Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Happy Independence Day ! Rum and the Founding of our nation...

A big thanks to Richland Rum (for posting this on American Made Rum) and to Examiner.com (For publishing it back in 2010 for us to republish here -- for you!) RTRR

 

Artisan Rums

The Second American Revolution


America’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking in artisan and micro distilleries across the USA, and rums are leading the way. Once the proud property of the colonies, rum is striving to return to its historical place here at home. Dozens of craft rum distilleries are springing up across the country. Some do business in New England and celebrate the historical birthplace of American Rum, while others embrace the versatility of rum and strike out on a path both traditional and creative.

Colonial American history is rum’s history. Early American history is inextricably tied to the history of rum in the Western Hemisphere. Whiskey production needed precious grains far more important for food, and strong beer joined hard ciders and imported brandy as the quality alcoholic beverages of choice (along with a cornucopia of hideous homemade potables). Once Caribbean rums started arriving in port, early American settlers were hooked. It didn’t take long for Yankee ingenuity to see the potential in the molasses barrels arriving alongside the ‘kill-devil’ rum. Sugar refineries in the Caribbean produced far more residual molasses than they could ever use. This dark syrup was cheap, it did not spoil and clever colonists soon found it an inexpensive and tasty source for alcohol production.


Rum distilleries began springing up along most of the Atlantic coast, with New England home to many. Phil Prichard of Prichard’s Distillery offers this: “There was a time when Rum was America’s largest export and greatest source of revenue for the new colonies. There were over a hundred rum distilleries in New England alone; the shipping centers all created great commercial rum markets. You might say, with that “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” it was American Rum they were hoisting! The rum of course was made from molasses produced in British and French tropical islands”. Most of these distilleries were very profitable.


Was it good quality rum? Not at first, with some noticeable exceptions. Was it popular? Yeah. Oh, yeah. Cheaper than the imported rums and other spirits, American rum soon dominated virtually every household, farm, roadhouse, and tavern. With popularity came increased attention to detail and craftsmanship; American rums soon gained a reputation in Europe for outstanding quality. Barrels marked “Rhode Island Rum” were worth their weight in gold to European aristocrats. In New England, good rum was dirt cheap and this noble spirit dominated the menu at local pubs.


Cocktail creation soon followed, some substituting rum for whiskey or brandy, others original in their birth. Punches, flips, shrubs, and mimbos were just a few of the colorful names for tavern and kitchen mixologies. Quaffed to stave off cold, consumed as breakfast to start the day, rum was considered to be vital to your health. Hey, who are we to argue?


Rum became the Colonists’ currency, barter, and drink. By 1700, any rum you drank was more likely to be produced in North America than in the Caribbean. Alas, all good things usually come to an end, and a cash-strapped England needed income. The Molasses Act of 1733 followed by the Sugar Act of 1764 taxed, tariffed, and restricted the colonial rum industry. In his book ‘And a Bottle of Rum’, Wayne Curtis states “…excessive regulation is not the spirit of America. Unrestricted experimentation is.” That’s how the angry Colonists saw it, and trouble soon flared up. “It wouldn’t take the American Colonists long to learn that they could buy molasses from the French cheaper than the English.” states Phil Prichard; “More so than the tax on tea, when the British imposed the tax on molasses, it provided the fuel for the rebellion and Rum became the fire of the American Revolution.” The ‘Boston Tea Party’ was as much about rum tariffs as it was about tea tariffs, and maybe more. Conflicting stories have the tea going into Boston Harbor but the rum possibly going ashore – I believe that one.


Regardless, the Revolutionary War saw molasses rapidly drop out of the picture, forcing rum out and, by necessity, whiskey in. American Rum languished, content to let the Caribbean (along with increasing production in Central and South America) to dominate rum markets. It took the Federal government to tell us ‘you can’t have that’ to stimulate Americans into another love affair with rum – thank you, Prohibition and ‘rum running’. Illicit rums arrived on our shores alongside whiskies, and Americans who could afford the travel flocked to Cuba and reacquainted themselves with the romance of rum.


