FRS: Many of our members know you both as being the dynamic duo behind Holmes Cay Single Cask Rum but can you give us a quick bio on yourselves leading up to the creation of HC?
Eric Kaye: My entire career up to the launch of Holmes Cay Rum in 2019 has been in music, composing and producing music for advertising, film and TV. When I wasn’t in the recording studio, I’d usually be out of the country, having visited over 100 countries to date. I’ve been a rum fan since my first trip to the Bahamas in high school on Spring Break. (Shh!) Maura and I are married and have two kids together, so we started with that partnership more than a decade before the rum business came along.
Maura Gedid: When I met Eric, my career was in financial marketing, so coming around to helping to found a rum business was a process. However, since I have known him, he has always been a passionate rum fan and collector. One of the first times that we spoke to each other, I was holding a glass of bourbon. He made sure to tell me about how amazing sipping rum was, and how I should definitely try some. Rum was always a part of the package with Eric!
FRS: Why Rum? And were you both 100% aligned that “starting a rum company” was in your future?
EK: As I became aware that special aged rums were available in the Caribbean and that a small supply of truly interesting single marques and unique expressions were going to Europe, I thought that it was time to make a shift into importing to bring special casks and amazing expressions to the US. Having no background in spirits or importing, I thought, “How hard could it be?” Although it turned out to be tough – filled with bureaucracy and quite expensive to enter new markets in the States – we have been amazed at the reception of the rum selections that we have made so far. Most sell out quickly. We love being able to bring these rums to spirits lovers like those in the FRS, so that you have a chance to appreciate flavorful, pure, high-proof expressions and experience the world’s most diverse spirit.
MG: Knowing that Eric has run his own business almost since graduating college made me a lot more comfortable when he said that he wanted to pursue the idea of importing rum around 3 years ago. I can also remember him coming home from a Ministry of Rum event in New York City years before – half in the bag – and absolutely inspired and ecstatic with the quality of the rums that Ed Hamilton had arranged for the group. I knew he wasn’t kidding when he said that he could not find many great rums on the shelves in the US. Since I have an MBA, and we were investing our own money into the business, I got pulled into the work right away.
FRS: What was the main concept for Holmes Cay as a rum company as you saw it initially? Has that changed any since then?
EK: We initially saw Holmes Cay Rum as a selection of aged single cask expressions that were offered at high proof and without additives. Our view was to bring exactly the kind of mixture of difficult to obtain, aged rums to US spirits lovers that we have done over the past two years, while raising the overall profile of rum as a sipping spirit. Since we don’t have a 300-year history as producers or blenders, we focus on curating and educating about the different, excellent qualities of the rums we share.
We see the opportunity to grow into other types of expressions, which is why we shared the Single Origin Fiji blend this year. Any other expressions that we share, whether blends or single marques, must meet the criteria that we have for all of our offerings: flavorful, unadulterated and offered at the highest quality that we can afford to offer.
MG: Our labels are clean and contain a great deal of information about each barrel and how it was made, because we felt that the overall lack of understanding about quality rum in the US was and is one of the category’s greatest challenges. Rum’s reputation seems to always need some help, and we aim to be clear and transparent in our offerings.
We want to bring the conversation to be about the spirit itself, without leaning on palm trees or stereotypes of pirates to talk about rum. We took our packaging design cues from whiskey, because we started out believing that other brown spirits lovers would come around to buying and appreciating rum. This was a bit of an “If you build it, they will come” leap, but as we had hoped, these fans have also welcomed us.
FRS: There is little argument that you have picked some amazing rums to bottle and bring to the Rum Lovers of the U.S., do you have specific characteristics you look for when selecting the rums to bottle?
EK: We try to find gaps in what is available in the US, like the introduction of Mhoba for the first time, and I look for delicious expressions that are unequivocally excellent versions of the distillers’ art. At the heart of it, though, we basically just bottle rums that I want to drink, and can’t get in the United States.
MG: Eric will often point to Guyana Uitvlugt as one of his favorite rums. It is a rare bottling in the States, and is in his experienced view, a truly classic set of rum flavors. He shared it because he loves it and believes in it, and wants to add it to the reference set of tastes for other rum lovers.
FRS: Many of our members are newer to experiencing true sipping rums, I think you’ll agree that almost all of your bottlings fall into the category… Any tips/suggestions for newcomers on training their palettes to enjoy fine rums and find those flavor notes?
EK: Try it first neat, and then don’t be afraid to add a little water, especially if you are not accustomed to higher proof spirits. I remember the days when 55% was a dauntingly high proof to drink neat. There really wasn’t much overproof aged rum out there fifteen years ago. Now I find myself tasting samples over 70% and being able to appreciate the nuances. That would have been inconceivable to me a decade ago. And it’s definitely something you need to train your palate to properly handle. The downside to this, is unfortunately, your standard 80 proof spirits now tend to taste like water.
