Meet Don Benn – West Indies Distillery

Don Benn is the Operations Manager and Master Distiller at the West Indies Rum Distillery.  He has been part of the team for over 22 years. When not making wonderful rums he enjoys watching squash and cricket (and most other spots) as well as relaxing in the company of close family and friends.

FRS: Tell us about your personal rum journey.

Don: Started in 1998 right out of university. My first role at the distillery was supervising fermentation at the plant and then within a year being also responsible for the distilling from our main column still.  In the first 3 years I was able to learn and operate all of our stills with the guidance of the previous Master Distiller and also from experienced workers like Digger and James Franklin. 

This role expanded after the first 10 years and has now evolved to overseeing the aging, blending and bottling activities at the distillery.

FRS: What brought you to join the West Indies Distillery team?

Don: It came down to a choice of working with the water or rum.  Water seemed less interesting at the time.

FRS: West Indies has a wide range of rums that it is providing to the rum loving world… Do you have a clear favorite when it is time to sit down and sip at the end of the day?

Don: Yes I do.

  • Secret Blend done for celebration of 100 years of service of 3 valued members of our team – this is a rare treat as it is a blend only done for this special occasion, and is in very limited supply.
  • Other than that, I would say Plantation 5 year.

FRS: Is there anything upcoming that you are truly excited about (even if you can only give us hints)?

Don: I can’t reveal too much obvious but let’s just say – further exploration of the marriage of rum and Caribbean fruits/spices.

FRS: The members of the Florida Rum Society have been dreaming of visiting Barbados since our very early Virtual Happy Hours in spring 2020… once the time comes what are some things that members should be sure NOT TO MISS when visiting Barbados?

Don’s List:

  • Harrison’s Cave
  • Friday Night in Oistins (great local food, music, people  – however might not be an option with Covid-19)
  • West Indies Rum Distillery tour
  • Historic Bridgetown tour (this is our capital city)
  • Island Safari Tour + Catamaran boat cruise of the west coast of the island (no wild animals involved but you can swim with the turtles and other ocean life)
  • Of course, the many beaches with white sand and turquoise, clear waters.

FRS: Before the “COVID times”, you did some traveling, sharing the good word of rum… When travel starts to be welcomed back to the world is there anywhere that you just cannot wait to pack your bags and head off to?

Don: That is a tough question to answer. Anywhere that we can share the good word on rum is a good place to be.

Top 3 choices – (at the moment)

  • San Francisco (never been there before but heard great things about the city),
  • Cognac (meeting up with the Maison Ferrand and Plantation teams is always a great time),
  • China (always eager to see rum in new markets)

FRS: When not sipping rum what do you enjoy doing in Barbados?

Don: Playing sports and spending time with my family.  Sometimes these two activities go together.

FRS: You must have a cocktail recipe to share with the FRS that shines with West Indies Distillery products… care to share a favorite or two?

Don: Cocktails are not my usual go-to drink, as I prefer to drink rum straight. – However, the mix of Plantation 5 year and Coconut water is a fabulous combination.  It’s an obvious choice in Barbados, fresh coconut water is available everyday, and no need to reach out too far for a bottle of Plantation 5. 

FRS: I know you, along with Alexandre, have been combing through historical records and artifacts locked away at the distillery… what, would you say, is one of the most interesting things you’ve been able to uncover?

Don: There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the vault.  The old minutes of the distillery which chart the history of the distillery. The recipes and techniques used for blending and aging. But as a technical person by nature, seeing the archived drawings of some of the past stills and even stills that were planned and were never built/installed.  We have a chance now to bring some of those drawings to life. The real hero of this search however is Andrew Hassell our General Manager.  He has a more intimate knowledge of all things in the vault and even of Barbados rum history in general, more than anyone I know.

Meet Zan Kong – Worthy Park Estate

Zan is the Commercial Manager – Spirits for Worthy Park Estate. He comes from a Chinese – Jamaican background, grew up just outside of Toronto, Canada… the first generation of his family to be born in Canada. He grew up there but left once he graduated university to work in the hotel industry… which, eventually, brought him to the beautiful Worthy Park Estate…

FRS: Tell us about your personal rum journey.

