Our Amber rum begins with our base ingredients: Grade A Molasses and Real Boiled Brown Sugar (created by simmering pressed cane juice, we do not use brown sugar that is made from colored white sugar). We add these sugars to warm water, then add cool water bringing the temperature to 74F. Then we mix in a proprietary blend of yeast selected especially for our Amber rum. The yeast will eat the sugar during fermentation and replace it with alcohol. As they create these new molecules they also create much of the aroma and flavor in the spirit. Because our Amber rum is barrel aged we want to coax out bold flavors that bring richness to the spirit. After fermentation the liquid is referred to as ‘wash’ and it no longer has sweetness, and is in fact quite tart at a pH near 4. Instead it tastes of almonds, brown butter, toasted hazelnuts and figs. It finishes fermentation at about 8% abv (alcohol by volume).
One of the ways we break with tradition is to ferment for longer at a cooler fermentation temperature. Rum was traditionally a rushed spirit that was fermented at around 105 degrees in 24 hours (whiskey is about 5 days at 80 degrees). When yeast are in such a hot environment they may work more quickly, but they also are more stressed, releasing damaged and unremarkable flavors into the wash. By giving them a perfect home at 74-78 degrees, we allow them to thrive and produce more desirable flavors. We also ferment for 6 days. Most of the sugar is converted to alcohol in the first 48 hours, but the mingling of the yeast with the wash after this period gives richness and complexity to the spirit, just as it does in whiskey, wine and beer.
The Amber rum is double distilled. The first distillation is done in a pot still. The 8% abv wash is placed in the still and it is warmed up to cause the alcohol vapors to rise, along with the essence of the flavors we created during fermentation. We capture these vapors and it condenses into a liquid we call ‘low wines’. These low wines come out around 35% abv.
We take these low wines and redistill them for a second distillation. We have a still that allows us to change how many, if any, ‘plates’ we want to run the still with. What does this mean? It means we can choose to make a light clean spirit with high purity (more plates) or we can make heavy rich spirits with lots of flavor (few plates or pot distilled). When we do the final distillation on the Amber rum we change the way we run the still’s plates often. Some of the spirit we make is light and pure to offer more aromatics and some of the spirit is rich and heavy to add weight. Much of the spirit we make falls between the two of these. The vapor is cooled and condensed into spirit. All spirit off of a still is clear and dry (meaning it has no sugar). We collect, proof, and barrel the spirit.
After the final distillation the spirit is brought to 110 proof (55% abv) by adding very soft pure water. Soft water allows us to retain the delicate aromatics in the spirit. We wanted to rethink standard barrel proof and be sure that we were selecting the process that was right for our spirit, not just the fastest or easiest. Barrel proof refers to the concentration of alcohol in the spirit you are placing in barrel. Spirit contains alcohol which is a solvent, it actually dissolves the barrel color and flavor into the spirit. The concentration of the alcohol can help you control the speed, flavors and concentration at which this happens. We found at 110 proof we get a nice gentle influence of oak without overpowering the rich flavors we worked so hard to capture in fermentation and distillation. It takes longer but the flavors are less astringent, and more supple.
The character of the spirit off of the still determines what barrel it will be aged in. A rich, highly structured, angular spirit has the body and character to stand up to new american oak and extended aging. A more aromatic, vibrant, or delicate spirit will be aged in a used bourbon or brandy cask. Used oak imparts less up front oakiness, but contributes to the slow and layered complexity of oxidative aging. As the spirit sits in a 53 gallon barrel, the barrel actually respirates and introduces oxygen that allows long chain flavor molecules to form.
Our distillery has a terroir you can taste in the spirit. It is situated on a salt marsh off the ocean, and on the finish of the Amber, you may taste a tangy mineral note from the briny air. In the summer we have hot and humid weather that allows the grain of the wood to soak up much of the rum in cask creating rich oaky flavors. In November when the temperature drops the oak grain squeezes the rum back out. We can watch the casks drop two shades of color and two layers of richness as the rum is pushed back into the rest of the spirit. This unique push and pull on the spirit contributes to it’s layers of flavor.
Marrying is the process in which we select our rum barrels to be brought together, known as ‘batching’, to create the final rum. We select our barrels to be brought together to create a flavor that is more than the sum of its parts.
This process begins by tasting barrels. We taste barrels regularly throughout our work so we always know their stage of development. I joke that the rack house, where the barrels are stored, is a room full of toddlers. Certain barrels have their own personality (P26 always gives a nectarine flavor, P51 always gives a marzipan and allspice tone) and sometimes they are well behaved, sometimes they’re ‘mute’ (meaning they are going through a development phase and not showing much flavor at that moment), and sometimes they are sleeping like perfect angels. Each one is completely different. When it is time to make a batch we pull samples from the barrels we feel are reaching harmony, and take a tasting note on each one, individually. We note the primary flavors, depth, complexity, weight, aromatics and intensity of finish. Once we know what we’re working with we begin to make a blend. We do this by selecting a certain number of barrels with youthful vibrance, some good ‘classic’ mid-weight rum, and some older and very rich rums to add depth and bass tones. Once we explore these mini batches of varying samples, we determine our final batch recipe. This tells us which barrels to pull to create the batch.
We will harvest these barrels by pouring the rum into a large tank. Once the rum from our chosen barrels has been collected, we mix together the collected rum, and add more soft water to bring the rum to 100 proof. Typically, it is at this stage that a spirits maker would filter their spirit and bottle it. We decided to innovate the rum tradition by recasking this blend into finishing casks. The idea is that the new flavors have just been introduced to each other and we want to give the flavors and rums time to mix and mingle, thus creating a cohesive harmonious flavor profile. We put this 100 proof spirit back into third and fourth use barrels. We have lowered the spirit to 100 proof during this stage to minimize the oak influence and to allow the water to integrate with the spirit. The third use barrels allow the rich oxidative aging we crave to occur without adding oakiness. Once the spirit has rested in these casks to reach maturity and full integration (about 4-8 months) we again harvest the a few casks at a time, bringing the rum into a tank together. We add very soft water to bring the spirit to 90 proof.
After all this hard work, we end up with a complex rum that has been given all the perks of fine spirits production techniques. We have raised it with our passion and belief that rum does not need to be excused from excellence. We are ready to send it out into the world for you to enjoy.
The final steps we take are simple. We very lightly non-chill filter our Amber rum. Filtration removes char and pieces of oak from the rum, but we don’t want it to remove any of the delicious long chain flavor molecules or mouthfeel that gives it richness. We do not add sweeteners, coloring agents, mouthfeel additives, imitation barrel or age flavoring. We believe in purity and transparency. We worked hard on the rum so why would we want to cover it up with additives? We bottle and label the rum ourselves. We hope you can taste the care in our rum and know that as we send it out into the world whatever experience you have with it is yours, we are glad to be a part of it. Enjoy and cheers.