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 Dan DeHart – Grander Rum

Dan DeHart is the Founder of Grander Rum. He describes himself as “a guy from Kentucky who makes a Panamanian rum with a guy from Cuba.” He lives in Central Florida with his family who all support him on an amazing journey to craft a rum that folks will appreciate.

FRS: Why rum?

Dan: This is very cliché but here’s the truth – being from Kentucky, I didn’t grow up with Rum and when I thought of Rum it had to be a frozen daiquiri, pina collada or mixed with a coke. I think many folks have this view, still today. My wife, Jill, and I started sailing bareboat in the Caribbean and once we rented a boat that came with an unopened bottle of Pussers rum. Of course we would mix it but I decided to have it neat one evening and my jaw dropped. I had never tasted a Rum like that before. I enjoyed it neat but also liked it in a cocktail – just like how I drink Bourbon. That was my awakening experience. I had always wanted to get into the spirit business and always thought it would be Bourbon but that all changed after that experience!

FRS: How did you end up selecting Panama/Las Cabras as the place to source the rum for Grander? 

Dan: I took a trip to Panama to meet with Don Pancho and Carlos Esquivel. I loved what they were doing and knew I could work with the distillate. Also, it’s nice to know that they grow their own sugar cane and don’t need to worry about hurricanes.

FRS: How has that relationship developed over the last few years?

Dan: The relationship has been collaborative and mutually beneficial. The team in Panama has been very supportive in my desire to do things they haven’t done previously.

FRS: We know you came from the Bourbon world prior to being into rum and creating the Grander brand. How would you characterize the difference in the two spirits with regards to the industry and their respective communities? 

Dan: Wow, that is a big question. First, I must say that Rum is way more diverse as a spirit than Bourbon. There are many more countries producing rum with their own twist yielding unique flavor profiles. However, in America, Rum is still being discovered by consumers where as Bourbon has been enjoying a renaissance. Regarding communities – I would say they are similar. You have casual consumers and you have consumers who can’t stop thinking about their spirit of choice.

FRS: The Rye barrel finish was a big hit with many rum fans and it’s rare to see a rye finish in rum overall.  How did that come about?

Dan: I like Rye whiskey and thought it may add an interesting layer of flavor to our rum. I also had some connections in Kentucky that allowed me to secure some freshly dumped rye barrels from Heaven Hill. This was my first offering in the Barrel Series program (finishing rums) and they all are experimental. Meaning if they don’t taste good, they don’t make it to market. Shipping barrels to Panama for this is not cheap but I think it is important to do any extra aging in Panama to maintain the single origin aspect of Grander.

FRS: How much of your time is spent thinking about what to do next and how to grow the brand? And anything you are able to tell us about what you’re planning next for Grander?

Dan: I think about this everyday. I am a “one-man-show” and manage production, marketing, sales and strategy. I love every minute of it. As for what I am planning next, some things I can share but some things are still way off and may or may not happen. But in the immediate future, we just filled more barrels with aged rum for our Barrel Series. Some of these barrels are ex- Bourbon, Rye, Wheated Bourbon, California Madiera and Angelica Port as well as Tequila.

FRS: What can you tell us about the Trophy release and how it differed from the 8 year release (beyond a jump in ABV)?

Dan: I am really excited about the Trophy Release. It’s my chance to select and blend my own product. I do a lot of sampling of rums when in Panama and I’m really drawn towards the rums between 8 and 15 years of age. The Trophy Release is a small batch of rums I select between these ages and will be bottled at a higher ABV than the regular 8 Year Old. Each batch will differ, showcasing the differences in rums we produce. The first batch is ‘sweeter’ due to many of the barrels were sherry seasoned. The second batch is ‘drier’. Both have lots of flavor.

FRS: Will more batches be produced or is this a limited edition that is gone when it’s sold out?

Dan: I plan to release new batches of Trophy Release, in fact now we are just releasing Batch #20B08.

FRS: What can you tell us about your barrel selection program and the process?

Dan: I love single barrels and am always amazed how one barrel can be so different from the next. I introduced single barrels four years ago and it has been well received. Interestingly, I started it because I had a retailer in Kentucky ask for it. The team in Panama had not bottled single barrels previously so this was exciting (or maybe painful) for them as well. What was very important to me was to bottle these uncut and unfiltered. This technique gives you the closest to what it’s like to sample straight from the barrel – like I do when in Panama. You will see sediment in some of the bottles because of this process. I sell single barrels to retailers, bars, restaurants, and groups. For people interested – they just need to contact me and we make it happen!

FRS: I’ve heard the FRS selection is sold out in almost record time. Will there be a sequel?

Dan: Yes!

Learn more in a Virtual Happy Hour with Dan later in July: Register

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 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