Zan: I’ve been surrounded by rum throughout my life. It was always interesting to see the contrast towards rum (and alcohol in general) growing up in Canada but spending almost all of my vacation time in Jamaica where rum is a part of the culture. All that to say, I’ve always been surrounded by rum – but was completely and totally biased towards Jamaican rum (I mean, I still am…). I had the luxury of not starting to drink rum with a “cheap mixer” type but my starter rum was Jamaica rum! Working in the hotel industry I spent most of my time in the F&B side of the business so my relationship with rum (and bars) came from the purchasing and operational side. but never thought of making a career of it until I started working with Worthy Park.

FRS: What brought you to join the Worthy Park team?

Zan: Fate, serendipity maybe? I was working at my previous job and ran into Gordon Clarke the CEO and Managing Director for Worthy Park. I was ready for a change and he happened to be ready to start expanding his team and opening the export department. He took a chance on me and I have been here going on 6 years now.

FRS: Worthy Park is best known for their historic expressions of Jamaican rums… Do you have a clear favorite when it is time to sit down and sip at the end of the day?

Zan: That’s like asking who my favorite child is. If it is just me and my glass I’d probably go with Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve. Although my go-to has been Worthy Park Select and ice since we launched it a couple months back. If I can get my hands on some lime (it’s out of season right now) I’ll definitely go with an Overproof Daiquiri. Maybe I will split base it with Rum-Bar Gold if I want to have a couple. So to answer your question, no, I guess I don’t have a favourite!

FRS: Is there anything upcoming that you are truly excited about (even if you can only give us hints)?

Zan: So much! We’ve got a lot in the pipeline for releases this year. I can say I’m super stoked that we’re getting Rum Cream in market and I think the 109 Proof is going to turn some heads (in a positive way) when people get their hands on it. Now, I can’t get into specifics, but we are super excited for the barrel picks that are coming out.  It sounds so common, especially for any of the bourbon fans out there but for us the first time we’ve done this so it took a bit to get off the ground but I can say that they’re on their way to the US of A!

FRS: Before the “COVID times”, you traveled a lot, sharing the good word of rum… When travel starts to be welcomed back to the world is there anywhere that you just cannot wait to pack your bags and head off to?

Zan: At this point I’m on a plane the first chance I get to go anywhere LOL.  Well from the personal side, I definitely want to get the kids up to visit Grandma in Canada, they usually saw her for a few months at a time but obviously we’ve been kept apart of the past year+. From the work perspective, I hear there is some fun stuff going on in Florida. Would love to get there as soon as I can. On that note, 2020 was the year I was supposed to spend a lot of time working in that market but maybe 2021 will be the year.

On the global scene, I’m dying to get out to London. It’s one of my favourite cities out there and it’ll probably be high on my visit list once the world opens up. Oh, but how can I forget about Paris! The energy of that city is super contagious. Never mind the fact that I love to eat.

FRS: When not sipping rum what do you enjoy doing in Jamaica?

Zan: Do you want the fun, travel around the island, beach hopping, hotel staying, waterfall chasing, mountain climbing, forest exploring story? Or the going cooking dinner for the kids and in bed by 9pm story?

I joke, kind of. The beauty of Jamaica is in the raw-ness of Jamaica. Yes, we’re a country that is heavily indebted and lacks the conveniences of the first world so there is a much different pace of life down here. We have some bustling city centers, like Kingston, where a lot of the arts thrive; and you have the huge, all inclusive resorts on the north coast; but far and wide my favourite side of Jamaica is the rural side. I love getting out into the hillside and finding some rivers and waterfalls amongst the beautiful flora and fauna of the island. Your reminded that not having cell service or a Frappuccino is not necessarily a bad thing.

FRS: Rumor has it that you once crashed a Ben Jones Virtual Happy Hour and gave him a (friendly) hard time… if someone was to crash your VHH and bump you off you’re a-game who would that be?

Zan: OHHH yes, I forgot about that! I love Ben and have so much respect for him and the Spiribam team. But yes, I love to give him shit at any chance I get. I’d probably say if you got an Ian Burrell crash – he’d probably bump me off because it’s hard to get a word in versus him. Or a Maggie Campbell, just because she’s so damn knowledgeable and could definitely stump me in pretty much any subject!

FRS: MANY FRS members are hoping to travel to Jamaica when things open back up… besides a visit to the WP estate, what else should they not miss when visiting your beautiful island?

