American Rum Report #17 — October 18, 2019

~ In This Report ~

#1: Montanya Distilling's Karen Hoskin goes deep on all things rum with Matt Pietrek (AKA Cocktail Wonk) and perhaps even deeper on sugarcane with Rum Revelations ⛰️

#2: The Washington Post highlights a D.C. distillery's "sweet new way to experience rum" 🏛️

#3: Meet the Big Island of Hawaii's first distillery: Kuleana Rum Works, producers of rum distilled from fresh Hawaiian cane juice 🌺

#4: Drink of the Week! Lauwiliwilinukunuku'oi'oi (no, I didn't name it) 🐠

#1: Montanya Distillers' Karen Hoskin goes deep on all things rum with Matt Pietrek (AKA Cocktail Wonk) and perhaps even deeper on sugarcane with Rum Revelations ⛰️

These are two of the most enlightening rum-related Q&A's I've read recently, and I'm not surprised Karen Hoskin was the person providing the A's in both of them.

First up is this deep dive on Cocktail Wonk that explores all the types of topics you would expect if you're familiar with Matt's work. (And who among the rum obsessed isn't?)

They cover everything from the quirks of making rum at high altitude, to the unique sugarcane byproducts that form Montanya's rum base, to the debates frequently stoked in Facebook groups by the rum community's finest keyboard warriors.

Without spoiling too much, I do want to pull out a few of Karen's thoughts on the American rum landscape.

On whether American rum is forming a collective identity:

"I think that American rum is forming an identity for sure, whether it’s collective or not. There are those of us who are incredibly serious about rum, and we are making serious American rum. Not all makers are serious about rum. They are just filling out a portfolio of SKU’s."

This dichotomy came up quite a bit in the piece I wrote for Rum Reader earlier this year, "Why Are Hundreds of American Distilleries Suddenly Producing Rum?"

As Privateer's Maggie Campbell told me for the article: “There are some distilleries that are like, ‘I’m making rum, I love rum, I’m in the service of rum, I’m connected to rum, I think rum is great. And there are some distilleries that are, ‘We’re going to extend our line, we’ve heard that rum is popular, I guess we’re making rum now.’”

Trust me, rum drinkers who have experienced a bad American rum—the folks who are producing the quality stuff are just as aware of the producers who don't really give a damn as you are. 

On whether American rum will ever have a defined flavor profile:

“It might be more about methods than actual flavor profile. I think you’re so right, Jamaican… I ordered a daiquiri last night and said I wanted it to be Jamaican funky. The bartender… I don’t even know what rum they used actually… but I knew what I was going to get in that glass. I don’t think that’s true with American rum. If you went into a bar and said, “I would like a daiquiri with American rum” it could come out with ester funk or it could come out with something really aged even though it’s light like our Platino. It could be anything.”

I was so pleased to see this question asked by someone other than myself! And I do think that Karen is onto something with the idea of methods over flavor profile potentially becoming a key characteristic of American rum.

Regionality is another variable that I believe will influence perception of American rum in the coming years, as I wrote earlier this month in my article about the Rums of Puerto Rico program:

“With so many distilleries in different parts of the country trying their hand at rum—many for the first time—any attempt to define an overarching style is rendered useless by the many exceptions that will exist to it.

“In other words, there are plenty of American rums that are different from what you’ll find in other countries…but they’re not always different in a cohesive way.

“Rather than an overarching national style or standard, it’s more likely that regional styles—and possibly even standards—will develop over the next decade or so...

“Perhaps rum producers in a part of the country like New England—which share some stylistic similarities, along with a regional rum tradition—could collaborate on [creating defined standards]. It’s easy to imagine such a collective as a rising tide that lifts all boats, promoting a singular distinctive style on the backs of many brands rather than everyone bearing the burden alone.”

Honestly, I could stuff this newsletter with 10 more quotes from the Q&A, but I suggest you hop on over to Cocktail Wonk and give it a read yourself.

Besides, I still have a second one to tell you about! 

This Q&A with Karen comes from Ivar de Laat of Rum Revelations and focuses on sugarcane.

If you're into the science of rum production, if the word terroir sends a pleasant tingle down your spine, if you're curious about how different strains and byproducts of sugarcane can impact the flavor of rum, you will love this article. You nerd. (I loved it, too!)

Here's the link one more time.

#2: The Washington Post highlights a D.C. distillery's "sweet new way to experience rum" 🏛️

This is a nice bit of press for Potomac Distilling Company (makers of Thrasher's Rum). I highlighted their Green Spiced Rum in Report #14, and that same rum happens to be the "sweet new way to experience rum" described in the Post's headline. 

From the article:

"Enter Thrasher’s Green Spiced Rum, a spirit with the faintest verdant hue, a gift from the aromatics used during distillation. The rum is, not to resort to hyperbole so early in this review, a brilliant sip, soft and syrupy on the tongue, with hints of citrus, ginger and mint. Mixed into Indian tonic water, with a splash of lemon bitters, the spirit is unlike any other rum you’ll press to your lips."

