Rum Round Table – Boston 2022

FRS Members & Rum Lovers,

I wanted to share with you an exciting initiative that the Florida Rum Society and other leading rum clubs across the country are launching at the end of April.

Myself, along with Eric “Rum Doc” Carter & John Gulla, will be joining the leaders of many US-based rum clubs at the Privateer distillery in MA to launch The Rum Round Table (RRT) – a cooperation between independent rum clubs coming together in one room to discuss how to better pursue our shared goals.

Clubs have largely developed themselves independently to this point, and often with great success. The FRS is past 1,400 members, we lead the way with our Virtual Happy Hours throughout the “dark times”, we have started in person tastings/gatherings, we are closing in on 20 barrel picks, and, against all odds, we successfully pulled off the “Takeover” of Miami! The reason that we think working cooperatively is there is an opportunity to provide an even better means to achieve our shared goals.

We will discuss best practices surrounding club operation and growth, better collaboration between rum clubs from barrel selections to events, helping smaller clubs develop and grow, supplier transparency, and the role we can play with consumer advocacy and education. As well as probably other topics that will most likely emerge.

I want to stress that each club that participates in the RRT will maintain their independence, however I believe that this collective has an important role to play in the creation of the early majority market for rum in the US. And a larger rum market is good for all of us and, of course, rum as a whole. As clubs, we will continue to have exceptional access to suppliers and elite selections AND an improved market will likely make more rum available in more States, possibly even at better prices.

While we discussed inviting more clubs to the April launch, we determined that the RRT was best served by an ad hoc committee of around ten clubs/societies in various stages of development. As of today, eight clubs have agreed to be a part of this gathering, representing an estimated 3,500 members: Austin Rum Society, the Boston Rum Social Club, the Carolina Rum Society, the Florida Rum Society, Friends of Rum Tennessee (and FORT chapter club, Memphis Rum Club), the Minnesota Rum Club, the Richmond Rum Society, and the Rum Caucus, as well as John and Will from the Rumcast podcast.

The Rum Round Table is being sponsored by Privateer Rum, who shares the view that the RRT (as well as the individual clubs), must protect their independence from external vectors if it is to realize its potential. Accordingly, Privateer has recused themselves from club-related meetings, and have asked that one of the first orders of business be the groups selecting a new venue for the 2023 gathering. They also support the Rumcast’s participation due to their important role in the US rum universe and as a platform for communicating the vision clearly and objectively.

As the agenda continues to take shape, I will share additional details with all of you. I also very much look forward to sharing the outcome with everyone after the gathering. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I, along with so many of us, believe that a Rising Tide Lifts All Ships and this is just another example of helping to grow and educate on the spirit we love. Cheers!

Favorite Five Rums of 2021

There is little doubt, in my mind and opinion, that 2021 was one of the best rum years for the state of Florida in recent memory. There were a ton of new rums brought into the state as well as a great slate of limited run rums… not to mention the insane lineup of Single Barrel releases that the Florida Rum Society brought us all.  After much deliberation, here are my Favorite Five of 2021 (with some honorable mentions thrown in there for good measure).

#5 – Worthy Park 109: This new standard offering from my favorite distillery had been anticipated for over year.  Whispers of it started at Miami Rum Congress in February of 2020 and it finally touched down Fall of 2021. This, for me, has become a cocktail staple in my bar and has replaced a number of different rums, some not even Jamaican. It is versatile and is now my standard Mai Tai rum. To quote myself, “It is like Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve and a Demerara 151 had a rum baby and it was crowned king of the Rum Gods!”


#4 – Appleton Estate Hearts Collection 1994: The wild ride of Appleton Hearts in the U.S. was a little crazy and I still don’t fully understand what happened.  These 3 initial bottlings were released in Europe about a year ago with the anticipated launch in the U.S. in March however March came and went without a whisper.  The last I had heard from a Campari rep was that they weren’t planning on even releasing them here.  Then, kind of out of the blue, they started to drop in November. Finding the set is like hunting a unicorn but they have shown up in some unexpected places.  I was lucky enough to secure a set and I actually love all three of them for how different they all are, but the 1994 is the stand out in my mind.


#3 – Ko Hana Koa Barrel: The Hawaiian Agricole Style rum coming out of Ko Hana is a wonderful breath of fresh air. I love everything they are doing with single cane varietals however this Koa Barrel Aged rum is, far and away, the most unique rum I had the pleasure of experiencing this year.  The endemic Koa wood gives this rum its deep red color along with some fantastic tasting notes of buttered toffee and cocoa. They only release 1-2 barrels a year and you can only buy it directly from the distillery so be on the look out and grab one when available.


