Aviation is what this rum crafter is all about. When I visited Tailwinds Distilling on November 14, aviation was evident. Toby Beall has aviation in his blood. His father, flying b52's, his brother and himself having careers in the commercial air industry, they surround their distilled spirits in the names and emotions of man's most freeing activity; flight. The Front Store has large maps, hints and signs of flight are abound. Even a black, painted plane on the tasting bar, emblazoned with Tailwind's logo.
The company, set in a modern industrial park building (parking lot is still crushed stone.) is going through good growing pains after its birth over the last year or more. Taildragger Rum White has hit the craft rum market with a splash. Managing to get enough rum sent to the The Ministry of Rum's Annual Rum Tasting event in Chicago Tailwinds garnered themselves a silver medal. The team had hoped for some recognition – but to take silver the first time was not only rewarding, it had to be a bit frightening too. They felt they had truly entered the arena of fine rums. But, what is that arena?
Toby was open with me. He is proud of his distillery and everyone who has helped build it to its present state. He explained to me that a second, larger distillation tower was in the immediate plans. The current able to handle 100 gallons was being used to near capacity already not just with Taildragger, but also Midnight Caye Blue Agave Tequila. He spoke of how rum had become over time to be just another drink. For so long the majority of most rums drunk were from large companies that made a very good, but predictable spirit. This was not Tailwind's goal. So, fighting the reputation of “a good mixer” and “great with,” brands, the craft rum distillers wanted a rum with personality. Judging from Toby's personality Taildragger was never meant to be “with” anything – even when mixed, it would always be The Main Ingredient. We shared stories on how we, as rum sippers, had gotten to that “ah Ha!” moment in rum drinking. For me a 1996 sample of CSR, for him, a tie to air planes again with a Caribbean vacation as a setting, the taste of rums he had never heard of and relished as much – even more when the “mixers” ran out. As a pilot and on a layover in Kona, Hawaii, Toby's mind clicked.. With support from his wife and family – Tailwinds became reality. With that in mind Tailwinds wanted to stand out. Even with a growing craft rum industry, they were going to make sure they were known.
“It's funny,” Beall told me, “We all know each other, the other distillers. We know each other, many of us are friends.” He explained that discrimination palettes and plethora of rum varieties meant everyone was finding a market. Face it, in days not that long ago, how many people just had only one or two rums? You know a white, perhaps a spiced, a few even went to the dark. Now, with so many enjoying rum for its robust flavors and fragrances as well as it's ability to reignite some long lost mixed drinks, many bars now have a “collection” of fine rums. Now a new clientele willing to seek it, buy it and drink it! He was kind to say people like me and to a far greater effect, Edward Hamilton (Ministry of Rum) were getting the news out and all the distillers were excited that they had people who shared their passion – able to preach the varieties and specialties of crafted rum. In our case an American Made Rum.
Getting Taildragger to be just right meant better ingredients. They went with high grade molasses, worked with companies to develop the perfect yeasts to render the flavor of their rum to its very finest degree. A lot of work – plenty of testing, trying and re-trying. Tasting one batch then another until finally they had Their Rum. Even the still and distillation tower has a personality, They dubbed it The Louisville Lush.
So, now I stand in their distilling empire. Toby has invited me to see a batch start up and it was in the “touchy” phase and he needed to adjust, test, evaluate. A thin stream of white rum flowed from The Lush. The room where distillation was done had a familiar, great aroma. Rum. Toby made the adjustments needed. Took hold of a snifter style glass and poured a bit of clear, new, white rum into it. He passed it to me. “Taste,” he said. “That's running about 170 proof right now.” I stuck my nose into the glass, inhaled. Surprisingly, not a strong perfume, but, a clean smell with a touch of sweetness. It touched my lips and I licked the first film. Well the tasting of it is really the story of the next part.... Part II Tailgragger Rum White's taste test..... See you next time