Zan: So much to visit! But I’d say you definitely need to get out to some of the rum bars that are around the island. The vibe and the energy are so different than what your used too in Florida. Plus you have to find your favourite jerk chicken spot, there’s so many across the island and all have their own secret recipes. Also, just as a general tidbit of knowledge – the spots you see cooking in the drum pans (the oil pans cut and turned on their side). This is pan chicken. Which is NOT jerk chicken but it’s own thing. I guess you could say some pan chicken can be jerk, but not all pan chicken IS jerk chicken. The authentic Jerk chicken is smoked over pimento wood. Both are very good, but very different!

FRS: There have been whispers of a collaboration between Worthy Park and your favorite rum community, the FRS… any truth to those rumors?

Zan: ….


Learn more about Worthy Park & Zan on this month’s RotM Virtual Happy Hour! – Register

Shop Worthy Park products in the FRS Shop

Meet Chris Funk – Chairman’s Reserve Rum

Chris Funk is the Florida/Puerto Rico Regional Manager for SPIRIBAM

As part of our month long celebration of Chairman’s Reserve St. Lucia Rum and their upcoming FRS Master’s Selection bottling, we wanted the Florida Rum Society to meet Chris and have a chance to learn more about him…

Chris is originally from Panamá- his father is American and his parents met in the 70’s there- and have been living in Miami since 2000. After closing a start-up business in 2009, he returned to bartending and hospitality but made it a career instead of a side-gig, working and opening some notable restaurants and bars including: Gigi, The Corner, The James Royal Palm Hotel and the Fountainebleau Hotel; that was UNITL he was captivated by the opportunity to work for rum brands he had enjoyed for years.

FRS: Tell us about your personal rum journey.

Chris: Rum is definitely part of the culture in Central America, however like most rum producing areas, unaged and local rum tends to be what is drunk. When I was opening the bars at the James Royal Palm I fell in love with a rum bar which I made my home for the time I was working there. We had pretty much every rum that was available to purchase and was the first time I was exposed to the real high end possibilities of rum as a world class spirit. I met my boss, Benjamin Jones, when he gave a staff training there, and well before my employment with Spiribam, I incorporated fine rums and Rhum Agricole in the programs and menus I developed.

FRS: What brought you to join the SPIRIBAM team?

Chris Well, someone else they had approached told me they were hiring and I reached out. I actually interviewed with Ben and Kiowa at the Royal Palm where I had met Ben something like 8-9 years prior. At the end of the interview Ben commented that ‘Funk is the perfect name for someone selling rum!’ I worked for SPIRIBAM part-time for a year before taking on the regional manager role.

FRS: SPIRIBAM is best known for both their Rhum Agricole expressions for Martinique as well as the predominantly molasses rums coming from St. Lucia… Do you have a clear favorite when it is time to sit down and sip at the end of the day?

Chris: You mean, to pick my favorite child?! *GASP* We used to be ‘The House of Agricole’ until we acquired Saint Lucia Distillers and rebranded globally as SPIRIBAM. I think each distillery has something unique to offer, and like our tag line says ‘fine rum specialists’ we are interested in bringing fine rum products to as many people as we can. As far as what I reach for in my home bar, I must admit that I have two “go-to” bottles for a sip while I walk my dog or kick back in my living room. The Chairman’s Reserve Original and Rhum J.M gold. The chairman’s is such an approachable, pleasantly spicy and mildly funky rum, and the Rhum J.M gold is at 50%, so its good for a grassy kick!

FRS: Of the different bottlings currently coming out of St. Lucia are you able to share one that you really speaks to you currently?

Chris: I’m very excited with the newest offering of Chairman’s Reserve Legacy, which celebrates our late master blender, Laurie Bernard. There is a touch of aged pot-still agricultural rum, and a complex, meaty texture that honestly drinks like a spirit that costs way much more. I think it shows that a high quality spirit does not always have to break the bank to impress.

FRS: Is there anything upcoming that you are truly excited about (even if you can only give us hints)?

Chris: For any-one who has traveled to Saint Lucia and tried Nuts & Rum, it will be coming to the US with the Brand Marigot Bay. Nuts & Rum is a peanut rum cream liqueur which sounds strange, but that’s probably why it stands out to me so much, I thought it would not be good (rum, dairy, peanuts?) but it is absolutely delicious!

