Meet Eric Kaye & Maura Gedid – Holmes Cay

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.

INGREDIENTS:

2 oz. Holmes Cay Single Origin Fiji Rum
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice 
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup 
1/2 oz. Pineapple Juice

DIRECTIONS:

– 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.

Join Eric, Maura and the FRS for our Virtual Happy Hour on November 30th

Meet Jason Brand – Kō Hana Rum Distillery

FRS: Jason, would you mind providing a quick, 3 sentence introduction of yourself?

JB: I’ve been blessed in life with a wonderful career, great friends, and an incredible family. In my fifty years, I’ve learned to appreciate the details in life that are underneath the experiences we share – the actual building blocks of things. For the last decade, I’ve lived in Hawaii, growing 1,000 year old heirloom Hawaiian sugarcane varietals and distilling the pure cane juice into one of the finest rums in the world.

FRS: Would you mind telling us about your personal rum journey and background?  What brought you from Florida to Hawaii?

JB: I grew up in Miami, spending most of my days on or in the water. The image of a watching a bright orange sun setting over the ocean with a good Agricole and a twist of lime in my hand is etched in my mind forever.

My career moved me north to New York City, where flip flops were traded in for dress shoes and bathing suits became business suits. My drink of choice changed too, reflecting the faster pace of the city and the colder weather. Fine rums turned into whiskeys and the nuances of drinks became about blending and barrel choice instead of the starting ingredients. With longer work hours, social drinking was about release and less about building the fond memories that rum drinks elicit.

Tokyo was up next for my family. In finance, Asia was booming and my company sent me there to help build our capabilities. In liquor terms, Asia introduced me to a host of new alcohols: sochu, baiju, lambanog, soju, and ruou to name a few.  Each spirit had a different base ingredient, new ways of fermentation and distillation, sometimes bizarre ingredients (like venomous snakes) included, and offered something new. The experience reopened my eyes to how great ingredients create great end products.

Hawaii, with its warmth, beauty, and kind people, was an easy next step as we made our way back to the US and closer to family. Not having any roots in the islands, we built our community through the land. Our first farm is now one of the largest providers of leafy greens in Hawaii. Kō Hana is farm number two – and began years before the first bottle of rum was ever made.   My business partners and I realized that we had to perfect the ingredient side – the farming side – first in order to produce an incredible product. The decision to showcase our farming as an Agricole style rum was easy and success soon followed.

FRS: Kō Hana has a very unique approach to Agricole style rum… what inspired you and your team to do all single cane varietals?

JB: 1,000 years ago, early Polynesian voyageurs traveled across the wide ocean and settled in Hawaii. They brought sugarcane with them in their canoes. These canes thrived in the island’s climate and became part of traditional Hawaiian daily life and legends. In the 1800s, the table sugar industry moved to Hawaii and slowly replaced all the heirloom canes with the types used to make the sugar cubes modern society enjoys.

Kō Hana, working together with scientists, professors, and botanical gardens, reestablished the original strains of ko – the Hawaiian word for sugarcane. In fact, we have over 30 heirloom varieties, each genetically unique and each one with its own story in history. The cane ranges in color from red to green to pink to orange to purple, with and without striped patterns. Notably, each variety has its own distinct flavor.

To tell the story of the ko, we only use the fresh pressed juice of a single varietal as the base in each of our Hawaiian Agricole rums. That means we have over 30 different varieties of white rum and they all taste different, each one reflecting the spirit of the sugarcane that made it. We follow specific process for how we ferment, how we distill, and how we age – each adding to the complex flavors that make up Kō Hana.

In our tasting room, visitors sip rum in side by side comparisons, noticing how the starting plants – the different cane varieties – affect the characteristics of the rum. Then, they move to our barrel aged selections and observe how the interaction with different woods further transforms the rum.

Kō Hana never sacrifices quality in our process. It’s what makes us one of the best cane rums in the world. Most important, Kō Hana lets people connect to what they are drinking. There is a sense of place, of history and the land, with every drink.

FRS: Are you able to pick a favorite cane varietal or is that like trying to choose a favorite child?

