTB proposal, let me hit you with some links:
Sazerac wants to require the disclosure of caramel coloring in rum.
Diageo explained why it reeeaaaaally wants to be able to label low-calorie spirits as "light" or "lite" à la light beer. (Lord, beer me strength if I have to start seeing low-cal "light" rums for sale.)
The American Craft Spirits Association recommended setting a limit of 15 g/l to the amount of sugar that can be added to rum, among other things (including geographical designations for Jamaican rum, clairin, agricole, and more).
While this might all sound a bit dry, the truth is that many of the ideas outlined in these comments could be game changing to the rum category if implemented. And that makes them worth talking about, regardless of our opinions on them.
And while we're on the topic of potentially game changing stuff...
#2: A Supreme Court decision might indirectly allow craft rum producers to ship to consumers across state lines 🤞🤞
Ever noticed how much it sucks to try to order booze online?
If you live in the U.S., of course you have!
(I mean, you're subscribing to a newsletter about rum for God's sake, so I'm assuming you've tried to order it online at some point.)
But that all might be changing thanks to a Supreme Court ruling on a Memphis liquor store's battle against an arcane Tennessee law that prevented them from opening.
I won't get into all the mundane legal details (you can read about them in this USA Today article if you're interested), but the bottom line is that the court's decision may have indirectly weakened all of the regulations that make shipping spirits between states so restrictive.
As the article puts it:
"The court’s holding might seem limited to the unique circumstances of Tennessee’s law, but it has the potential to be a game changer in the world of booze. The biggest change could involve the shipment and transportation of alcohol...
"Under the logic of the court’s holding in Tennessee Wine, however, allowing in-state shipments of alcohol while forbidding out-of-state shipments violates the Constitution. If more of these laws are challenged accordingly, it could mean that a Michigander could soon be able to have her favorite Vermont beer shop send IPAs directly to her door."
Or, in our case, it could mean that a rum lover in Kansas could finally try a bottle from somewhere like Privateer without flying to Massachusetts.
As cool as that would be for dorks like me who would love nothing more than ordering half the limited release bottlings I talk about in this newsletter, it would mean even more to craft rum producers. Instead of being forced to rely exclusively on an antiquated distribution system, they would finally have the ability to go direct to consumers.
Let's hope that happens.
#3: The makers of Bayou Rum are seeking a tax break for a $4.5 million expansion project 💸
This is in addition to the $8 million barrel library and event center Bayou expansion I covered in Report #10.
The latest expansion, however, is focused on increasing production, according to local press:
"The tax break would be for five years and would exempt the company from paying $66,892 annually in ad valorem taxes to help offset the cost of the expansion of its manufacturing process to include bottling of Bayou Rum products."
Like I've mentioned before, don't sleep on Bayou Rum and its potential to dramatically influence national and global perceptions of the American rum category. It's already the largest privately owned rum distillery in the country, and it clearly has its sights set on expanding well beyond regional markets.
#4: Papa's Pilar is extending its distribution in Europe 🇪🇺
While Papa's Pilar rums only contain a small percentage of American-produced distillate, I still want to note its continued European expansion given the Florida-produced brand's reputation as an American rum.
(Note: That's not a knock on non-American rums—I love rums from everywhere! It's just an acknowledgment that the purpose of this newsletter is to focus on rums distilled in the U.S.)
Anyway, as noted on just-drinks, Hemingway Rum Co. (the maker of Papa's Pilar), is "actively pursuing expansion opportunities in additional European markets" following its launch in Sweden, Greece, and other European countries earlier this year. The Key West-based company has even opened a packing warehouse in the Netherlands.
The article also notes that Hemingway has increased production in the U.S. to prepare for the increased demand that hopefully materializes in Europe.
#5: Quick Hits ⚡
A Martha's Vineyard bar is serving an 8- to 13-year-old house rum produced by Triple 8 Distillery in Nantucket. Definitely one of the longest aged American rums I've seen. Throw a sweater around your neck, put on some boat shoes, and go have a dram.
Oh, so rum is easy to make, huh? I can't get past this quote in an article about Dogfish Head spirits: "Dogfish’s first experiment with distilling was making rum, which in addition to having a beachy reputation, is one of the easier spirits to make as it does not require aging." Journalists need to stop perpetuating the ludicrous idea that rum is "easy" to make because you don't have to age it. The only kind of rum that's easy to make is bad rum. Just ask any respectable distiller whose tried.
Richland Rum auctioned off 12 bottles of cask strength "President's Reserve" rum that were bottled with Jimmy Carter back in May for $50,000. The money went to the Carter Center, a human rights organization:
Gotta say—that's pretty damn cool. It's nice to feel proud of something presidential for a change!
To end things on a related note, if you're interested in trying Richland Rum—and you should be, as it's fantastic—online retailer Seelbach's has two special cask strength bottlings available right now that are worth checking out!
That means the rum was first aged 3 years in new American oak barrels. Those barrels were then emptied and sent to Chateau Elan and used to age their port. Once the port was bottled, the barrels were returned to Richland and used to age the rum that they originally held for at least another year.
Like all of Richland's rums, both of these releases were distilled from cane syrup produced by boiling fresh-crushed sugarcane juice from cane grown on Richland's estate.
(I may have ordered a bottle of the cask strength Chateau Elan Port Cask Exchange for myself already.)