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K&L Spirits Tasting Schedule:

Weds from 5 - 6:30 PM

4/23 - Redwood City: Ardbeg Single Malts (w/the chopper!)

2014 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky

1988 Littlemill 25 Year Old K&L "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Lowland Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1996 Bowmore 16 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch "Young" K&L Exclusive Heavily Peated Single Barrel #57 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive Lightly Peated Single Barrel #303 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Bladnoch 23 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #1054 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Talisker "The Speakeasy" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2005 Glenrothes 8 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1997 Glengoyne 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Sovereign" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


2013 K&L Exclusive Scotland Whisky Still Available

1991 Cambus 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2002 Bowmore 11 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2005 Island Distillery 7 Year Old K&L Exclusive "Exclusive Malts" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


2001 Royal Lochnagar 10 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1995 Glendronach 18 Year Old Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1994 Benriach 19 Year Old Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml IN STOCK NOW!


1989 Cragganmore 23 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1992 Longmorn 21 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1987 Mortlach 25 Year Old Faultline Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky IN STOCK NOW!


1983 Miltonduff 30 Year Old Faultline Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750m IN STOCK NOW!


Monday
Mar102014

Weekend Observations

- The more I learn about the women's fashion industry, the more I find it resembles the booze business. My wife and I were shopping at the Nordstrom downtown when she saw some black Mary Jane flats by Miu Miu (a Prada spinoff). She asked to try them on, but they didn't have her size. We checked every other Nordstrom in the U.S. -- sold out. Possibly other stores? Nope. These particular shoes were "Nordstrom Exclusives" meaning the designer, in this case Miuccia Prada, had created them specifically for the retail chain. This trend is becoming more and more the norm in the women's retail fashion world: commissioning products in small quantities from exciting designers to add unique and interesting options unavailable to other competitors. Neiman Marcus might approach Kate Spade or Ted Baker and say: "Hey, we'd like to work together with you on an exclusive dress or jacket. What do you say?" Sound familiar? It's a model that's obviously working for both the retailer and the producer. The Miu Miu shoes were from the recent Spring release and they were already completely cleaned out.

- We spotted Suns center Emeka Okefor going for a stroll down Mission Street with his Ukranian teammate Alex Len. They were heading over the bridge to take on the Warriors later that evening. Man, are they tall!

- I'm really fascinated by curation right now. Museums don't really interest me these days, but I am always captivated by a beautiful layout. I'll look at art, but I want it presented in a way that makes it interesting and engaging (explain to me why this is important or groundbreaking while I'm taking it in, don't just give me a small card-sized descriptor). I'm finding better artistic curation in retail outlets as of late than I am in museums. The Bloomingdale's at the Westfield in San Francisco is one of the most incredible stores I've ever visited. It's huge, the layout is expansive and impeccable, and the music is atmospheric and super hip. The Anthropology on Market Street is the same. You don't need to buy anything to enjoy either of these places, just walk around and take in the view; enjoy the creativity they've put into each section and soak in the mood. I wish there was a more sensual way we could present the spirits at K&L -- a way that was fashion-forward and artistic, combining music and imagery, yet practical and easy-to-navigate. Like flying on Virgin America.

- Speaking of curation, the way in which we present wine and spirits to one another (in person, not in a retail outlet) has a big impact on how we enjoy those beverages. Too often in the United States will you find bottles taken completely out of context, stripping them of their intended usage and therefore their magic. Buying a bottle of red Burgundy to drink on the patio isn't going to maximize the flavor potential of that wine. Pouring a glass of single malt while you and your friends eat tacos and watch the game might be fun, but there's nothing particularly special going on. That's not to say that all experiences with alcohol need to be curated and memorable either, but like anything in life the details make all the difference. Taking the time to comb your hair right, tailor your pants, or shine your shoes can completely change your appearance. Taking the time to pick the right vegetables, light a candle, or decorate the dinner table with your finest glassware can heighten the experience of your meal. The right couch or painting on the wall can make or break the interior design of your living room. These details may appear effortless or minor, but they're not. Effortless chic isn't actually effortless. Drinking a glass of Ardbeg at Duffy's in the town of Bowmore will never be the same as drinking it at my house, but I can at least try to get the mood right. I wonder how many negative experiences with alcohol could have been more positive had it been presented differently?