#2 – Holmes Cay Australia 2012 (FRS Single Barrel): The first and only Australia release from Holmes Cay, this Beenleigh rum packs a punch!  Originally planned to be proofed down slightly, a happy accident had this rum bottled at full 67.5% and I, for one, am thankful that it is. It is bright with spicy chocolate, rose and eucalyptus and opens up with just a drop or two of water. This first FRS/HC collaboration really knocked it out of the park and I look forward to more in 2022! (There are a few bottles of this pick available exclusively at Five Star Liquors in Longwood, FL.


#1 – Worthy Park Special Barrel – FRS Gemini Barrels: Anyone that knows me is probably not surprised by this selection as my #1 rum of 2021!  This 13 year 100% Worthy Park Medium marque is one of the most special rums I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The wait was well worth it and I will continue to give non-stop accolades to Zan Kong from Worthy Park, Michele Willard from Backbar Project, and Broc Smith for all their hands in making this a reality for the rum lovers of Florida.  This rum gives a full mouth feel and a bouquet of flavors that go along with the WPM marque including burnt pineapple, black cherry and olive oil.  It has an amazing finish that lingers for hours if you let it. There are an EXTREMELY limited number of these bottles available exclusively in the FRS Online Rum Shop. I have been known to say that I want this to be the last rum I experience before my time on this earth is over!


Here are few honorable mentions that just missed the cut: Hamilton Single Barrel (FRS): Enmore Wooden Coffee Still, Hampden Great House 2020, Grander FRS #2 – Toasted Oak Finish

And there we have it… my favorite rums of 2021.  Do you have a list of Top 5? Would love to see it either in the comments or in the FRS Facebook group!  Here’s to seeing what comes next in 2022!!!  Cheers!

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

Tiki to the Stars

This past weekend I was on a business trip to Los Angeles. Knowing there are multiple tiki options in the LA area, my team was kind enough to indulge me with a trip to LONO Hollywood for dinner and drinks.

If you read no further, at least know that LONO Hollywood has amazing tiki hospitality! They were able to get us a day-of reservation for 6 as well as were extremely attentive throughout the entire evening! I would VERY highly recommend LONO and look forward to returning in the future.

LONO is located right on Hollywood Blvd., about 4 blocks from the Chinese Theater. When you walk up to the address you first see a tacky “beach bar” and, if you don’t know any better, have a moment of “is this what I came here for?!”  It was a great bait and switch for my 5 teammates who did not have a lot of experience with tiki.

Next door to the beach bar was a small hallway with some vines, tikis and a skull head. At the end was a neon sign and a bamboo door.  This is what the entrance to a tiki bar should look like, there was not one sign that said “LONO” (though if you looked past the hallway, you could find the big palm tree logo on the wall).  It was perfect… it spoke to the mystery and adventure that would soon transpire upon opening the door.

We went in and had a very warm welcome. The space is larger than a lot of tiki bars with lots of tables for dining as well as lounge areas for enjoying drinks and friends. We were sat at a reserved booth towards the front corner and started our tiki adventure.

Meriah came over to welcome us and gave us a tour of the drink menu as well as provided a few recommendations.  I also tried to guide my tiki-virgins by asking about their likes and dislikes to help point them towards a drink that would match their flavor pallets.

I, of course, started with the house specialty, the Curse of Lono. According to the menu, only the beverage director, Chad, knows the recipe. I went ahead and ordered it in the LONO signature tiki mug and, to the delight of the table, it arrived with flames and fireballs. The drink itself was one of the best of the evening! It was spirit forward, which I prefer, with a hint of sweetness at the end (my guess is passion fruit). Also, while a little pricey, the tiki mug is a fantastic add to the collection! It has lots of hidden Hollywood gems throughout.

With 6 of us, we each tried a little something different and everyone really enjoyed their drinks.  On the table for the first round we had a Navy Grog, a Painkiller, a Queen Ka’ahumanu, another Curse and a Mai Tai. Everyone was really pleased with their orders… I had the chance to try the Mai Tai and, I will admit, it was a little sweet for my taste but an enjoyable riff (vanilla syrup and macadamia are additional ingredients).

Dom, the GM, came to see how things were progressing and I cannot say enough about Dom and his hospitality! He and his staff really went out of their way to make sure that everyone was having a wonderful time and was enjoying their tiki experience.

