American Rum Report #5 — April 18, 2019

Happy Thursday, everyone.

We've got some fun and (potentially) impactful items to discuss this week, so let's get to it!

~ In This Report ~

#1: A new rum distillery in Portland, Maine, has hired Dogfish Head's master distiller.

#2: Rule changes are coming to the way spirits are labelled and advertised in the U.S. And you have the opportunity to comment on them.

#3: So I guess the Jonas Brothers are hawking American rum now, huh?

#4: Gray Skies Distillery is releasing rum aged in a gin barrel.

#5: The Daily Beast asks two American rum distillers what music their rums embody. (Strangely, neither said the Jonas Brothers!)

#6: Looks like we've got another fresh cane juice rum coming soon in California!

#7: Blackwater Distilling's head distiller appeared on the Uncapped podcast to give a deep dive into the making of the distillery's Picaroon rums.

#1: A new rum distillery in Portland, Maine, has hired Dogfish Head's master distiller.

A new rum distillery is coming to Portland, Maine in June and I’ve gotta say...I think they knocked their name out of the park:


As you may already know, Three of Strong comes from a rhyming recipe for rum punches made famous across the Caribbean hundreds of years ago:

“One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.”

(The “three of strong” being rum, naturally.)

But the distillery has already made a few moves that tell me they’re interested in much more than just being a clever name. Starting with their first big hire.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the distillery’s co-founders, Dave McConnell and Sam Pierce, have hired Dogfish Head Distilling’s master distiller, Graham Hamblett, to join them in the new venture. Hamblett not only brings five years of experience at the famous Delaware brand, but 15 years of previous experience making everything from wine to brandy to gin and more.

He also brings rum-making experience, as Dogfish Head produces two pot-distilled, molasses-based rums: one unaged and one aged in new American oak barrels that’s flavored with local honey before bottling.

What’s the larger story here? Three things stick out to me:

1. We have yet another new distillery that’s launching with rum as its focus.

That means we’ve got one more disciple spreading the rum gospel to unconverted consumers across the country than we did yesterday—and that’s a good thing.

I’m hoping it’s also an indication, however, that rum’s commercial viability in the craft spirits market is increasing. Judging by their backgrounds, the distillery’s co-founders sound to me like folks who would have done their homework on that front before launching (McConnell has been an attorney for 23 years—with experience advising craft breweries—and Pierce founded a financial software company).

Now let’s just hope they’re interested in making things the right way. My next point has me encouraged they will.

2. The co-founders were able to attract someone with decades of experience distilling all kinds of spirits to come focus on rum.

From what I’ve read about Dogfish Head’s distilling operation, it sounds like Graham Hamblett certainly had the kinds of resources at his disposal that I imagine would make a lot of craft distillers jealous. Including, of course, a brand with national recognition and credibility slapped across the label (even if it is primarily associated with beer rather than spirits).

So it’s encouraging to hear that rum was a powerful enough temptress to pull him away. Obviously I’m not privy to any other incentives—financial or otherwise—that tipped the scales in Three of Strong’s favor, but I have to assume Hamblett wouldn’t be signing up to join a rum-focused operation if he wasn’t excited about making rum.

Hopefully more and more experienced distillers and will start seeing rum for what it is: a palette for making spirits that are every bit as fine as whiskey and other "prestige" spirits.

3. Three of Strong will import aged rum from the Caribbean to blend and bottle alongside its own rum.

From the article:

“As Three of Strong begins distilling its own rum, the company will also source aged rum from a family distillery in Barranquilla, Colombia, on the Caribbean coast. The Portland distillery will sell the South American distillery’s 12-year-old rum, and use its 5-year-old rum for blending, McConnnell said.”

This is a practice I spoke to a bit in Report No. 4: American distillers bringing in aged rums from overseas to diversify and enhance what they’re able to offer consumers from the get-go.

I’m seeing more and more American distilleries doing interesting things with imported rum, so it’s something to keep an eye on as more of these products start hitting shelves.

#2: TTB is proposing rule changes for the advertising and labelling of spirits—and they want you to comment on them.

Since this is time sensitive, I'm keeping the details light this week but will be back with something more in-depth soon.