MG: We have been working on a book right now on many aspects of rum that includes just these sorts of recommendations! Happy to preview them for you.
For inexperienced tasters, don’t be intimidated.
Start in a place that is free of strong smells, but also free of noise and other distractions.
Going slowly both with nosing and sipping initially allows you to get past some of the alcohol vapor that can obstruct more subtle flavor cues, so think gentle whiffs, small sips and lots of time in between both.
Some folks like to add an ice cube from the start, but we prefer to start straight, then if needed, add water rather than ice, because the rapid change in temperature can shock the spirit.
When you are ready to sip, take a small sip and let it spread across your tongue. You don’t even need to try to pick out flavors from the first sip. Instead, wait a minute or two before taking another sip. Let it rest on your tongue for a few moments.
Do the tasting flavors match what you smelled earlier?
What flavors linger on the finish, after you have swallowed?
When I taste aged rums, there is so much going on that I love to look at rum-specific tasting wheels, and where I can find descriptions of the same vintage, others’ reviews. I like seeing what others have tasted, even if it disagrees with what I perceive.
FRS: We have started to see some of your newest expressions hit the market like South Africa, Mauritius and the highly acclaimed Australia FRS Exclusive release… any hints you can give us to other upcoming releases we should make sure to keep an eye out for?
EK: We will always try to make new expressions available for you! It is going to be exciting to share our next exclusive find. I will give you a hint — Some of you collect dusties of the brand from when it was young. The brand is no longer on the market, and the distillery is no more, but the aged expressions that we have found are simply delicious.
FRS: You have had the chance to travel to some amazing places in the name of rum… are you able to call out a favorite or two that members should think about putting on their lists as travel starts to become more and more an opportunity?
EK: There are so many great rum destinations in the world, it’s hard to narrow down to only a few. Some unique distilleries well worth visiting include River Antoine in Grenada, Hampden in Jamaica, and St. Nicholas Abbey in Barbados, to name just a few. No self respecting rum fan should visit London without stopping at Trailer Happiness, go to San Francisco without visiting Smuggler’s Cove, or hit Chicago without visiting Three Dots and Dash. They are three of my favorite rum bars, all with incredible selections.
FRS: And, on that note, is there anywhere that you each would love to get to as soon as possible for a visit (besides Florida, of course)?
MG: We are really backed up on trips! We are booked to bring the whole family to Barbados at the end of the year. We will be celebrating being able to take the family traveling again, and I am really looking forward to getting recharged and re-inspired for our work in the coming year. While our kids aren’t super interested when we talk about rum at the dinner table, they are excited to hit some great beaches.
EK: The great thing about rum is that you can find interesting things happening in rum production all over the world. Going to Japan, Thailand, Scotland, Georgia, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, or Hawaii? You will find locally distilled rum. It is the most international and diverse spirit, and the rum community is one of the most welcoming in the world. Be it in Kenya, Paraguay, or Queensland, the rum family is everywhere.
FRS: Speaking of Florida, any upcoming plans to visit the Sunshine State and, if so, where is the HC/FRS celebration happening?
MG: We will definitely be down in February for the Miami Rum Congress, and we’d love for you to come and meet us there.
FRS: At the end of a long day when it is time to wind down with a pour, are you each grabbing for the same bottle or is there a his and hers shelf in the liquor cabinet?
EK: I usually tend to crack open the bottle or sample, and then Maura partakes in whatever is open. That way she doesn’t have to worry about unwittingly opening a $1000 irreplaceable bottle…
Also, it’s not always at the end of a long day. We usually taste new samples at 9 am, when our palates are fresh and the kids have gone to school.
MG: True. I have gotten eyerolls in the past for killing a now very pricey Foursquare ECS bottle, but I too have grown to truly enjoy spending time sipping whatever the latest samples and new products are before we bring them out. We work with so many different rums, made in so many different ways, so there are always tastes to compare. It never gets boring, and we have to be totally immersed in what we are bringing out.
That said, it’s also a lot of fun to play with drinks, and I appreciate everything that goes into the bartender’s art.
I find members of FRS’s creations inspiring too! I love the work that goes into making unique or classic drinks and garnishes that inspire multiple senses.
FRS: And, is it always sipping rum or is there a favorite cocktail or two you can share with the group?
EK: For me the daiquiri is still the king of rum drinks. I love our Bula Daiquiri, made with the Holmes Cay Single Origin Fiji Blend.
2 oz. Holmes Cay Single Origin Fiji Rum
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
1/2 oz. Pineapple Juice
– Fill shaker with ice
– Add all ingredients and shake
– Garnish with a mint leaf
Otherwise, my go to cocktail is usually a Richard Seale: Rum, water, hold the water.
MG: I enjoy spirit-forward drinks, so I am apt to go for a rum variation on an Old-Fashioned, Manhattan or Negroni.