JB: Long ago, there was a ceremony called the Hana Aloha. Hana means “work” and Aloha means “love.” Together, the phrase translates as “the work of love” or “love magic.” A priest would enchant the spirit of a cane called Manulele (means “flying bird”) to fly away and bring back the love of another. I love that story. In many ways, it’s the story that launched Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum.

Each of our rums have a story like that. Flavor wise, I personally enjoy a cane variety called Kea (means “white”). The cane is white in appearance and was planted by most Hawaiian houses when the Hawaiian islands were being unified. It’s sweet juice ferments and distills into a very grassy bouquet when making an Agricole style rum.

FRS: Do you have a favorite Kō Hana cocktail recipe that you’d be willing to share with the FRS?

JB: Easy one for me. The Ko Fashioned. It’s our play on a Rum Old Fashioned.

  • 2oz Kō Hana Koho Aged Hawaiian Agricole
  • Barspoon of simple syrup (or use Kō Hana Kokoleka to step it up a notch)
  • Dash Angostura Bitters
  • Dash Orange Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice
Strain over new ice cubes
Garnish with an orange peel

FRS: Those members that pay close attention to Kō Hana probably know about the Koa barrel finished rum. (I’m, personally, a HUGE fan!) Can you talk about how that idea came about and if there are any other unique expressions like this on the horizon?

JB: Koa is delicious. My business partner, Robert, was working to find Hawaiian plants that would pair well with our distillery’s philosophies. Koa is the endemic Hawaiian tree, with beautiful grains and rich in color. A local business helped us cooper the first Koa wood barrels and the product was born – well, it was born after the first few samples were pulled from the barrel and all of us stood there with our mouths agape at how amazing the koa aged rum tasted.  Our Koa rum is truly an original spirit, likely the first of its kind. For reference, a Koa wood barrel costs roughly $8,000 compared to $150 for American oak – and it’s worth it.

In terms of unique expressions, for those who haven’t tried our Kokoleka rum, it’s three Hawaiian farms together in one bottle: our Hawaiian sugarcane, local Hawaii honey, and local Hawaiian cacao to create a chocolate, honey rum. It’s the bomb for dessert lovers. Our Kila rum is where the distillery truly gets to showcase its craft at barrel strength. We release about six Kila’s a year, each one trying to tell the story of a cane variety through the use of different woods. My favorite was a three year old rum that we finished in a Laphroaig barrel. The grass of the cane met the smokey peat from the scotch still soaked in the oak – so bold, so amazing. Our newest Kila should be coming out very soon.

FRS: Besides, obviously, a tour of Kō Hana Distillery, what are your “can’t miss” things that members should make sure they check out when visiting Hawaii?

JB: If you are coming from Florida, then Hawaii will be less about our beaches and more about our mountains, rainbows, and waterfalls. Great hiking is everywhere and the payoff (like a gorgeous view or the base of a massive waterfall) is worth it. Most hikes will take you up the mountains through four or five different ecosystems. Right now, the Kilauea volcano is erupting and the lava is forming a molten lake that you can visit. For the foodies in the group, Hawaiian chefs do not disappoint. The farm to table scene in Hawaii is growing quickly, each restaurant showcasing different flavors from the across the islands. Mixologist pair cocktails with their menus, taking advantage of the fresh tropical ingredients available to them.

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

JB: My family are avid scuba divers. We’ve been all over the world observing the remarkable creatures of the sea and the beauty of the ocean. Fortunately, dive trips to foreign lands also make the perfect excuse to try new rums and what the local terroir offers (after diving is finished for the day).

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

JB: For all of us, life has been a strange whirl wind for most of 2020 and 2021. Kō Hana spent 2020 as the largest hand sanitizer manufacturer in Hawaii since the supply chain for ethanol based sanitizers to the community had totally shut down. Simultaneously, we increased our field production (we grow all the cane that we ferment and distill – we are an estate rum) by seven fold, becoming the largest grower of sugarcane in the islands. We also completed a brand new barrel house. In the next year or two, we will begin to reap the benefits of these investments. Kō Hana had already established itself as Hawaii’s premium rum based on our quality. We put our money where our mouth is with regard to our role in the community as well. We rose as a leader in the pandemic and now we are rising as a job creator and caretaker of the land as our new production fields will let us share more of Kō Hana’s aloha with the world.  Thank you to all of you for being so supportive of our company.

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

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.