American Rum Report #13 — August 16, 2019

~ In This Report ~

#1: I wrote a deep dive for The Rum Reader surveying the challenges and opportunities ahead for the American rum category: Why Are So Many American Distilleries Suddenly Producing Rum? 🤔

#2: An American rum wins gold for the first time at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London 🏅

#3: Drink of the Week! Richland Rum - Chateau Elan Port Cask Exchange 🥃

#4: Bayou Rum just launched its new Bayou Reserve Private Barrel Program (I won't say I called this last week...but I kind of called this last week) 🐊

#5: A Q&A with the delightful Stephen Remsberg, owner of the world's largest rum collection (including an American rum cameo!) ❓

#6: Paul Senft from Rum Journey included some notes on new releases from Lyon Distilling and Old New Orleans Rum in his Tales of the Cocktail Rum Diary 📓

#1: Why Are So Many American Distilleries Suddenly Producing Rum? I took the temperature of the category for The Rum Reader 🤔


This article was particularly enjoyable to write as it gave me an excuse to talk to some of the most interesting folks across the American rum landscape right now, including:

  • Maggie Campbell, President & Head Distiller at Privateer Rum (Ipswich, MA)

  • Karen Hoskin, Founder at Montanya Distillers (Crested Butte, CO)

  • Tim Russell, Founder & Head Distiller at Maggie's Farm Rum (Pittsburgh, PA)

  • Jonny Ver Planck, Distillery Consultant (former Head Distiller at Three Roll Estate in Baton Rouge, LA)

  • Andrew Lohfeld, Co-Founder and Head Distiller at Roulaison Distilling (New Orleans, LA)

  • Jaime Windon, Co-Founder at Lyon Distilling (St. Michaels, MD)

  • Dave McConnell and Sam Pierce, Co-Founders of Three of Strong Spirits (Portland, ME)

(That list doesn't include the fantastic conversation I had with Rob Burr from Rob's Rum Guide because I unfortunately wasn't able to work into the article. But the good news is I'll be publishing it as its own standalone Q&A in a couple of weeks!)

As the title suggests, the goal of the article was to answer a question I get a lot from rum drinkers—why are American distilleries even interested in making rum?

Like most things, that question has more than one answer, and not every answer is positive. But that's part of what makes American rum so interesting—the road ahead is paved with both perils and opportunities. And I'm grateful that so many producers were willing to speak candidly about them.

You can read the full article over at The Rum Reader (a wonderful site that you should also be following/subscribing to on all channels), but I also thought I'd pull out a few of my favorite quotes to share with you here:

Karen Hoskin (Founder, Montanya Distilling) on the frustrating misconception (even among distillers!) that rum is easy to make: 

“If I had $100,000 for every whiskey distiller who tried to make a rum on the way to their whiskey and were like, ‘What the fuck? I had no idea how hard this was…’ I’ve been really working for the last decade to help people understand that making really good rum is not simple. It’s not a compromise. You’re not getting any benefits in the distilling process. In fact, sugarcane is probably one of the hardest things to ferment. Molasses is probably the hardest thing to ferment.”

Maggie Campbell (President and Head Distiller, Privateer Rum) on why it's important for American rum producers to share knowledge:

“If someone has a North American rum and they hate it, they’re going to be so much less likely to try mine. And we’re not really competing with each other. If I sold every bottle of rum I make in a year, I would barely sell to the tiniest percentage of the population of Massachusetts…There is not a lot of cultural familiarity with rum in America. I sometimes see bad advice get out there and get spread really fast…the better it is for everyone, the better it is for me.”

Jonny Ver Planck (distillery consultant and former head distiller at Three Roll Estate) on the first questions he asks to determine if an American distillery is actually serious about the rum they make or not:

“What style of rum are they going for? What are their raw ingredients? What kind of rum do they like to drink? Do they even drink rum? Do they know any rum besides Bacardi?”

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the article, so feel free to shoot a reply and let me know what you think!

#2: An American rum wins gold for the first time at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London 🏅

Given the large volume of spirits competitions these days—and their plethora of methods for determining winners—it can be hard to suss out just how significant an award is sometimes. In fact, it's fairly rare to encounter a website for an American rum producer that doesn't list at least one medal of some sort!

That said, the IWSC always has plenty of entries from the most lauded rum producers and independent bottlers. They also seem to be a bit stingier with their gold medals than many others. So it does feel significant to see Elgin Distillery (Elgin, AZ) become the first American rum producer to win a gold medal (and a rating of 95 points) at the competition for its Regalo de Vida Ron Imperial.


I talked to Elgin's head distiller and co-founder Gary Ellam back when I first listed the distillery's rums in the American rum index, and it was clear even then that this is a rather unique rum. Ellam is able to bring in fresh sugarcane from Sonora, Mexico (Elgin is only around an hour from the border), crush the cane at the distillery, and use the fresh juice in the base for the rum. It's pot distilled and aged for five years in used bourbon barrels before it's proofed down to 101.5 and bottled with no added sugar, flavors, or color.

Even though the rum is not labelled or marketed as an agricole rum, that's how it was categorized at the IWSC.

