American Rum Report #12 — August 2, 2019

Good morning, and happy Friday!

Remember how late night show hosts would always be like, "Oh man, we've got a great show tonight for you, folks," even when the guests were totally lame?

That's generally what I feel like saying at the beginning of every newsletter, except I actually mean it because there's always interesting stuff going on in American rum.

So anyway, I've got a great newsletter today for you, folks! *claps furiously*

~ In This Report ~

#1: American rum gets it 2nd big investment of the year with Constellation Brands acquiring a minority stake in Montanya Distillers 💰

#2: The Washington Post investigates the resurgence of 'Bottled in Bond' spirits and offers some insight into the making of Privateer's Bottled in Bond Rum 🗞️

#3: NEW: Drink of the Week! 🍸

#4: Craft distillers descended on D.C. to push policy critical to the industry's future (and present) 🇺🇸

#5: Lost Spirits Distillery is set to reopen with an all-new tour experience following fire damage 👨‍🔬

#1: Constellation Brands acquired a minority stake in Montanya Distillers! What should we expect from the Crested Butte, Colorado distillery now? 💰


This is the first significant investment in an American rum producer we've seen this year since Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased Cutwater Spirits.

While likely smaller in scale, this news feels more significant for those following American rum, given Montanya's exclusive focus on the spirit (and since the Cutwater purchase was motivated in part by the distillery's success with ready-to-drink cocktails).

Here's the official announcement of the deal from Constellation's press release:

"Constellation Brands acquired a minority stake in Colorado-based American craft rum maker Montanya Distillers. The investment was made through Constellation Brands Ventures’ Focus on Female Founders program which makes meaningful investments in female-founded and female-led businesses doing disruptive and innovative work across beverage alcohol. Karen Hoskin is Founder, President and CEO of Montanya Distillers, which will continue to manage, produce, market and sell its high-performing, award-winning rums such as Montanya Platino, Montanya Oro, and Montanya Exclusiva.

"Montanya’s rums are distributed in over 40 states and 7 countries overseas and can be purchased online. The company was founded in 2008 by Hoskin and her husband Brice.

"Terms of the transaction were not disclosed."

Longtime newsletter readers may recall that Hoskin has hinted toward something like this for a few months now.

Back in April, she told the distillery had plans for "going big":

"In the lifespan of craft distilling companies, there always comes a time when you have to go big or fold in your wings to maintain. I have committed to going big, which means bigger partnerships, more investment and selling off part of my company to generate the cash I’ll need for the next phase. That used to scare me, but now I understand better what it takes."

So, what can we expect to see following this investment? Hoskin shared some of those details with Bevvy:

“Karen plans to allocate the new funding towards '[increasing] production, distribution, and to build the company foundation for growth.' She already has a number of key hires in motion—across administrative, sales, marketing and PR—and fully intends to continue speaking proudly about their sustainability ethos.”

The article also mentions three new things from Montanya we can keep an eye out for:

  • A new bottle shape, which will be introduced this fall

  • A limited release called Montanya Valentia, a “tribute to women breaking the glass ceiling in rum, craft spirits, and the alcohol beverage industry”

  • And perhaps the most intriguing little nugget: “The additional funding also gives Montanya more breathing room to mature their rum longer, with expectations 'to release some longer aged spirits as time goes on.'”

That all sounds like pretty great news to me!

One thing I'm always interested to watch in the wake of investments like this is if the distillery's production methods begin to change for the sake of efficiency and scale.

For what it's worth, I don't think we should expect any drastic changes on that front for Montanya. I would be surprised if we hear any reports of a continuous column still being wheeled up the mountains in Crested Butte.

If you talk to Hoskin, she'll tell you that one of the big inspirations for Montanya was the time she spent on the coast of France witnessing how Cognac distillers expanded production with small pot stills. She discussed how this influenced her plans for Montanya with me recently during an interview for an upcoming article:

“One of the things that happens in you grow and you grow and you grow, and eventually you start making rum on a pretty large column still. Then maybe you make a pot distillate that you're blending with, or you're making it as a limited lease or short run. But there's just this inevitable progression toward a bulk of the liquid being primarily made in a column. And I don't have anything against column distilled rum. I think there are some beautiful ones. It's just not what I wanted to make.”

Pot still rum is in Montanya's DNA, and I expect it'll stay that way.

#2: The Washington Post investigates the resurgence of 'Bottled in Bond' spirits and offers some insight into the making of Privateer's Bottled in Bond Rum 🗞️

The whole article is worth reading, but I've pasted in the paragraph about Privateer below:

“Last year, Privateer Rum in Massachusetts released its first bottled-in-bond rum — the first such rum available in more than half a century. A lot of traditional whiskey connoisseurs have been getting interested in the world of aged rum, 'and for us, the fact that we have a bottled-in-bond is a huge advantage for getting their attention,' says President Maggie Campbell. 'The public is really conscientious about what they’re consuming, and a bottled-in-bond is a really good way for us to signal to them exactly what’s in the bottle.'”

I recently had the chance to ask Campbell what she saw the next several years looking like for Privateer. More bottled-in-bond rum was at the top of her list.

