Summer of Rum: Islamorada Distilling

Every year for 39 years my family has taken a pilgrimage down to the Florida Keys for the opening of Lobster Season. While I have missed years here and there, my parents have continued the tradition without a break. This year myself, the Junior Traders and my lifelong friend Sailor Rick joined the trip.

While fishing/lobstering was the overall focus, I’m always on the hunt for a Tiki Bar or new Rum. As I was about 12 miles from the end of my drive south, Islamorada Beer Company caught my eye. I noticed something that I maybe didn’t notice on my last trip two year previous… the side of the building also says “Distillery”. I immediately reached out to the Islamorada Distilling Team and scheduled a visit with Master Distiller/Brewer Stephanie Harper.

Upon arrival, Sailor Rick and I were given a warm welcome by the Manager Larissa. She invited us to the tasting bar and went through our rum lineup.

The set up is very unique… on one side of the building is the Beer Co, with full bar and high tops and merchandise then “next door” is the Distillery where you can do tastings and purchase their liquors. Some information that Larissa provided us is that under Florida law you can’t combine a Brewery and Distillery, so they have to remain separate.

Larissa explained that the Distillery has been in business since 2017 and they currently have four rum profiles for sale to the public (as well as two gins and a vodka). We strapped in to try the Silver, Spiced, Select Barrel Aged and Dark Barrel Aged. While the Dark Barrel Aged uses black strap molasses, the others all use Pearl Select Molasses, which includes a blend of sugars from throughout the Caribbean.

We started with the Silver rum, which is aged over oak chips. It was very smooth and light. It is a great mixing rum that still holds a lot of its oaky flavor. Stephanie later explained that originally they were aiming for a 100% clear rum however the filtering was removing too much of the unique flavors. They settled on a more silver color as to not lose the heart of the rum.

We next moved on to the Barrel Aged Rum. This rum is under a continued journey and will soon be re-branded as their Select Rum. It is first distilled in a copper pot still and then run through the column for the spirit run. It is then barrel aged in new white oak barrels at a medium toast and, at the moment, aged for 8 months (soon will be a minimum of a year). The flavor profile had nice hints of vanilla and, of course, a tinge of oak. It reminded me of a lighter bourbon.

Their Spiced was next… I will say that for quite some time I haven’t really been a fan of spiced rum. I know that some on the market have a lot of additives and some are of a high quality but I tend just to avoid them all together. If I want cinnamon or cloves or vanilla in a drink then I like to just added it separately using a homemade syrup. But I went into this with an open mind and I was pleasantly surprised. Islamorada’s Spiced Rum was very “spice forward” and well balanced. It starts with vanilla and ends into a great cinnamon but without the burning of something like Fireball. I would actually almost compare it to St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. It is a spiced rum that I wouldn’t mind having around.

Finally, we stepped things up a notch with the Dark Rum. This rum is, in my opinion, their best offering. (It won a gold medal from the International Rum Expert Panel in 2018.) Like the Select Barrel Aged, it is currently being aged at 8 months but soon will be at a year. They are using New Oak barrels with a Char 3. The Dark has gone through a revolution. Currently you can purchase batch 9 and Master Distiller Stephanie loves its “richness”. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to also try batch 6, which used Hungarian Spiced Oak Chips, as well as batch 10, which was BOTTLED THAT DAY.

I have to say that I loved the batch 10! The butterscotch and caramel shine and it makes it a good sipping rum. It is fun that they are bottling all their rums as Single Cask so you get a slightly different experience each time you dive in. While blending is essential for the big distilleries, single cask allows smaller, independent shops to offer some wonderful flexibility and different experiences.

After our tastings, Stephanie invited the Sailor and I back into the distillery! She was an amazing hostess and really has learned her craft (and loves to share it, which is wonderful). Stephanie was a dive instructor who really took the job of Brewer on almost a dare (“you think you can do better, then come in here and show me”). She then migrated to Distilling when, without much warning, Islamorada Beer Company was granted their Distilling license.

Currently they are doing all their distilling and barrel aging and bottling and labeling right on the premises but soon will have an additional location further north in Ft. Pierce, FL. While I like the thought of having everything happen in Islamorada, I get the need to grow and I know that having more storage space will allow for longer aging and more profiles. The plan is still to distill everything in the Keys but then use the extra space in Ft. Pierce for storage and aging. Stephanie told us that they have a Queen’s Share (saw the barrel) and Reserve in the works as well as a Rye and a Bourbon.

We were fortunate enough to be there while a spirit run was working through the column still and even were able to sample some still strength rum which, while STRONG, was extremely delicious. Not sure if an overproof rum in in their future however, I’d purchase it if it comes to pass.

We spent over 2 hours with Stephanie and Larissa and we could have stayed even longer! Their hospitality and information was invigorating and infectious but we knew they also had jobs to do. Before leaving I knew I needed some of the Dark to bring back to Trader Jay’s (and some Hibiscus Gin for Mrs. Trader) however, batch 10, my favorite, was not quite ready. Stephanie invited us next door for beverage from the Beer Company and offered to wax a few bottles of Dark Batch 10 for us. (As a side note, I tried the No Wake Zone Key Lime Coconut Ale and it was delicious and refreshing.)