We moved on to food and, once again, LONO did not disappoint. Everything we had was fantastic (we way over ordered) but the group collectively would recommend the Kauai Fried Chicken, Shrimp Shack and the Pork Belly 2 Ways.

Moving on to round two we had a few repeat orders but I went for the King Kamehameha which featured rum, of course, Aperol lime, pineapple, Cara Cara orange, passion fruit and honey. It was a tad sweeter than the Curse but the Aperol provided a great balance. I would definitely recommend both my drinks.

As we finished our food, Dom and Chad were kind enough to offer us a sneak peak of drinks coming to the menu in about 3 weeks. Chad was very generous with his time, taking a few minutes to come over and give us a tour of each delicious new beverage. We had the chance to sample the Black Mamba, the Oh Captain My Captain, the Permanent Vacation and the Piña Colossus. It was wonderful to experience the contrast in each drink and everyone was able to gravitate towards a drink that we enjoyed. I’m thrilled that we were able to do some early tasting and would definitely recommend trying out the new drinks when they are added soon.

The location itself is split into two bars. The front, main bar, is for relaxed drinking and dining but then the bar in the back opens late night for more of a “night club” feel. LONO definitely has something for everyone.  The décor is more what I would call “light tiki” with the palm frond wall paper but I definitely enjoyed the elements of nautical décor like the ship’s helm, wooden oars and much more throughout.

I said it at the top and I’ll say it again, LONO definitely needs to be on your list if you are in LA/Hollywood! Dom and his team are amazing and everyone we interreacted with wanted to make sure we were taken care of and were having a great time. Mahalo Dom, Chad, Meriah and the rest of the team for a great experience. Because of your hospitality we may have a few new tikiphile converts on our hands!

The Pagan Went Down to Georgia

I don’t travel a lot for my “day job” however when I do I, obviously, like to try to find a nearby Tiki Bar to experience while I’m in town. This week’s work trip took me to Atlanta. I had the opportunity to briefly visit S.O.S. Tiki in Decatur a month earlier, but this latest visit was a full Tiki Extravaganza.

I’m not sure how long it has been going on, however, lately, there have been a number of “tiki takeovers”. This is when bartenders from one tiki bar travel to and mix at another tiki bar (and then, usually, they do the reverse swap – kind of like a home and home in sports). For this takeover, two bartenders from Pagan Idol in San Francisco came down to S.O.S. Tiki in the Atlanta area.

S.O.S. is located in small downtown Decatur and the entrance is down a side ally. Upon entering there is a small flight of stairs that leads you down into the main bar. The bar is small, slightly bigger than Suffering Bastard in Orlando. As it should be, it is dark and offers some “mystery”. The wall behind the bar features a nice assortment of rums as well as a fun collection of tiki mugs (including some of the Star Wars Geeki Tiki mugs… which I know are controversial but I love them so that earns points in my book).

On my previous visit Ieuan, the manager, was my fantastic bartender.  He was behind the bar to welcome me again however Nick, from Pagan Idol, would be my amazing host for the evening. Nick was fantastic from the start, walking me through the three special drinks they were featuring for the takeover. He explained that Plantation Rum was sponsoring the event and each drink featured a Maison Ferrand product (owner of Plantation Rums).

I decided to start with the Escape from Cognac (showcasing Ferrand Cognac). It was crisp and nice, a great element of orange and it was creamy but not (hard to explain).  It was different from the direction that I usually go with Tiki but very enjoyable. That’s a great thing about tiki and, specifically, these types of gatherings… you have the opportunity to try different things you might not normally choose.

While enjoying my beverage, and before things got to busy, I was able to chat with Ieuan and Nick some. Ieuan opened S.O.S. Tiki 4 years but then stepped away for a bit.  The call of tiki wouldn’t let up and he’s been back behind the bar and managing it for around 2 years.

Nick, as my bartender for the evening, received my favorite question… what’s the one rum you’d be stuck on an island with for the rest of your life. He went with a Agricole overproof because he figured he could sip it, make a Ti Punch, mix it, a little of everything.

I moved on to try the Toucan Dance, which featured Plantation 3 Star rum. This one is straight from the Pagan Idol menu. It was a little heavier, think Pearl Diver, but had an amazing balance of coconut (not overly powerful), orange and house-made Fassionola. The Pagan Idol team did a wonderful job with their exclusive, while supplies lasted, menu.