A local Arizona site published an article about Elgin's win that offers some interesting background on Ellam and some of his thoughts about the rum:

“Once I sat down with its highly decorated distiller to learn more, it became evident that he has rum dripping down his DNA. He told me that one of his ancestors was an initial investor in Mount Gay Rum in Barbados more than 300 years ago, and, fascinated by these roots, he and his wife subsequently spent many years traveling to and from Barbados to bathe in the culture of rum.

“What was their top takeaway?

“'What makes a great Barbados rum is the water that’s used, and the reason we have such phenomenal spirits at our distillery is because we use our own well water, what we call magic water,' said Gary Ellam, co-owner and lead distiller at Elgin Distillery, 473½ Elgin Road. 'The water has to take as much credit as the distiller. You can’t have a great product without great water.'”

Based on the ingredients and production process alone, Regalo de Vida Ron Imperial is at the top of my list of American rums I need to try.

#3: Drink (or Bottle, in This Case) of the Week! 🥃

I mentioned a few weeks ago that online retailer Seelbach's had gotten ahold of a barrel of Richland Rum that I simply couldn't resist passing up—a cask strength release of the Georgia distillery's Port Exchange expression.

I'm happy to report that my bottle arrived safe and sound and has more than lived up to the high hopes I had for it:


Like all of Richland's rums, it was distilled from a base of cane syrup produced from their own estate-grown cane (they boil down the fresh-crushed sugarcane juice into syrup the old way in big cast iron kettles).

The rum then spent 3 years aging in new American oak barrels. Those barrels were then emptied, sent to Chateau Elan, and used to age port. Once the port was bottled, the barrels were returned to Richland and used to age the rum they originally held for at least another year. Total age on the rum is six years and two months, and it was bottled at cask strength.

I found my experience to align fairly well with the notes Seelbach's provided about this rum—the rich caramel I've tasted in their original aged expression is still there, but joined by strong berry and chocolate notes, along with plenty of other fruits of the non-tropical variety.

Another plus? Now that I have this bottle, I'll feel slightly less guilty about occasionally using my bottle of Richland's standard aged rum (which is also great on its own!) in cocktails. It makes a truly awesome rum old fashioned, and I have a hunch it might be just as good in a rum Manhattan. I also have a hunch that I will soon make one and find out.

#4: Bayou Rum just launched its new Bayou Reserve Private Barrel Program 🐊

In last week's Release Radar email, I shared a recent TTB approval for a Bayou Reserve label that included a small "Private Barrel" secondary label that looks like this:


Logically, it followed that Bayou would soon be making barrels available for third parties to have bottled. According to a press release that went out yesterday, that's now officially what's happening:

"Today, Bayou Rum announced the launch of the new Bayou Reserve Private Barrel Program, inviting bars, restaurants, clubs, lounges, and liquor stores to hand-select their very own private barrels of the award winning spirit."

The program will offer two options: a Private Barrel Distillery Experience and a Private Barrel Sample Kit. The distillery experience involves a full day with Bayou's master distiller, Jeff Murphy, and master blender, Reiniel Vicente, while the sample kit is designed for those who can't make it down to Lacassine, LA. It's exactly like it sounds—Vicente picks out some samples you might like, sends them your way, and you pick your favorite or provide feedback until you find the perfect one.

As I noted last week, while I've seen a handful of other American rum producers do private barrel bottlings for third parties (the above Richland Rum is one example), Bayou appears to be the first to pursue it at scale.

Given the recent opening of its $8 million barrel library and event center, that shouldn't be a surprise.

Oh! And according to the press release, that secondary label I mentioned earlier is actually a plaque, so that's cool.

#5: A Q&A with the delightful Stephen Remsberg, owner of the world's largest rum collection (including an American rum cameo!)

No need for much of a preamble on this one. If you're on this newsletter, you're likely already familiar with Stephen Remsberg of New Orleans and his legendary rum collection.

You can read the full article here (see if you can spot the American rum that makes a cameo!), but I wanted to specifically point out one question and answer that I thought fits right in with my Rum Reader article:

We live in interesting Rum times. What excites you about the modern Rum world?

Stephen: With all the craft rums being created there are some that are mediocre and some rums that are damn good. Unfortunately the economics of the trade means they have to make and sell Vodka for six months.

#6: New release notes on Lyon Distilling and Old New Orleans Rum from Tales of the Cocktail 📓

Paul Senft of Rum Journey (who also penned the Q&A mentioned above) kept a running rum diary during Tales of the Cocktail and included a few notes on some upcoming releases from Lyon Distilling (St. Michaels, MD) and Old New Orleans Rum (New Orleans, LA...obviously).

The one that caught my eye?

Lyon's pineapple rum, which is bottled at a hefty 57% ABV—the highest I can recall seeing a pineapple flavored rum. Based on my experience with Lyon's other products, that's a flavored rum I'd definitely love to try. According to the article, they infuse their standard rum base (Louisiana molasses and cane sugar; pot distilled) with dehydrated pineapple slices for a week, then rest it in French oak barrels.


(Photo courtesy of Lyon's Instagram.)

You can check out the full article for more notes on Lyon's coconut rum liqueur, along with some new rum-based liqueurs from Old New Orleans Rum.

That's all for this week!

What are you drinking this weekend?

Will Hoekenga