-David Driscoll

Friday
Mar072014

Barton in Bottle

Come get some.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve K&L Exclusive Single Barrel #25 Kentucky Bourbon $28.99 - (NOTE: This bottle will ship as a 1.5L sized bottle due to its size and shape). Sazerac's other distillery, the Barton facility in Bardstown, is not nearly as well-known as the Buffalo Trace side of things.  Ken Pierce, not Harlan Wheatley, is distilling over in Bardstown, making a high-rye Bourbon called 1792 Ridgemont -- a softer, smoother expression that's also bottled around Kentucky as Very Old Barton. While we can't get Very Old Barton here in CA, we can hand select barrels of Barton whiskey for the store and bottle them under the 1792 label. Our latest cask brings the red fruits and the soft banana right on the entry. The mid-palate evens out with creamy vanilla and the finish dances with lively oak spice. You might want to buy two of these because the first bottle's going to go faster than you think.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Mar062014

The New Guard

If you read through the vast array of prevalent whisky blogs and message boards, you'll eventually recognize a common thread weaving its way through the various posts: the idea that things aren't as good as they used to be in the world of Scottish single malt whisky. It's a growing complaint among consumers and it appears to be gaining more steam as of late -- the idea that standard brands are not providing the same bang for the buck they once did. Besides the numerous comments and posts that all of you are able to read online at any given time, I have access to a gigantic hub of consumer mail and opinion in addition to that. I get messages from people all day long that have nothing to do with K&L business, placing orders, or inquiring about bottles. Whisky fans everywhere simply send me their thoughts, their ideas, their triumphs, and their complaints about the modern day booze crisis -- to the tune of about 30-50 random emails a day. And that doesn't even account for the time I spend talking with people on the sales floor. I seem to be someone people want to vent to.

So when I say that there's consumer angst over the declining quality among major single malt producers, I'm not making it up. There are piles of email in my inbox right now asking for my opinion on various issues surrounding this idea.

"David, I bought a bottle of ______ last week. It's not as good as I remember it. Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary with this brand lately?"

Yes. I have. It's called global demand. It's stretching stocks of single malt whisky more thinly by the day and that squeeze is affecting the quality in your bottle. Everyone is noticing it and they're a bit unnerved by the idea.

I went to lunch today with one of my sales reps and we discussed this very topic while eating.

"The only advantage that brands have anymore over smaller single malt producers is pricing," I said. "Diageo can sell its single malt whiskies for less than Benriach or Kilchoman because of their scale -- they make more. But what happens when the prices start going up and the quality starts going down in the face of demand? Where's the advantage then? I'd rather pay a little more for better quality, wouldn't you?"

For years I've listened to old school single malt fans scoff at the pricing of the Kilchoman single malt whiskies. They are expensive, there's no doubt about it -- especially considering their youth.

"Why would I pay $100 for a 5 year old Kilchoman single cask when I can buy 16 year old Lagavulin for $65?"

That's a fair and reasonable question. However, are you talking about Lagavulin 16 from 2009 or from 2014? Because if you're talking about Lagavulin 16 from 2014, there's a very simple answer to that question: the Kilchoman tastes better. If you're talking about Lagavulin 16 from 2009, then you're talking about the past -- a past that big brands are relying on to help carry them through to the future, despite the fact the fact that things aren't quite as good as they used to be.

The two new casks of Kilchoman that I received today are better than the current releases from any Islay distillery we carry here at K&L. They're brighter, they're fruitier, they're smokier, they're more interesting, and they're more nuanced. They make you want to jump up and down, to shout, to pump your fist in the air and smile at the person tasting next to you. It's a feeling I haven't felt in some time while tasting Islay whisky -- the feeling of something electric and new, positive and optimistic.