Michael from Plantation Rums brought some of the newest Plantation Single Cask offering.  I had the opportunity to sample a few as well as chat with Michael about my love for different rums and how much I enjoy the Plantation rum products. He was very generous with his time and sharing his insight about rum and the endless options it offers. His passion for rum and Plantation was clear… I think that’s one of my favorite things about tiki/rum is talking with people who are passionate about what they do and Michael was no exception.

From a tasting perspective, I was able to enjoy the Barbados XO and the Trinidad 1997. I have to say that the Trinidad is unlike any rum I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It is smoky and nutty, you can taste the Peat Whiskey from the cask then there is a bit of tobacco and vanilla on the end that lingers. Hopefully I will be able to find a bottle of my own, though, I know that sometimes can pose a challenge… especially in Central Florida where pickings can be slim. (Michael, if you end of reading this, tell me where to look!)

(Can I take a quick minute to say that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with a number of members of the Plantation Rum team over the past few months and all of them have been wonder individuals. They are always willing to discuss their craft as well as their products, and they are genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s love for rum.)

After some tastings I then asked Nick if he could put together a Pagan Idol Mai Tai for me… he was extremely generous with his craft and I hope he realized how appreciative I was. While he was upfront that S.O.S. didn’t have all the rums that Pagan uses for their Mai Tai Rum Blend, it was a very enjoyable combination. He used some Smith & Cross and Rum-Bar Dark as well as some of the Plantation Single Cask Peru 2010 that was available. He, of course, added Pagan’s homemade Orgeat as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward, hopefully, to having a true Pagan Idol Mai Tai in San Fran in the future.

Finally, throughout the evening I had a chance to chat with some S.O.S. regulars who were on hand. Bruce was a great guy and we chatted about our own Mai Tai blends. I also had the chance to talk with Jeff about rums as he is a rum rep for several brands including Clement, Rhum J.M, Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney. He enjoyed hearing the story of “Trader Jay’s” and he, along with his lovely new wife, agreed to be my next two subscribers.

It was another enjoying Tiki Evening! The takeover was an amazing surprise and everyone I encountered from the S.O.S crew to the visiting Pagan bartenders to the Plantation gang to the friendly regulars were wonderful to talk with. It was a great, inclusive atmosphere where everyone was welcome. I very much look forward to another visit to S.O.S. in the future as well as, hopefully, crossing paths with all the individuals I had the pleasure of interreacting with. Cheers & Mahalo!

Summer of Rum: Trader Vic’s Atlanta

If it is going to be the Summer of Rum then there must be a new tiki bar visit. So, a trip to Trader Vic’s Atlanta was in order!

Our summer travels this year included a visit to Gatlinburg, TN (a region that does NOT have anything close to a Tiki Bar). We decided to make a stop over in Atlanta on our way north to visit one of the last remaining Original Trader Vic’s locations (we visited the oldest remaining Vic’s in London last September – read about it here).

If you’re reading this blog then there is a good chance you already know that Victor Bergeron invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland… so I will skip that history lesson. What I will say quickly is that Vic was definitely an innovator, creating possibly the first chain of themed restaurants in the U.S. During the rise of Tiki popularity in the 50s and 60s he grew to as many as 25 Trader Vic’s locations worldwide.

As the popularity of Tiki started to decrease into the 70s and 80s, the restaurants started to close their doors. Vic passed away in 1984 but there are 5 remaining Trader Vic’s locations from his lifetime… the aforementioned London location (the oldest), one in Munich, the flagship in Emeryville (took over for the 1934 original in Oakland in 1972), a location in Tokyo and our current location of interest, the Atlanta location, which opened in the Atlanta Hilton in 1976.

Like London, the location is in the basement… meant to keep with Vic’s vision of “escapism”. There are only certain elevators that head down to that level and it is a great experience to board from a busy lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel and, when the doors open 1 floor below, feel as if you’ve been transported. Plenty of bamboo and tikis welcome you as you enter the location.

Different than most of my Tiki Adventures, this visit included my two sons (7 and 9) so sitting at the bar was not as much of an option. We were welcomed by the staff and brought to a nice table right in the center of the first room. Something to note about Vic’s in Atlanta is that it is HUGE! There are multiple rooms throughout the area, however the way it is set up makes it feel like a small, intimate space. In the middle of all the rooms you can view the two HUGE Chinese ovens.

We had a warm welcome by the waitstaff and GM Maurice. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with Maurice. He has a long history with the Atlanta Hilton and a passion for Vic’s. He appreciates the original décor and his goal, as hard as it is to upkeep, is to try to keep things as original as possible. Him and his team were wonderful hosts for our entire visit, and they had a focus on my boys, which, any parent knows, is very appreciated.

