Maggie Campbell glances at the clock again, then toward the still. Even from twenty feet away, she knows the thin stream of still-warm rum coming off it is the “hearts” – ethanol, aka “the good alcohol” that we drink. She frowns a bit. Normally this is the raison d’etre of a distiller’s day, but for some reason, this distillation is taking far longer than she’d estimated when we began hours ago. In the hours since we started, Maggie has done the near-impossible – answered every single one of my wonky questions about every aspect of Privateer Rum’s production process, from cane sourcing to distilling to bottling. I’ve literally run out of questions to ask – a first for me.
For one glorious long weekend this past October, the rum world descended on London to celebrate all things rummy. Industry legends such as Alexandre Gabriel, Luca Gargano, Richard Seale, Martin Cate, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Bryan Davis, and of course Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell offered up rumtastic sessions, showed off their latest highly covetable rums, and spread the gospel of rum to a very enthusiastic crowd.
A quick post to share some photos from The Rum Lab’s 2017 California Rum Festival, recently held in San Francisco on September 8th.
A pre-show party at Pagan Idol the evening before featured Spiribam rums, and called together numerous rum industry influencers, including Foursquare Rum Distillery’s Richard Seale, Benoît Bail and Jerry Gitany of The Rum Embassy, as well as many hardcore California Tiki scene enthusiasts.
The Ministry of Rum and Global Rum Club forums on Facebook are hotbeds of enthusiasts engaging in lively debates about all topics rum-related. Foursquare Rum Distillery master distiller and rum icon Richard Seale is a frequent contributor, injecting actual, real-world experience at every turn.
In response to my post, Richard wrote an extremely long and well-articulated comment that’s simply too informative to lose in the desert of Facebook comments. So with Richard’s permission, I’m reprinting it here with just slight touchup of typos and such.
Rum has no rules? Honestly, how could something so completely inane be not only spread but be believed and repeated again and again with authority?
And the notion that this “lack of rules” was somehow wonderful, so producers can be “creative.” What nonsense.
In the aftermath of a May 2017 trip to Cuba with Havana Club, I wrote several articles about Cuban rum. The Cuban Rum Cheat Sheet provides a broad introduction to Cuban rum history and how it’s made. The follow up article took a detailed look at the many lives of the Havana Club brand. Next, I went inside Havana Club’s San José distillery to show how aguardiente and subsequently rum is made. In this final dispatch, I’ll go hyper-wonky, with a complete, English language translation of Cuba’s “DOP,” their regulations for making rum.
It’s popular to say that rum has no rules. But take a look around, and you’ll find that many rum producing countries have detailed regulations about what’s required to label your rum as a product of that country. The most famous, of course, is the Martinique AOC, considered by many to be very strict in its prescriptions for rhum production. Brazil also writes regulation for Cachaça. In late 2016, Jamaica’s rum producers approved a Geographical Indication (aka “GI”) for rums made there.
In May 2017, I traveled to Cuba to immerse myself in the topic of Cuban rum as a guest of Havana Club. My two prior articles (Cuban Rum Cheat Sheet and The Many Lives of Havana Club) cover the broad strokes of Cuban rum and Havana Club’s history. Here, we’ll go inside a Cuban distillery and focus on the technical side of Cuban rum production.
We’ve been riding in the tourist coach for thirty minutes. Just outside of Havana, the highway scenery turns to lush, green farmland. Exiting the freeway I instinctively check my pocket for the umpteenth time – yes, my passport’s still there. The Havana Club handlers have repeatedly drilled us on this tenet in the preceding days: No passport, no admittance to the distillery. As an American–one of only two in our group of fifty–I’ve been forewarned that I might face an additional challenge. Extra paperwork and approval is required for Americans. I’d sent in my forms weeks ago, but who knows if the appropriate Cuban bureaucrat agreed to approve it?