Here’s the basic gist: 

Back in November, TTB published a 132-page proposal titled, “Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages.”

Basically, it covers changes the organization is proposing to how distilled spirits can be labelled and advertised. Which, if you’re familiar with the rum community, has long been a contentious subject.

Of particular importance is the fact that anyone can submit comments to TTB on the proposal until June 25th. 

Why is this important? Well, one distiller told me it’s probably the best opportunity we’ll have to make an impact on the way rum is labelled and advertised over the next 20 years. So there's that.

I plan on doing a deep dive into the most important/relevant parts of the proposal for you soon, but given the upcoming deadline to submit comments I wanted to go ahead and get it on your radar.

With that in mind, if you’ve already perused the proposal I’d love to know:

  1. Your overall thoughts.

  2. Whether you plan to submit any comments.

Respond to this email and let me know! If multiple distillers are planning to submit comments, it could be a good idea to coordinate a bit and see if we can’t make some waves for progress.

If you want to check out the proposal, you can read it here.

You can also read TTB’s tips for submitting an effective comment here.

And last but not least, this is where you can submit comments.

#3: So I guess the Jonas Brothers are hawking American rum now, huh?

Don’t ask me how or why I noticed this, but in a new music video from the Jonas Brothers (yeah! they’re still around!) American rum makes a cameo:


I don’t know which brother that is, but he’s clearly pouring a bottle of Bayou white rum. And a few seconds later, he’s kind enough to turn the bottle rightside up so viewers can get an even better look at it:


Look, maybe the Jonases (Joni?) just really love Bayou rum, but the obvious money is on Stoli Group (which owns the Bayou brand) opening its coffers for some paid product placement. After all, the video’s beach vibes would fit right in with Stoli’s larger plans (which I noted in Report #3) to get Bayou some market share in the cruise ship channel.

Anyway, the song is called "Cool," and you can check out the video here (which as of this writing is up to 23 million views on YouTube).

#4: Gray Skies Distillery is releasing rum aged in a gin barrel.

This single barrel release from the Michigan distillery is part of what they’re calling their Rogue Wave Series of releases. As they put it, rogue waves are “rare, unpredictable, and appear without warning.”

I’ve seen plenty of gins aged in rum barrels, but I can’t recall seeing rum aged in gin barrels before this one (have you?). So I suppose this is a worthy bearer of the “rogue wave” moniker! 

According to the distillery, the rum spent just a hair under two years aging in the barrel before it was bottled at 93 proof. You’ll find release details on their Facebook page.

As a fan of both the classic negroni and the Kingston negroni, that’s probably the place I’d be most excited to try a rum like this (after sipping it neat, of course).

#5: Two American rum distillers were featured in this Daily Beast article that asked rum makers what music their spirits embody.

The article also trots out the somewhat lazy “rum has few rules” characterization in the opening sentence. But if you get past that, you’ll find some fun musical comparisons from Privateer’s Maggie Campbell and Roulaison’s Andrew Lohfeld.

(Somehow neither mentioned the Jonas Brothers. But shoutout to Andrew for mentioning one of my personal favorites, Alabama Shakes!)

#6: Oakland distillery Wright & Brown hints that a fresh cane juice rum is coming!

Check out this nice tease from the distillery's Instagram (isn't sugarcane beautiful?):


As noted in my American rum index, Wright & Brown already produces a molasses-based, pot-distilled 2-year aged rum and have also done a variety of interesting single barrel releases. The distillery does not chill filter or add any colors, flavors, or sweeteners.

Looking forward to seeing what they create with this cane!

#7: Andy Keller of Blackwater Distilling walks the Uncapped podcast through the making of the Maryland distillery's Picaroon rums.

When I listed Blackwater in the American rum index, it was clear they had a lot going on—a solera aging system, blending their own rums with imported rums, single barrel releases, making their own caramel, and more.

So I was pleased to hear Andy Keller discuss all of these things and more in this interview on the Uncapped podcast.

Whatever your opinion on solera aging and adding caramel for color and/or sweetness, it's good to hear distillers be transparent about their products.

Will Hoekenga