Everyone ordered drinks, mocktails for the boys. I ordered the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and Mrs. Trader ordered the Navy Grog. Here is where I’ll say that the Mai Tai was “fine”… but it was far from the best I’ve ever had. They use the Trader Vic’s branded mix… which I don’t know if I can blame them for… but fresh ingredients are always better and it is disappointing to see the “home of the mai tai” not stay true to Vic’s original recipe.

However, the Navy Grog was extremely delightful and the boys LOVE their Kona Cooler mocktails. They were excited that they were served in the Mai Tai style glasses (just like Mom and Dad). The Kona Coolers earned the rare Double Junior Coco Thumbs Up!

Mrs. Trader recommends the Navy Grog (Grog usually being her preferred tiki drink). She said it was very well balanced and the rum is not hidden.

I will now take a moment to say this… the food was AMAZING and WONDERFUL and all the good words! Everything we had was fantastic and if you’re looking for a great meal among Tiki history then head over there. Maurice started us with an amazing Cosmo Tidbits pupu platter and I couldn’t pick my favorite if you forced me to. Junior Trader 1 tried everything on it and loved it all… really digging the crab rangoon (a first time food for him). Junior Trader 2, less adventurous, recommends the bread with homemade peanut butter (claiming it also deserved a #cocothumbsup).

For main courses I ordered the Massaman Chicken Curry and Mrs. Trader went with the Signature Wood-Fire Chinese oven Filet. The curry was very good and came with this fun side-dish of “extra” so you were able to add whatever you like to your dish, however NOTHING could compete with the filet. It was tender and full of flavor! Once again, all the “good words” for food. I’m not sure that I know enough about the culinary arts to tell you what these Chinese ovens do differently to beef, however, whatever it is, it is WONERFUL.

The boys also enjoyed their meals and, I want to give another kudos to Trader Vic’s in that their children’s menu is not the standard chicken fingers and cheeseburgers. We like our boys to branch out when they can and they were able to a little with Vic’s menu. Junior Trader 1 went with the strip loin and Junior Trader 2 did the General Tao’s Chicken (without the sauce).

To cap off our meal, Mauice had mentioned a new Hot Buttered Rum recipe was coming to the menu soon so I had to give it a go… full on with fired overproof rum running down the skull mug. And, while we were playing with fire, the Junior Traders got their first Bananas Foster experience. It is hard to not be impressed by dessert prepared fireside with fire! The boys were invited to “help” in the foster experience and, as you can see, were blown away by their first time!

Overall, I would give our Trader Vic’s Atlanta experience two thumbs up… while the mai tai came up a bit short for me, everything else was outstanding! Maurice and his team were top notch and the food was definitely something to write home about. Somewhere I read that at its height Trader Vic’s was considered the best restaurant in the nation. Vic, while bring Tiki pop and Tiki drinks into our lives, he also invented Asian Fusion. That notion is evident in the food at Trader Vic’s Atlanta and there is plenty of hospitality to go with it. I hope that it continues to live on, bringing Vic’s legacy to future generations.

Rum Tasting: Bajan 1966

I was very fortune last week to obtain a bottle of Bajan 1966 Barbados Rum. Currently Bajan is only available for purchase in Barbados so I was lucky to gain access to a bottle.

There is no secret that Barbados is one of the largest rum producing islands and of great importance in the history of rum, however in learning more about Bajan Rum, I also learned some Barbadian History.  From the Bajan site:

Our regal, barrel-aged rum was named in honor of Barbados’ Independence which was granted on November 30th, 1966 after 300 plus years as a British colony. Dominated by a lucrative sugar industry, once run on the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves, this historic date marked more than our emancipation — it sparked cultural and economic change.

Rum is still the essence of Barbados, the DNA of the nation. Old-timers even call it, “the nectar of life,” there through heartbreak, romance and exultation. Day and night, on palm-fringed streets, families, friends and strangers-just-met are seduced by its dark and delicious taste. You could say that rum is the oil in our engines, the beat behind our rhythm, the spirit of Barbados.

Half a century may have passed since our Independence, but our country celebrates in serious style when November rolls around. We revel in 50 plus years of emancipation, hosting parades, socials and festivals.

BAJAN 1966 is the people’s rum, a drink for any occasion. Relax, unwind and sip that tipple. Be inspired by the spirit of freedom.