Although Wicked Dolphin is the only other distillery besides Privateer that I've seen release a bottled-in-bond rum (as noted in Report #8), I expect other American producers to follow suit for the exact same reasons Campbell described above.

It's a clear-cut way to differentiate your rum, there's an increasing number of consumers and spirits enthusiasts who understand what it means, and it's definitely a cooler way to signal craftsmanship than played-out terms like "artisanal" and "handcrafted," which I'm pretty sure you could find on half the products in Wal-Mart.

#3: Something new — Drink of the Week! 🍸

One thing I'd like to do better here at American Rum Report is highlighting interesting products I've been able to taste lately. While I don't necessarily want to get into the business of reviewing spirits, I do want to nudge you in the direction of stuff I think is worth checking out based on my own subjective experience with it, whether it's in a cocktail or served neat.

With that in mind, I should mention that I plan to feature a mix of both products I've purchased for myself and products that were given to me by the folks who made them. I'll always let you know the case for the sake of transparency. I should also note that I do not—and will not—promise to feature products in exchange for free access to them. If a producer gives me something and I like it, it may end up here. Or it might not. Sound good?

Alright, with that out of the way, let's talk about some actual booze! This week, I want to highlight one of the most interesting (and tasty) rum liqueurs I've had from an American distillery—Amer Herbal Rum Liqueur from Roulaison Distilling in New Orleans:


Roulaison's distiller and co-founder, Andrew Lohfeld, gave me a sample of this stuff when I ran into him at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival back in May and it wasn't until this week that I finally sat down and tried it.

As I noted on Instagram, the first thing it made me think of is green chartreuse, which you've probably had if you've been to a craft cocktail bar anytime in the last few years, as bartenders tend to love it. (And I do too!)

It's a bit like a funky, rummy chartreuse cousin, with all the herbaceousness you'd expect based on that description, combined with a healthy ABV (42.5%) and balanced sweetness.

So it made sense to find a recipe on Roulaison's website for a cocktail featuring Amer dubbed the Final Synonym, a riff on the classic Last Word cocktail, which features green chartreuse alongside equal proportions or gin, lime juice, and Maraschino liqueur. The Final Synonym swaps out the green chartreuse for Amer, of course:


It's definitely one of the more complex and interesting rum liqueurs I've had from an American distillery! It's a liqueur that I expect will go over really well with people who actually like rum, while also winning over those who are less familiar with the spirit.

While it's probably rare that I'll feature many liqueurs in this space, this is definitely one worth checking out if you can.

#4: Craft distillers descended on D.C. to push policy critical to the industry's future (and present) 🇺🇸

Over 200 craft distillers traveled to Washington D.C. last week to advocate for a bill called the Craft Beverage Modernization Act that would, among other things, extend a two-year Federal Excise Tax cut set to expire at the end of the year.

Yeah, yeah, I know this kind of policy stuff can seem boring, but if you enjoy craft spirits you really need to pay attention to this. Coincidentally, Brad Japhe's coverage of the trip in Forbes says the same thing, and also establishes the stakes:

"Policy debate isn’t always the most exciting news to the public at large, but this one ought to be on the radar of the millions of Americans who count themselves fans of craft spirits. Since the tax relief went into effect on December 17th of 2017, small time producers have re-invested millions of that savings back into their operations, hiring new staff, modernizing equipment, and improving distribution. If it lapses they face a 400% tax increase overnight at a critical time when retaliatory tariffs on U.S. spirits are mounting. The combination could prove lethal to an upstart."

It's important to note that craft distillers aren't asking for special treatment—they're simply asking to be taxed similarly to beer and wine for the sake of parity and, you know, the ability to run sustainable businesses.

Who could possibly oppose that? According to Japhe's article, not many. He notes that the bill seems to have broad support from both parties, but the threat of good old fashioned inertia still looms:

"As for now the biggest threat is bureaucratic inaction. Congress is set to take its summer recess for the entire month of August, and the distillers in front of them this week are hoping to get a bill passed before then."

Industry folks—how can we consumers help you advocate for this bill? If you've got some tips on who we should hassle and what to say to them, reply to this email and let me know.

#5: Lost Spirits Distillery is set to reopen with an all-new tour experience following fire damage 👨‍🔬

If you're familiar with Lost Spirits Distillery in Los Angeles, you may recognize them as the mad scientists cranking out week-old rums they say taste like 20-year-old rums thanks to their unique "aging" process that involves bombarding the booze with super intense light.

They're also supposed to have one of the most unique distillery tours you could ever hope to experience. I don't think I've seen an article about it that doesn't make some kind of comparison to Willy Wonka.

According to Forbes, it sounds like the tour might have just become even more of a spectacle after co-founders Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta decided to completely reinvent it following a fire that forced them to close down for several months. Here's a quick teaser from the article:

"Despite the overwhelming popularity of the last version pre-fire, they went all in in creating a new experience. Without again giving too much away this one has more maze-like qualities, much more room to explore, what Davis described to me as a 'roving submarine.' No matter what you guess, as David accurately told me when I tried to guess, you are not going to figure out what that is until you take the tour."

Who's up for a trip to L.A. to check it out?

That's all for this week!

What are you drinking this weekend?

Will Hoekenga