Why are these two new casks so good? Because in these two Bourbon barrels you're getting a chance to taste the very best whisky that Kilchoman has to offer -- period. We went through their stocks and wound up with two cherries. We received that access because we've been loyal to Kilchoman since the very beginning, even when people thought their pricing was outrageous. In most current release expressions from larger brands and global portfolios, you're getting the very best whisky that those distilleries can offer to millions of people around the world in gigantic quantities. However, when you're looking to satiate millions of thirsty drinkers, can you really be at your very best? Can you really blend together incredibly nuanced and flavorful casks in the volume that it takes to satisfy demand in China, the UK, America, India, Europe, Japan and Brazil?

I think the answer to that question is currently in the bottle, and those bottles are currently being opened and reviewed by bloggers everywhere. What's the consensus? You tell me. Keep telling me. Keep sending me emails letting me know what you think. It's because of those emails and those complaints that we went out and found the best peated whisky we could possibly find. And, yes, it's expensive. But, after trying these bottles, not one of you will be sending me an email about how these whiskies don't deliver for the money. You'll be sending me an email asking, "Why doesn't more peated whisky taste as good as this?"

Except that we already know the answer to that question, don't we?

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - If there is one battle we're not willing to fight in the spirits world, it's the idea that "craft" whisky is better whisky. We don't think using quarter casks to mature whisky faster makes for better whisky. We don't think using organic grains or designer barrels make for better whisky either. What makes whisky better? Time. If you're not willing to let your whisky come around naturally, then you're not going to convince guys like David and me to support your stuff. Kilchoman, in my mind, is the one "craft" distillery that does it right. Their whisky is still young, but it's already light years beyond what we're seeing from standard Islay releases these days. There are reasons for this. They operate their still at a slow drip -that takes TIME. They only use standard size Bourbon and Sherry casks, which take TIME to mature. And, they hired John MacLellan, the former distiller for Bunnahabhain who has decades of experience from putting in TIME! And they keep getting better. This Bourbon cask #172 is so delicate in mouthfeel, yet bursting with white pepper, smoke, and fresh peat that it almost seems unreal. At 60% it tastes like 45% because it's in complete harmony with a small dose of butterscotch on the finish and then a lingering floral note. At only five years of age it's more flavorful, satisfying, and exciting than anything I've tasted from any Islay distillery over the past year. While others still look to the future, I think Kilchoman's time is now.

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74 Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99 - This Bourbon cask #74 is zippy, lively, peppery, and bright with cinnamon red hots and bursts of sweet wood. It's like a mezcal made on Islay, but with more vanilla and sweetness. What's more amazing is the sheer drinkability at 59%. It's never hot, overpowering, or out of whack. This is one of the most vibrant and exciting whiskies I've tasted in years.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Mar062014

Dive In Head First (Think Later)

I remember my first production job in college. I did the videography on a commericial shoot in San Diego for a local TGI Fridays-type of restaurant  I won't mention the name of the company (because they're still in business), but the founder was the boyfriend of a girl I knew in the UCSD film department. Independent film and video production was hot in the late 90s. Swingers had just been released, Apple had just come out with the iMac DV (an affordable home video editing suite), and Hollywood was looking for the next big (cheap) indy darling. People were looking to get into the business, so my friend's boyfriend decided to invest tens of thousands of dollars into creating a production company. He created logos, shirts, bought expensive cameras, and created a website. There was only one problem: he didn't know anything about production. That's what he needed me and my friend for -- to teach him how to use all that stuff.

When the fever of a new phenomenon hits and the electricity is in the air, there are always a few people with extra money on their hands who look to dive into that excitement head first -- especially Americans. I mentioned this to Komal Samaroo, the chairman of DDL in Guyana, at dinner and he laughed out loud. "This is very true!" he exclaimed. Apparently Komal has been approached by a number of Americans over the past few years who were interested in buying or investing in the distillery. Some of them even flew out to visit. But after a few minutes of conversation it became clear that these romantic notions were perhaps a bit misguided. "I just tried El Dorado 12 last week for the first time and fell in love! I knew right then I needed to be a part of this business!" Or something like that.