The Second Rum Revolution can thank beer and Mother England. The ‘microbrewery’ wave first arrived in the UK, with a returned interest in traditional ‘barrel’ or ‘cask’ beers. This local-production idea spread to the USA in the 1980’s, and craft breweries sprung up across the country. Entrepreneurs embraced the marriage of quality yeasts and good water to produce alcohol, and artisan spirits soon appearing on the scene. Many of these have their roots in microbreweries that decided to spread their wings into distillation. Rediscovering their early American roots, rumophiles started experimenting with different qualities of molasses and cane sugar, and domestic rum production sprung anew.


The typical American qualities of experimentation and independence led to a spectrum of production methods. New infusion and ageing methods joined with traditional approaches, resulting in a wide variety of new American Rums on the scene. Some purists are chasing down historical representations of past spirits, while creative distillers are crafting unique rums for selective niche markets. Throw in competition and pride of your craft, and a ferment (bad pun acknowledged) of creativity has resulted in dozens of American artisan rum distillers.


American artisan rums are springing up like mushrooms after a good rain. When you talk to these folks, their love for rum’s flexibility and creative potential really shines through. Sometimes, it’s a lifestyle question, as you can see from Kelly Railean of Railean Handmade Texas Rum: “Rum is & has been a passion of mine. Sure, friends & family thought I was crazy to leave my cushy wine job & start up a rum distillery, but my husband & I had a vision. Some of the best rum I ever had came from small, unknown distilleries that we had stumbled upon while sailing in the islands. Years ago, much of the gulf coast of Texas was covered with sugarcane and rum was a staple of the pirates who once sailed these waters. It just seemed like a perfect fit to build a rum distillery on the Texas Gulf Coast where I live and play”. John Couchot is Rogue Spirit’s master distiller: “It's great to see American rum come in to it own and stepping away from the drinks like Mai Tai and the old rum and coke. People have found though the microdistilling movement that rum is a rich and wonderful drink that can stand up to any bourbon or scotch on it's own. I welcome rum back into the American glass with open arms”. Daniel Barnes of Treaty Oak Platinum Rum asserts “Modern American rums, like artisan spirits in general, have found their place in the global rum community. (Gold and silver medal) results are showing that American rums will continue to gain respect and attention both in the U.S. and abroad”. Susan Karakasevic of Charbay Distilleries offered a creative, artistic view: “When (we) decided to distill an American Rum, the focus was to accent the perfume of the ingredients. For Rum, there are several fractions of the cane. (We) chose the most expensive fraction of the sugar cane, the cane syrup. At first there was talk about a molasses, but (we) are perfumers at heart and that means sourcing the premium part of the cane”.


I had the pleasure of recently showing off some of these rums, first in London and then Miami. Ian Burrell is the grand guru of the UK RumFest in London www.rumfest.co.uk, and he graciously supported a seminar on some representative American rums at the October 2008 show in London. Ian strongly supports the ideals and efforts of our growing craft distilleries: “American artisan rums show how versatile the rum category can be. From Jamaican style rums, to Barbados style, French style, Spanish style, British style, South American/Guyana style, and now unique and original American styles, the current American rum distilleries are showing both their heritage as well as the versatility of the rum category”. Most of the seminar attendees were either UK/EU/Russian bartenders, mixologists, or bar/spirits store owners. All were amazed with the variety and quality; when I told them that this was only a small sample of the full spectrum in the USA, they were blown away.


Robert Burr is the publisher of the Gifted Rums Guide and host of the Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami www.rumrenaissance.com . 2009 was the inaugural year of the event, and its raging success set the tone for 2010. In addition to rums from every corner of the globe, Robert was keen to have as many American rums on display as possible. “We need to keep an eye on these up and coming American rums,” he stated. “We see lots of pride, enthusiasm and creativity among these ardent distillers.”


Many of my American Rums eventss did present an issue. For rum distilleries that wish to take a ‘vineyard approach’, who try to be strong locally and have a limited regional identity, public recognition outside the industry (and frequently inside as well) can be hard to come by. For those who are striving to expand outside of their local geographical base, they run right up against the ever-decreasing availability of cooperative distributors. Internet store sales address part of this, but not enough. Marketing these craft distilleries require lots of man-hours and more than a small budget. An expanding number of such distilleries are relying on Facebook, Twitter, and other e-media sites. While cost-effective, they have to compete against the information and volume clutter prevalent with such methods and can get lost in the overwhelming tide of information. Fortunately, there are more than a few of us – rummiers, rum marketers, events promoters, writers – who are happy to pass on to the public the increasing enthusiasm about the return of American Rum.

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