American Rum Report #9 — June 21, 2019
I've got several exciting developments to get to this week, but before we jump in here's a quick question for you:
Do you know anything about an extinct New Orleans rum company called Pontalba Rum?
If the name rings a bell, you might have seen it in a 1937 Don the Beachcomber recipe included in Jeff Berry's wonderful book Potions of the Caribbean:
Beyond this mention and a couple of articles that provide similar info (shoutout to the Atomic Grog), I've struggled to find any substantial details on the brand—but I'm dying to know more! By the early 20th century there weren't all that many American rum distilleries left. And the ones that were left certainly weren't showing up in early tiki recipes from Donn Beach.
I've found tons of advertisements for Pontalba in old newspaper editions from all over the U.S., so the brand had fairly wide distribution:
The only other noteworthy detail I've found so far is that the company was started by J. Marion Legendre, who created the famous New Orleans absinthe substitute Herbsaint.
(As Jeff Berry mentioned, Pontalba Rum from New Orleans is not to be confused with Ron Pontalba, a separate modern brand. Although it's perhaps worth noting that the Ron Pontalba trademark is owned by the Sazerac Company, which currently produces Herbsaint. The Sazerac Company purchased J.M. Legendre & Co. in 1949.)
So if you know anything about Pontalba or know where I might find more information on it, shoot me a reply to this email and let me know!
Now, on to the report.
~ In This Report ~
#1: Montanya's Karen Hoskin opens up about the debates swirling around the rum community 👏
#2: Privateer has switched up their sugar source, and is working on a new expression 🌱
#3: A Privateer release is also 1 of 10 nominees for the "Best New Spirit or Cocktail Ingredient" award at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards (and 3 of the other nominees are rum, too!) 🍹
#4: Florida rum maker Marlin & Barrel is undergoing a $1+ million expansion that includes the installation of a continuous column still 💸
#5: Dogfish Head Distilling is expanding distribution to Pennsylvania 🚚
#6: In case you missed it—my interview with Jaime Windon, co-founder and distiller at Lyon Distilling in Saint Michaels, MD 📝
#1: Montanya Distillers founder Karen Hoskin provided the kind of thoughtful, measured perspective that's so often missing from rum debates in an interview published on the distillery's website
I love conversations about rum.
But with increasing frequency, I hate conversations about rum on the internet (particularly on a certain social networking site).
This interview with Karen Hoskin touches on so many of the reasons why, and also offers plenty of insightful thoughts on everything from TTB regulations and categorization efforts to sweetened rums and transparency.
You should read the whole interview (it's a two-parter!), but I've included several of my favorite excerpts below:
On viewing rum as a continuum instead of putting people down for their tastes:
"When we enter a new arena or topic, we all step onto the continuum in different places. As we learn, our thinking evolves and we move along that continuum. There is no one who has simply “arrived” on day one. We often don’t realize we stepped onto a continuum until we look back and realize how much more evolved our information, perspective or opinion has become.
"When I stepped onto the continuum of rum in 1989, I did so with Old Monk rum from India. Is it my favorite rum today? Not even close. But it was the first rum that got me excited about learning more and trying other rums. (And it happened to be the only rum on that shelf.)
"If someone had told me that my palate was uncultured or un-evolved, or that Old Monk wasn’t an example of fantastic premium rum, I might have walked away and discarded the entire category. If I had been told that Old Monk was over-sweetened and over-colored, I may never have developed the 30-year love affair I have had with the spirit. With that first taste, all I knew was that I liked it. I lived blissfully unaware that there was a continuum in the world of rum, that someone might be disparaging of my choice, or that my tastes might evolve."
On how the TTB could improve its standards and regulations for the rum category:
"Historically in America, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) has had so few requirements for defining rum. As a result, many factory rums have been promoted as 'craft.' Some craft produced rums have been misconstrued as factory produced because of the types of stills they are made on. For example, people mistake a column-distilled rum as factory produced and a pot still rum as craft, distinctions that are not necessarily accurate.
"I believe we could do better with a set of questions, the answers to which illuminate the characteristics of each rum. The answers might look like this:
'This rum is made from fresh pressed sugarcane juice from Martinique, pot distilled on Portuguese Hoga copper pot stills using steam jackets, aged for 6 years in American white oak that previously held whiskey using the solera method, proofed with water collected from rain. A small amount of caramel is added at bottling time.'