"They didn't know anything about our history or our stills. They didn't know anything about the spirits business, but they were ready to offer millions!" Komal said.

There are people out there with extra cash on their hands looking to spend it on booze. Booze is hot, it's compelling, it's experiencing a huge renaissance and inspiring people everywhere to get involved in some shape or form. This captivating hysteria isn't just limited to deep-pocketed investors, either. There are guys opening distilleries who don't know how to distill. There are people spending thousands on Pappy who have never tried another Bourbon. To true spirits fans this type of behavior can be insulting because it demonstrates a lack of respect for the craft. It can't be that hard to distill something, right? Why start with something entry level when you can start with the best?

"Didn't that bother you?" I asked. "That people were attempting to purchase a historic distillery with centuries of tradition, yet they didn't know a thing about it?"

"Of course it bothered me," Komal said. "You want to purchase our brand, you're ready to invest millions, yet you don't know anything about us? What does that say about a person's judgement?"

I still get solicited at least once or twice a month by people who want to buy me lunch or take me out for a drink. I've stopped doing it because, once we get there, it's clear that what they're really looking for is unpaid consultation. "So, David, we're looking to build a distillery and we wanted to get your advice. What spirits should we make? What type of still should we buy? What do you know about rye whiskey?"

Seriously?

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Mar052014

An Interview with El Dorado Distiller Shaun Caleb

Along with the fact that El Dorado's Diamond distillery is perhaps the most dynamic spirits facility I've ever visited, they're employing one of the smartest and knowledgeable distillers in the business: Shaun Caleb. The Princeton graduate had some large shoes to fill, taking over for the late George Robinson who spent more than 40 years with DDL, but he's done a masterful job blending the old-world traditions with a new modernist approach. He's perfectly equipped to take El Dorado into the future.

In this conversation Shaun talks about his beginnings at DDL, the heritage of the Diamond distillery, the difficulties in working with ancient stills, the importance of Demerara molasses in the El Dorado expressions, and his appreciation for column stills over pot stills. Check it out:

David: Can you talk a little about how you started working at DDL and what intrigued you about the distilled spirits business?

Shaun: For me it started by wanting to contribute to development in Guyana, so I was looking for companies that were progressive, making a difference, and had some sort of international credibility and DDL was one of very few companies that fit the description. I’ve had a strong interest in chemical engineering since I was in school, so obviously I wanted to work with a company where I would be able to apply the benefits of these skills. Again, not many companies in Guyana offered that kind of opportunity. Nothing in manufacturing would draw as heavily on those skills as distillation, so it was a happy coincidence that I was able to find DDL. Luckily for me, once I made contact with the company they were extremely receptive. The company has always been very focused on building its human resources capacity and, at that point, I know they were conceptualizing a modernization program to update their infrastructure and technology. It seemed to be the right timing for me, finishing up school and looking to come back home.

David: You went to Princeton for your education in chemical engineering, right?

Shaun: Yes, having gotten into Princeton I actually approached DDL early on to see if coming home after finishing was actually a viable option. I wanted to come back, but the question was: is there something interesting enough for me to do? If the answer had been “no” I would have found something to do in the United States. But knowing something very positive was there on the horizon, it gave me a bit of surety for life beyond Princeton.

David: When you came back to Guyana to work for DDL, you started under the legendary George Robinson, who was the master distiller at that time. What was your initial role in assisting him?

Shaun: When I got back he was actually celebrating his 40th year at DDL. He has had many roles throughout his career in the company and at that point he had just moved back to distillery operations full time. My function was to support him in distillation practices and understudy at the same time, but also to plan all stages of the recapitalization process. Because I needed to have an understanding of DDL’s distillation philosophy and how that would apply to new projects, having a complete understanding of what we did was important. I was actually straddling both areas – being in charge of the modernization program while understudying the distillation side with George. I needed to translate those philosophies to make sure the modernization program remained consistent with our heritage.

David: Speaking of philosophy, what do you think George Robinson’s philosophy was concerning distillation?

