American Rum Done Right: Privateer’s Maggie Campbell Sets the Bar

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.

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Lost Spirits Reactor Aged Islay Whisky Dubbed “Liquid Gold” by Jim Murray’s 2018 Whisky Bible

Here at Cocktail Wonk, we pride ourselves on being on the bleeding edge when covering Lost Spirits and Bryan Davis, famous for their hyper-accelerated aging technology using wood, heat and light. Love what they’re doing or call it sacrilege, it’s always interesting to watch their story evolve.

The latest big news in Lost Spirits land is their impressively high  scores in Jim Murray’s 2018 Whisky Bible. Quoting from the press release:

Jim Murray’s famous 2018 Whisky Bible has awarded 94 points and its coveted Liquid Gold designation to Lost Spirits Abomination, a peated malt “aged” in just 6 days utilizing Lost Spirits’ revolutionary patented technology….

Lost Spirits entered two peated malts into the judging: Abomination – Crying of the Puma and Abomination – Sayers of the Law. Both started as Scottish malts so young they cannot yet legally be labeled whisky. The spirits were then finished in California over 6 days utilizing Lost Spirits’ revolutionary patented technology. The Crying of the Puma expression nearly also achieved the Liquid Gold designation, scoring 93 points. No additives or flavorings of any kind were utilized from start to finish.

The technology works by exposing oak to high intensity light and heat while suspended in a glass tube filled with unaged or young distilled spirit. The combination of specific wavelengths of light and heat has been proven to trigger the same chemical reactions that happen in casks aged for many years.

My most recent article on Lost Spirits, including tons of photos of their insane, ever evolving Los Angeles distiller can be found here. And for some deep background on the science of spirit flavors, and how Bryan is hacking the aging process, see this article.

Inside Havana Club’s Inner Sanctum: Ronera San José

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?

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Cuban Rum Cheat Sheet

There’s a hint of mythology regarding Cuban rum – a certain cachet, a promise of elegance. Much as the mere mention of “Japanese whisky” gets the single-malt fanatic’s heart racing, the Cuban rums of yoresan hold a special meaning for rum connoisseurs. It hearkens us back to U.S. Prohibition, when thirsty Americans took a quick hop to Cuba to legally enjoy Cuban rums in the now classic drinks invented on the island: The Daiquiri. The Mojito. The El Presidente. In the fifty-plus years since America’s embargo on Cuban product began, its rum has become highly valued contraband, covertly acquired and doled out on the sly by generations of American imbibers.

Despite being cut off from the American market and its estimated forty percent of the world’s rum consumption, Havana Club and other Cuban rums are still the third most consumed Caribbean rum worldwide. They trail only Bacardi and Captain Morgan, if you can believe that. Bacardi was born in Cuba and the company still touts its Cuban roots and production processes first used in Cuba. Consider just Bacardi and Havana Club alone, it’s clear that Cuban “style” rum is far and away the most prevalent type of rum consumed today.

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Agricole Without the AOC – Guadeloupe’s Rhum Damoiseau

In early 2017, I visited the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe with Spiribam’s Benjamin Jones to tour the distilleries whose products are imported to the U.S. by his company. In this and other posts I describe a distillery we visited. If you’re not familiar with rhum agricole production, it’s highly suggested you start with this overview.

At Guadeloupe’s Damoiseau distillery, the last minutes of a cane stalk’s life are spent on a giant red escalator, lifting it thirty feet into the air before plunging the cane downward into a chute to meet the business end of a whirling shredder. All day during the cane harvest season, massive trucks trundle up to the base of the escalator to deposit ton after ton of freshly cut cane segments. This pipeline of just-cut cane turned into rhum in less than two days is the hallmark of the French-style of production, giving rhum agricole its distinctive flavor.

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Extreme Terroir at Martinique’s Rhum J.M

In early 2017, I visited the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe with Spiribam’s Benjamin Jones to tour the distilleries whose products are imported to the U.S. by his company. In this and other posts I describe a distillery we visited. If you’re not familiar with rhum agricole production, it’s highly suggested you start with this overview.

It’s a warm, sunny morning on the northern slopes of Martinique’s Mount Pelée. In the distance, over a field of vividly green sugar cane stalks, lies the island of Dominica, floating in the calm, azure ocean. In the opposite direction, Pelée’s peak mingles with the clouds. By all accounts it would seem like a supremely calm, meditative moment. Except that I’m in the cab of an industrial combine, mowing down rows of sugar cane at a frightening pace. This is the first stop of our visit to Rhum J.M, and we’re experiencing exactly why J.M makes such a big deal about their unique terroir.

Rhum J.M, Martinique
Rhum J.M, Martinique

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