American Rum Report #8 — June 7, 2019

Hey all!

You made it to Friday, and I've got some good American rum stories and ramblings you can start the weekend early with. Let's dive in.

~ In This Report ~

#1: Could clues about the future of American rum be found in American single malt whiskey? 🕵️

#2: Esquire names Privateer one of the 10 best rum brands to drink right now 🏆

#3: Wicked Dolphin releases an entry into a rarely seen category of American rum 🐬

#4: An unsettling excerpt on the "premiumization" of rum 🤦‍♂️

#5: An inside look at next week's New York Rum Festival 🗽

#1: Could clues about the future of American rum be found in American single malt whiskey?


What exactly is the category of American rum going to be?

Even though I find myself pondering this question on a weekly basis, I'm still not quite sure how to answer it.

Say the words "Jamaican rum" or "Cuban rum" or "Martinique rum" and certain characteristics and traditions will immediately come to mind. American rum doesn't quite produce the same effect at this point in its history—its bag of flavors, styles, and techniques is much too mixed to instantly surface a tidy description.

Sure, there are certain characteristics you might find more often in American rums—aging in new oak barrels rather than used barrels, an overall drier style, the omission of sweeteners—but these are not universal.

So when I came across an article titled, "The Emerging Styles of American Single Malt," I was intrigued. Sure it's about whiskey, but perhaps it could offer some clues on American rum's stylistic path forward. Of course, once I noticed it was written by And a Bottle of Rum author Wayne Curtis, I knew I was in for a treat. (Pro Tip: always read Wayne Curtis.)

The article did not disappoint. 

The landscape it describes for American single malt whiskey struck me as quite similar to American rum. While single malt enthusiasts around the world will immediately recognize the characteristics of a Highlands single malt or an Islay single malt, blind pour yourself a glass of an American single malt and there's no telling what it might taste like.

Why is that? Well, the single malt traditions of the aforementioned Scottish regions were all established hundreds of years ago, during a time in which whiskey-makers were mostly influenced by their immediate surroundings. That meant both the locally available ingredients and the local techniques of whiskey-making. This produced distinctive regional identities, much like you'll find in rum.

American single malt whiskey, on the other hand, is a tradition that's largely being established right now, an era free of the past's regional constraints. Far-flung ingredients can be imported just as easily as techniques that were established half a world a way. All the world is a distiller's supermarket, a distiller's inspiration.

What you end up with is a whole bunch of American distillers producing an array of single malt styles all across the country. Sound familiar?

That's why I found the article's descriptions of the emerging subcategories within American single malt so interesting. Could viewing American rum through the lens of subcategories be the best path forward? And if so, what would those subcategories be?

The American single malt subcategories are based on production style rather than region. The article details three specifically:

  • Subcategory #1: Beer-influenced single malts (for lack of a better descriptor). These single malts are produced by distillers who have a brewing background. Thus, they tend to pull their flavors from yeast and fermentation.

  • Subcategory #2: Smoky single malts. This category features distillers using a wide variety of wood to smoke their barley, "playing off the expectation of the peaty taste that defines many traditional Scotch whiskies," Curtis writes.

  • Subcategory #3: Terroir-focused single malts. Distillers in this category focus on exploring "micro influences of terrain, grain, climate, and culture in carving out a flavor profile distinct to their distillery."

Although I don't think these specific subcategories map directly to American rum subcategories, I do believe production- and/or ingredient-based subcategories will be the future of describing American rum (rather than regional subcategories, or a single catch-all collection of characteristics). If I had to take a stab at them, I might divide them as follows:

Subcategory #1: Dry American rums. These are the rums that exhibit those frequently (but not universally) seen characteristics I mentioned earlier—dry, with more of that new oak barrel influence. Think Privateer, Prichard's, Montanya, etc. You wouldn't be surprised if someone handed you one and said, "This is a whiskey drinker's rum," as you resist the urge to roll your eyes.

Subcategory #2: Fusion American rums. These are the rums that incorporate styles and traditions from other rum-making cultures in a recognizable way. Think of Roulaison and their incorporation of Jamaican techniques and flavors into a distinctly funky New Orleans rum. Lyon Distilling is another example that comes to mind—their white rum manages to capture a bit of those funky overripe fruit notes one might expect from Jamaica as well as a hint of the grass you'll find in a rhum agricole.