The Green Spiced Rum was designed to behave like a gin. To produce it, the distillery uses a gin basket in their hybrid pot/column still loaded with botanicals like mint, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lime peel, and green cardamom.

If the idea of a botanical rum sounds familiar to you, that's probably because it seems to be catching on at a few other distilleries right now, too! The Spirits Business wrote earlier this month about Scotland's BrewDog Distilling launching a Botanical Rum designed to be an "interesting bridge between rum and gin."

(I cannot confirm whether BrewDog's pledge to "rescue rum" by producing this botanical rum caused eyes to roll or not.)

As I also noted back in Report #14, Jaime Windon of Lyon Distilling in Maryland recently teased an upcoming line of rums that will feature "really interesting botanicals" on the Uncapped podcast.

Boukman Rhum has been producing a botanical Haitian rhum (or clairin) for a few years now as well.

Of course, as Boukman's website notes, infusing rum with botanicals is a hundreds-of-years-old tradition in Haiti and numerous other places, which we should all try to remember when we inevitably see some modern company position the practice as its own revolutionary innovation.

Regardless, this seems like an approach we will be seeing more of from producers worldwide.

#3: Meet the Big Island of Hawaii's first distillery: Kuleana Rum Works, producers of rum distilled from fresh Hawaiian cane juice 🌺

A local publication in Hawaii offered some nice details and background on Kuleana Rum Works.

Inspired by the rhum agricoles of Martinique, Steve Jefferson founded Kuleana to produce fresh cane juice rums featuring heirloom varieties of Hawaiian sugarcane (if that sounds familiar, you may have read about Ko Hana Distillers over in Oahu, who also produce fresh cane juice rums with heirloom varieties of Hawaiian sugarcane).

I particularly enjoyed this anecdote detailing how Jefferson was able to identify and cultivate these ancient varieties of sugarcane with a little help from academia:

“In the beginning, when Jefferson was experimenting making rum with feral sugarcane, he met sugarcane expert Noa Lincoln, a Native Hawaiian and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa professor who completed his Ph.D. thesis at Stanford University examining ancient Hawai‘i field systems. As part of his journey, Lincoln delved into the few varieties of sugarcane were originally brought to the Hawaiian Islands onboard Polynesian voyaging canoes a thousand years ago.

“'Noa showed that Hawai‘i has upwards of 50 unique varieties of sugarcane developed over a millennia of farming by the Hawaiian people,' says Jefferson. 'Sugarcane actually originates from Papua New Guinea, and was shared around the Pacific by wayfarers and ancient navigators. Noa worked for years to identify all the original stalks that the ancient Hawaiians cultivated from what was likely just a couple original introductions. We have cultivated all the varieties given to us from Noa. In the beginning, we were growing sugarcane from cuttings in our yard as well as on land we leased at Kahuā Ranch. Eventually, we replanted it into our own cane fields.'”

Noa Lincoln's involvement in Kuleana's story is yet another similarity the distillery shares with Ko Hana. According to this Modern Farmer article, Lincoln was "instrumental in mentoring [Ko Hana co-founder Robert] Dawson through the early stages" of getting Ko Hana's sugarcane farm up and running.

There are plenty of small batch, homegrown details in Kuleana's story, but don't confuse that for a slow-footed, aw shucks approach to business. You can tell Kuleana's Jefferson is focused on growth:

“This is not a mom-and-pop business or a boutique pursuit. We have a fantastic group of investors who are supporting us. We strive to make the best possible rum in the world while telling the story about how awesome Hawai‘i is.”

I will be fascinated to watch how an American fresh cane juice rum producer scales production as it grows.

Check out the full article for plenty of interesting details on Kuleana's production process.

#4: Drink of the Week! To keep the Hawaii theme going, I present to you the Lauwiliwilinukunuku'oi'oi (feat. Wright & Brown Aged Rum from Oakland, CA) 🐠


I will save you a Google search and tell you that this drink is named after the longest Hawaiian name for a fish (lauwiliwilinukunuku'oi'oi narrowly beats out the humuhumunukunukuapua'a for that honor—don't try to count the letters, just trust me).

The recipe, which comes from the Smuggler's Cove book, is: 

  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

  • 3/4 oz pineapple juice

  • 1/2 oz orgeat

  • 2 oz blended aged rum (Wright & Brown is not blended and would technically fall into Martin Cate's "Pot still lightly aged" category) 2 oz

  • 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

The Smuggle's Cove recipe calls for it to be shaken with crushed ice and dumped into an old fashioned glass, but I opted to serve it up in a coupe because I was feeling fancy. This cocktail is awesome, and you should make one.

As for the rum, Earl Brown (co-founder of Wright & Brown) was kind enough to send me home with this bottle after he participated in the American rum panel discussion I moderated at the California Rum Festival last month. I've really enjoyed it so far. As I noted on Instagram, it offers much more depth than you'd probably expect for a rum that only spent a little over two years aging.

Age is only a number, folks.

Will Hoekenga