I also learned that the word “Bajan” is another term used to refer to people from Barbados and is pronounced BAY-jun.  It is actually thought to be a shortened version of Barbadian and is used by locals quite often.

Bajan 1966 is a mix of both pot still and column rums and then aged in American oak bourbon barrels. (I was, however, disappointed to not find any age statement.)

The bottle is clear, very crisp looking and the rum color has a red hue to it.  It is beautiful for sure though the gold lettering on the bottle makes it a little hard to photograph with my simple iPhone. (From their website it looks like the bottle actually is sold in a beautiful blue and gold cylinder however mine didn’t have that upon arrival.)

I invited my good friend Steve over for a sampling.

First we started with some neat and sipped it… as Bajan claims you should.  The smell is AMAZING! They do not add any sugars or perfumes (as I would prefer) and the nose is really clean and fresh. You really get a nice aroma of vanilla along with a hint of caramel.

The taste is very clean as well. The vanilla hits you first as it merges into a finish of oak and tropical fruits.  There is a slight harshness for only a half of moment on the palette but I find that comforting because it reminds me that I’m drinking rum. While we didn’t try some on the rocks, I can see how this would be the way I would sample it next time around.

Next I mixed it up in a classic Mai Tai.  I usually mix my Mai Tais with a strong Jamaican rum (per Trader Vic’s original) however the Bajan 1966 stood up fair well.  Steve really enjoyed the Mai Tai and was pleased on how Bajan was complimented by the lime and orgeat.  I will say that the curaçao was a bit overpowering against the rum for me and maybe I’d pull it back some in the future.

I think the Bajan will also shine nicely in something simple like a Barbados Rum Punch or a Rum Old Fashioned (so that’ll be on tap for the future).

I haven’t really established a “Rum Grading Scale” yet but I would give this a 4 out of 5 tikis.  You won’t find it in the U.S. but if you’re visiting Barbados then it might be a nice addition to pick up.

Four Years of Trading

Just about Four Years ago Trader Jay’s Home Tiki Bar was born (read about it here). I thought I’d take a spell to enjoy how far it has come while keeping in mind that it will never be complete.

Over the past four years I have met so many wonderful people as well as grown my tiki mug collection and rum collection… but collecting tiki décor has really provided some great memories. Here are just a few followed by some updated pictures of Trader Jays…

Meet Georgina! She is a classic replica of a ship’s figurehead. She was a gift from one of my best friends. A few years ago his father, Big George, passed away. George thought that if his son wasn’t interested in keeping “Boobs” (her name at the time) then maybe I’d want her for my tiki bar. Of course I was honored and knew I’d be able to find a home for Boobs, however first I had to make her a little more “family friendly” (since she was very much naked, hence her name).  Mrs. Trader did most of the handy work in adding a coconut bikini and grass skirt and then I decided to rename her Georgina in honor of Big George.

Now she hangs proudly watching over all of TJ’s patrons.

My “Maui Hook”… it is hard to ignore the influence of Disney on my bar, hence a Maui Hook. On our recent summer family trip to Hawaii I decided that I, obviously, wanted something to add to Trader Jay’s but since wall space is filling up it had to be something unique. All over the little gift shops you’ll find plenty of Hawaiian Fish Hook necklaces (called Makau) which symbolizes love and respect of the ocean. It was seeing those that set me on my path to find a big hook for TJ’s.

The feat, however, was not as easy as you might think it should be.  Finally, after a week and a half my wife and I stumbled upon a nice lady who had a wood carving shop in Kona and saw the hook.  The lady explained that her son-in-law had carved 14 hooks but only 2 remained. She said she was looking for the right “Ohana” for the final 2 hooks (and, of course, someone willing to pay the right price).  Mrs. Trader and I decided if we didn’t go for it there in Kona then we might not find the right fit at all.

Now the hook hangs in direct line of site of the entrance to Trader Jay’s, a perfect staple.

The Caines Tiki has a much simpler story but still is very special to Trader Jay’s… it is actually the first tiki that I owned. What makes it even better is my good friend Caines personally carved it.  This one-of-a-kind tiki was a gift to celebrate a promotion over 14 years ago and has had a place in my home ever since.


Those are just a few stories of the many treasures Trader Jay’s holds… and the great news is that its story will never end as Trader Jay’s will continue to grow and evolve.  The ultimate dream is to put bamboo on the ceiling but that doesn’t quite make the list of overall house priorities just yet (maybe I can crowdfund it?)

Check out the rest of the photos below… if you see something you’d like to know more about then let me know, always happy to share! Mahalo!