For one final treat, Stephanie invited us back to watch our Batch 10 bottles be waxed and presented us with bottles 1-4. It was an extremely kind gesture and now I’m kind of hesitant to open bottle 1.

I cannot speak highly enough of Islamorada Distilling! While still very young, they are well on their way. They have an amazing staff down there at Mile Marker 82 who all offer a wonderful, casual Florida Keys hospitality. If you are in the area then I would definitely recommend stopping in to say hi and for a taste, I do not think you’d be disappointed.

Mahalo Stephanie and Larissa! We will be back!

The Summer of Rum: Part 1

While Club 33 over at Disneyland is having their second “Summer of Tiki” I have decided that I’ve started Trader Jay’s “Summer of Rum”.

It all kicked off on April 13th when Rum Runner Steve and his wife Kim the Rum-Dawg brought back Trouvadore 15 Year Rum from their visit to Turks & Caicos. That same faithful day we gave Bajan 1966 Rum a try (documented here) as well as had our first experience with Rum Captain Brad, Sarah and “Admiral” Fernando at Strong Water (documented here).

There were a lot of great rums tasted that evening… including Ron Abuelo XV Tawny Port, Dictador 20 and the aforementioned Bajan 1966.  And, there were a few misses (sorry Skullduggery from Antigua, you have a cool bottle but not a great product).

Next was the completion of a long standing quest (only 2 short days later) of obtaining Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black rum. Long story, short… Kevin Berry from Three Dots and a Dash Chicago told me it was his one “stuck on an island” rum and I’ve been after it for two years.  Of course, turns out it was at a liquor store I rarely pass but is only 4 miles from my house. I quickly went to work with the Hamilton (trying to match Rum Captain Brad’s brilliant Mai Tai).

The next rum “event” on the list is extremely unique… my boss decided to think outside the box a little on my company anniversary gift. She, being from Columbus, OH, went searching for something different and found a rum made in Columbus… Pipe Dream pot distilled rum from 451 Spirits. I will say this… I was 100% skeptical at first because I prefer my Rum to be from the Caribbean (for the most part) however Pipe Dream has a place. There is a drink that it would be perfect for I just haven’t found it yet… but I am confident I will.

A last minute Disney Cruise was next with a stop in Nassau.  Nassau used to be filled with rum/liquor/duty free stores however, it seems, they have slowly disappeared. I went on a solo hunt for any interesting rum/deal and was mostly disappointed.  That was until I stumbled upon a GREAT deal on Appleton Estate 21 Year. I was very excited with the find and it has quickly become one of my favorite sipping rums! If you have the opportunity to pick yourself up a bottle then DO IT!

Also on the ship I had the opportunity to try Bacardi Facundo Paraiso XA Rum at the ship’s premier Meridian bar. The rum is aged up to 23 years however it is still a blend. The claim is that it has more older rums than the others in the Facundo line and it is finished in Cognac barrels. I found it had a slight oak but not as much as the Appleton 21. It was a very nice rum however I don’t think I’d run right out and drop $300 a bottle on it anytime soon though the bottle is quite impressive.

Returning from the cruise Summer of Rum kicked it up a notch with another visit to Strong Water (SERIOUSLY, if you haven’t been then you MUST go). Our Rum Captain for this visit was Brittany, who had just returned from a Cuba Cruise (side note that we were planning to do that in September but now the State Department has put a block back on visiting). Anyway, Brittany was wonderful, she offered a different flavor profile than Brad and had some great insights about Papa’s Pilar line of rums.  I also had the opportunity to try Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere. It was enjoyable… started with the fresh cane juice, I could pick up a hint of hazelnut and had a dry finish. We also had the opportunity to catch up with Sarah, our hostess on our first visit, and Rum Captain Brad via phone.

I’d like to take the opportunity to call out the hospitality that the Manager (Admiral?), Fernando, provided. He was on the deck of “his” ship 99.9% of the time, greeting guests, talking with tables and we had lots of opportunities to talk about rums… new rums they were exploring, rare rums that he had recently experienced and everyday rum drinks. He was even able to ensure that Mrs. Trader had the opportunity to have her favorite drink, the Milk Punch before we left (which wasn’t ready yet when we arrived). Fernando is an amazing asset to Strong Water and if you have the chance to chat with him about rum you definitely should. It is wonderful talking with the entire staff of Strong Water. They each know their stuff as well as offer a slightly different perspective. We plan to return in the next week or so.

All this rum and it was only Memorial Day weekend!!!  The Summer of Rum was just getting started but I like to keep my posts “manageable” so I’ll stop Part 1 here and look to add Part 2 soon. If you have a Rum Suggestion I should try then leave in the comments.  And, as always, if you have a Rum you’d like to send my way for a full review then always happy to help!

The Rum’s Not Gone… Yet!

Part 2 is LIVE