FRS: Give us your favorite rum cocktail recipe.

Chris: On a hot boat or pool day, Chairman’s Reserve Spiced and Fresh coconut water over crushed ice! Simple and so refreshing!

FRS: When travel starts to be welcomed back to the world is there anywhere that you just cannot wait to pack your bags and head off to?

Chris: To visit my grandparents in Panamá, I was supposed to travel in the Summer of 2020, but we all know how that turned out. I’d also love to go back to the west coast of Puerto Rico to go surf and kick back, its so lovely there.

FRS: When not sipping rum what do you enjoy doing down in South Florida?

Chris: I’m raising an Airedale Terrier pup named Bodhi, and I try to surf as much as I can!

FRS: Rumor has it for a previous FRS Virtual Happy Hour you dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate the rhums coming from French territories… Any plans for a costume for the upcoming on at the end of March?

Chris: Oh my… uh… I hadn’t planned on it but seeing how I set the bar high for myself… uh… I gotta get on that!

FRS: What excites you the most about the upcoming Chairman’s Reserve FRS Master Selection bottles finally making their way to Florida in the coming weeks?

Chris: Honestly, I’m so excited to share these things with ya’ll and to have been involved with the group almost from the start. Seeing how its grown and all the activities and lively chatter, its great! Whiskey groups (no offense to any in particular) tend to be populated with saltier and less fun people. The rum lovers are truly a fun and light-hearted group and I’m so happy we’ve been able to connect people with a shared interest that is so damn tasty.


Join the FRS and Chris on an upcoming Virtual Happy Hour (Register)

Shop Chairman’s Reserve Rums in the FRS Shop

Meet Johann Jobello – Transcontinental Rum Line

Johann Jobello is a Product Manager for sugarcane spirits at La Maison & Velier.

As part of our month long celebration of Transcontinental Rum Line and their new 2021 release, we wanted the Florida Rum Society to meet Johann and have a change to learn more about him…

Johann was raised back and forth between France and Martinique, he’s been a promoter of the Caribbean culture, most recently working at the iconic LMDW shops and currently on the LM&V global team. With his Caribbean heritage and passion for high quality spirits, rum naturally became the perfect field for him to share his passions and expertise.

FRS: Tell us about your personal rum journey and background.

Johann: Rum has always been more or less present in my life. In the West Indies it is an integral part of our heritage. I wasn’t necessarily aware of it when I was younger– my journey has been far from linear. When I returned to live in Martinique in 2016, the idea of working in this sector gradually emerged. I had no experience in spirits and finally in early 2018, I started at La Maison du Whisky as a spirits vendor  in one of the two Parisian boutiques. I joined the LM&V global team in 2019 and had the opportunity to become deeper involved in production management at the beginning of this year.

FRS: What brought you to join the LM&V team?

Johann: My experience in the store was decisive: in contact with the thousands of references that we had, I deepened my knowledge day after day. Having already a passion for rum, I became intimately engaged with the sugarcane spirit projects from Velier—my passion was multiplied tenfold! When the opportunity to join the LM&V team presented itself, I made my interest known to work more closely with these amazing companies, producers and bottles.

FRS: How would you explain the TCRL concept to people unfamiliar with it?

Johann: The rum category is very broad and diverse. Everyone works differently. For me, the most important thing is that the consumer knows what he is drinking in full transparency. TCRL is the independent bottler range by La Maison du Whisky to offer the experience of tasting across many island and producer styles, with full transparency on where it was aged and for how long, and retaining the integrity of the spirit with no additives or flavoring.

FRS: Specifically, what is it about the TCRL line that you find most interesting?

Johann: Beyond the concept of the range and the values we want to transmit, I like the diversity we have shown in our bottlings. This is for me the most exciting challenge!

FRS: Do you have a personal favorite from this year’s line up?

Johann: Not surprising but the Trinidad 2001 is exceptional. One of best TCRL I ever tried! I think that the Australia 2013 can also a be great discovery for people who never heard about Australian rums.

FRS: Give us your favorite rum cocktail recipe.