"Any distillery that wishes to add additional subtlety or detail may of course do so. This would be a big improvement over the current US requirement that we report only ingredients comprising over 2% of the formula."
Quick sidenote: the deadline to submit comments on the TTB's proposed regulatory updates is June 25!I wrote about the opportunity this offers us to influence rum standards here.My comment is 95% done and I'll be submitting it this weekend. OK, back to the excerpts from Karen Hoskin's interview.
On what bothers her most about the world of rum:
"Sanctimony. I seem to have a very low tolerance for anyone, from brand ambassadors to brand owners to liquor store buyers, being sanctimonious about rum.
"I know we all want to be perceived as experts. We all want our rums to be perceived as among the greats. But sanctimony is a turn off to the consumer, and we never know enough about where our consumers are stepping onto the rum continuum. I want to celebrate and smile with them first and be part of their education later."
There's a lot moregood stuff here, so check it out.
#2: Privateer has switched up their sugar source, and is working on a new expression
On Instagram, Privateer announced they've found their "dream sugar source"—a mill in Guatemala that checks all the boxes the distillery has spent years searching for in a supplier:
"They are passionate about reduced carbon emissions to fight climate change, run educational and financial planning classes for their workers, offer free healthcare and prescriptions to all employees, only use direct employment relationship to avoid the common abuse of contract workers, run women empowerment initiatives, and are working to create full food security in their local community."
It's great to see a distillery go out of its way for sustainability and the fair treatment of anyone involved in producing its products.
As a bonus, the post also mentions that a new white rum expression is coming this fall:
"In this pic Angelica overlooks a fermenter filled with a 100% molasses wash that will be distilled on 8 plates to make a new white rum expression you will get to taste this fall!"
Now I just need to convince them to make distribution in Tennessee a priority...
#3: Wait, more Privateer news? Yes! The distillery's Bottled-in-Bond Rum is a Top 10 nominee for the "Best New Spirit or Cocktail Ingredient" award at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards (for the second year running!)
So this could be big.
For the second year in a row, an American rum is standing toe to toe with what are considered to be the best new spirits in the world (according to Tales of the Cocktail). And that's before mentioning that rums make up 40% of the nominees! Here's the full list:
Bacardi Gran Reserva 10
Calle 23 Criollo Tequila
Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Boca del Cerro
Fords Gin Officers’ Reserve
Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum
Privateer Rum - New England Rum, Bottled in Bond
Probitas by Foursquare Rum Distillery
Westward Whiskey Stout Cask
The top four finalists for the category will be announced next week on June 24. Regardless whether Privateer makes the cut or not, this is a great win for the distillery and the category of American rum.
Last year, Privateer's Tres Aromatique expression from their Distiller's Drawer series made the top 10, but wasn't named a finalist. Del Maguey Mezcal Jabali took home the win.
Now let us all do our duty, and cross our fingers in solidarity.
#4: Marlin & Barrel Distillery (the makers of Bearing Rum in Fernandina Beach, FL) is undergoing a $1+ million expansion
According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, the expansion will include the installation of a continuous column still at the distillery's new 13,000+ square feet location.
One of the things I'm interested to watch as American rum distillers expand is whether we start to see more blending of continuous column still distillate into their expressions. As is noted in our American rum index, Marlin & Barrel's rums have, to date, all been pot distilled (which isn't as efficient or easily scalable).
Of course, the distillery also produces vodka, gin, and whiskey, so it's not a forgone conclusion that the continuous column still will be used for rum production. But it's something I plan to keep an eye on and inquire about going forward. Not because continuous column distillation is inherently bad, but because it's something I think many small American distilleries will have to consider for the sake of efficiency as they expand.
#5: Dogfish Head Distilling (Rehoboth Beach, DE) is expanding distribution into Pennsylvania
That means you'll soon be able to find the distillery's Barrel Honey Rum in liquor stores across the state (Pennsylvania is an ABC state).
I'm interested to see how quickly (and to what extent) Dogfish Head expands its distilling operation in light of the company's merger with the Boston Beer Company (makers of Sam Adams) back in May. Of course, Dogfish Head Distilling also added New Jersey distribution back in February, so it's not like the company wasn't already expanding prior to the merger.
Still, the fact that one of the most recognizable brands in the craft beer world is producing a rum that's steadily creeping its way across the northeast makes this a situation worth monitoring.
That's all for this week! As I mentioned earlier, please reply to this email and let me know if you can steer me in the direction of more Pontalba Rum info. Or if you've got any other rummy thoughts running around your mind.