Note: I don't really care for the word fusion to describe this style. Remember, I'm shooting from the hip here. :)

Subcategory #3: Cane juice American rums. These are the truly terroir-focused American rums—those distilled from the fermentation of fresh-pressed sugarcane juice (I'm not including evaporated sugarcane-based rums in this subcategory). Think of Manulele Distillers in Hawaii, High Wire Distilling's annual Lowcountry Agricole releases, and Three Roll Estate's many cane juice rums. A growing number of producers are trying their hand at this style, often with truly memorable results (Roulaison's recent cane juice rum release, for example, is really good).

Again, these are just off-the-cuff thoughts—the first American rum filtering system that came to mind. I'd love to hear your take on American rum subcategories, so feel free to reply if you have thoughts.

#2: Esquire names Privateer one of the "10 best rum brands to drink right now."

I'm going to ignore the fact that this list also includes Bacardi Facundo and Goslings and instead focus on the positive—an American rum brand being mentioned side by side with stalwarts like Appleton Estate, Mount Gay, Foursquare, and Plantation! 

Here's what the article has to say about our friends in Massachusetts (note that it opens with a positive statement about the entire category of American rum):

"There are a number of quality American rums being produced all around the country by small craft distilleries. One of the most interesting is Privateer Rum, a small operation located in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The philosophy behind the brand is “one of honesty and purity”—a heavy-handed way of saying it doesn’t add any sugar and doesn’t filter the rum. The range runs the gamut from True American Amber Rum (aged for two to four years in new oak and used rum, bourbon, and brandy barrels), to the barrel-proof Navy Yard Rum and the single cask Distiller’s Draw series. The latter of these includes a bottled-in-bond release, which is an uncommon designation in the world of rum."

And hey, speaking of that uncommon bottled-in-bond designation...

#3: Wicked Dolphin releases an entry into a rarely seen category of American rum


Normally, I would save this for the bi-weekly Release Radar email, but since bottled-in-bond rum releases are so rare, I thought it worthy of inclusion here. As a reminder, the requirements to use the bottled-in-bond designation are:

  • The spirit must be the product of one distillation season by one distiller at one distillery.

  • It must be aged at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision.

  • It must be bottled at 100 proof.

This Wicked Dolphin release has been aged six years, which is significantly older than most aged American rums you'll find on the market. It's the distillery's second release of this limited rum (the first being in late 2018).

Privateer, of course, was the first distillery to release a bottled-in-bond rum since the 1950s, which you can read all about in this excellent article by (who else?) Wayne Curtis. (Privateer also released another bottled-in-bond rum during their latest Distiller's Drawer Day.)

If you've managed to sample any of these bottled-in-bond releases, I'd love to hear your report—reply to this email and let me know!

#4: An unsettling excerpt on the "premiumization" of rum

Another week, another article comparing the "premiumization" of rum to bourbon. This time, it's a Fortune article titled, "Move Over Bourbon: Premium Rum Wants Its Moment in the Spotlight." 

These kinds of articles mostly leave me feeling torn. On the one hand, I 100% want producers of well-crafted rum to receive more recognition and respect for the wonderful products they create. I want rum distilleries to prosper.

On the other hand, I get the feeling that many of the big corporations seeking to capitalize on a rising interest in "premium" rum don't actually care all that much about making or selling great rum. Take, for example, this excerpt from the Fortune article about Diageo's senior vice president of the rum category:

"Rum’s renaissance is even surprising industry insiders. Christina Choi, senior vice president of Diageo’s rum, tequila, and gin categories, says she used to think of rum only in the context of basic drinks like a piña colada. But during a memorable rum-dessert pairing in Costa Rica last year, she discovered rum’s diversity."

So, if I'm reading correctly, the senior vice president of Diageo's rum category only thought of rum as a basic cocktail mixer...until last year?

Lord help us all.

#5: An inside look at next week's New York Rum Festival

I enjoyed this peek into Federico Hernández's approach to putting together the New York Rum Festival (along with the other four rum festivals he hosts). His key philosophy? An emphasis on education over partying.

As he says, "This is not about girls in bikinis. This is not a drunk fest. It’s completely about embracing rum."

I unfortunately can't make it to the festival this year, but I encourage you to go if you can. Every educational session on the schedule sounds outstanding. The only thing missing is a session focused on American rum! ;)

A few more quick hits:

Will Hoekenga