Johann: I love Jamaican Negroni! We are less used to drinking rum with bitters but it works very well! My specs are 1,5 oz of Jamaican rum for some extra funk. TCRL Jamaica WP 2015 is perfectly suited. With 1 oz red bitter and 1 oz red vermouth, and big ice cubes.

FRS: When travel starts to be welcomed back to the world, is there anywhere that you just cannot wait to pack your bags and head off to?

Johann: Martinique! My whole family lives there. And I have to go around to visit the distilleries (again)!

FRS: Our members are itching to start traveling again and some have expressed interest in going to Martinique. Do you have any “Can’t Miss” things on the island you can share with us?

Johann: It all depends on what you want to do. Martinique: we obviously think about the beach, but I love to go to the mountainous part in the north or to the countryside far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Gorges de la Falaise in Ajoupa-Bouillon is an outstanding site.

FRS: Have you had the opportunity to visit Florida?  If so, where did you go, and do you have any specific memory that stands out?

Johann: Unfortunately not. I wish that I’ll be able to visit Florida in the future. Florida is a great mix of cultures; I would love to this that.

FRS: Sometimes FRS members will get jealous seeing all the special releases that Europe receives and which never make their way over to The US. Are there any releases that we have gotten here that have made you, living in Paris, jealous?

Johann: I think that from now on this will be less the case with the authorization of the 70cl format. Even if it was our own decision, I’m a bit jealous that you guys have this Trinidad 2001. We didn’t keep anything for us in Europe.

FRS: Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of rum?

Johann: I’m a huge fan of sports in general. I used to work in that field before, for several sports media. I would love to attend to a Miami Heat game. In another life, I would have liked to be an economist.

FRS: What are you most looking forward to over the next year or two?

Johann: Let the world regain a semblance of stability above all. My case comes second, I’m really not to be pitied!


Join the Florida Rum Society and Johann on our upcoming Virtual Happy Hour (Register)

Shop the Johann’s NEW line of TCRL rums in the FRS Rum Shop

Rumdemic from Privateer

One of the early goals of the Florida Rum Society was to ensure that the best rums make their way to Florida. One of the best, if not THE best, rum made in the U.S. is from Privateer in Ipswich, MA.

Maggie Campbell, the President and Head Distiller, is one of the best in the world and Andrew Cabot, CEO, is an all around wonderful human being! Read more about Privateer on their site.

In Spring, right before COVID 19 turned the world upside-down, we were fortunate enough to be selected to relaunch Privateer’s “single barrel” program (now known as their Letter of Marque series).

Letters of Marque were issued during the Revolution to authorize merchants to act as Privateers. Our Letter of Marque collection comprises single batch spirits from the Privateer cellar, selected in cask by our trade partners as stand out expressions and bottled to specifications in partnership with the Privateer distilling team. This bottle is one of a limited release, never to be available again.

From the Privateer Letter of Marque bottle label

Samples were provided to us in April and six members of the Florida Rum Society connected virtually with Maggie Campbell to walk through six different rum expressions.

It was nearly unanimous that we selected a 109.2 proof New England Rum. It was aged 2 years and 10 months in a New American Oak Barrel. Because of the timing of the selection we decided that it should be known as “Rumdemic” (we think it fits).

The new oak gives it the character of a bottled-in-bond bourbon with a depth of flavor and tastes of oak, caramel, toffee, black cherry, dried pineapple and hint of cinnamon. It is fantastic neat, on the rocks or even in a simple cocktail like a classic daiquiri.

I’m thrilled to be able to bring this once in a lifetime rum to the rum lovers of Florida! There are only 214 bottles of it so don’t wait if you want to grab a few. It is only available at Five Star Liquor & Wine in Longwood, FL. You can visit to call (407-389-0710) for orders.

Black Tot Day turns 50!

For those that follow rum, there is a good chance you’ve heard about “Black Tot Day”. For those that haven’t, I’ll give you the short version…

From 1655 to 1970 the British Navy gave their sailors a daily rum ration or tot. This was until July 31, 1970 when the last tot was distributed. This day became known as Black Tot Day (ready more here).

This year was the 50th anniversary of Black Tot Day and was marked by a 24 hour Virtual Rum Event hosted by the Black Tot Rum company. The Florida Rum Society was asked to join said event and made the video below. ENJOY! Up Spirits!