Shaun: Very simple: one – to essentially produce spirits from distillation that have the full flavor profile characteristic to each particular mark of rum, and two – to do it in such a way that there’s stability in the operation; stability, predictability, consistency, and reliability. He strove to have particular settings that would optimize the way our stills were run. Once you’ve achieved those settings it would become easy for the operators to monitor the process. That would make the system more reliable for getting a consistent product each time. Running the stills with a stable set of parameters, so that everything from pressure to temperature to which valves were open – whether an eighth or a quarter – would improve the reliability of the distillation process.

DDL has very specific marks of rum, so knowing the specifics, the parameters, and the rationale for those parameters is obviously particular to us. To learn those specifics I relied on George and his notes. I would read about distillation in my free time, but then work with the operators to marry those two worlds together. When we were building the new column still, for example, I had to work with the contractors to make sure the specifics would satisfy the production requirements that we already had. One idea that was thrown out there, for example, was why don’t we make a light rum by separating the essential oils in the column and then blend them back together in the tank? Our response was immediately: “no.” While this method may be efficient for many other places, in India for example where the need to lower the cost of production has led many distilleries in this direction, it was against our philosophy. I had to be a guardian of our process and our heritage, understanding the principles of the older stills while mapping out the potential of the modern ones. It made for a very intense learning process.

The advantage that I had was that, being a chemical engineer by profession, I am able to transpose the conceptual with the practical. Many of our operators, as experienced as they are, have a very strong sense of what we do and the outcomes that follow. They can tell you what turning one valve an extra quarter turn will have on the final product. But to understand it from a scientific point of view, for example how your chemical profile shifts, what are the principles that explain that shift? That wasn’t something that would be considered each time by our staff. I think bringing that scientific point of view helped everyone involved with the whole operation.

David: I think anyone learning how to distill would have a tough enough time on a new still, whereas you had to learn with some of the oldest stills in existence. You’re using a wooden pot still from the 1700s and a wooden Coffey still from the 1800s. I guess that’s just on-the-job training, right?

Shaun: Absolutely. And this is why George’s philosophy really drove the operation. He wanted everything to be stable, determined, and documented. We have settings for every single detail of operating those stills. When the operator goes to start them he knows what every valve position needs to be and that was a great advantage for me. It made learning a lot easier. You had to memorize settings on one hand, but then at the same time be able to put things into context.

David: I heard from your staff that maintaining consistency isn’t easy when you’re working with ancient wooden stills.

Shaun: I would agree with that, but that’s the point of view of the quality control chemist who has to even out these inconsistencies. By the time we’re done blending, the receiver of the product, the consumer, will only see a consistent quality. For us, we define very narrow tolerances on our production. The quality control system is multi-tiered. It has to go through three checks before it is approved for the blending stage. Because of that we keep a very tight margin. It’s a messy process for the quality control people, but at the end of the day we manage to keep the flavors consistent. That’s important.

David: At the same time, I think the inconsistencies are what make DDL’s rums so endearing to certain consumers. They’re not made from scientifically-controlled, computerized operations that can be run automatically while you step out of the room. You can’t walk away from the stills at Diamond, come back in an hour, and see that everything’s done. In my mind, that’s exactly what makes your rums so special and different from what else is on the market. What do you think is the most difficult still to use of the four antique stills at the distillery?

Shaun: Definitely the EHP Coffey still. With the wooden pot stills – yes, they’re inefficient and so on – you can always make adjustments from batch to batch, depending on the outcome you’re looking for and the outcome of the previous batches. So you make those adjustments and at the end of the day you can blend multiple batches into conformity, evening out any variations. With the continuous still, while you can still even the rum out via blending, it’s a more dynamic process. Any change in parameters can upset this process. Then there’s the fact that it creates a medium-bodied rum. Making a light rum is probably the easiest process because you’re removing more stuff from the alcohol itself, so the number of control points you have to monitor is fewer. Likewise, when distilling a heavy-bodied rum, you’re removing less from the alcohol, so again, the number of control points is fewer. With medium-bodied rums you only want certain elements from a vast array of components present. Therefore, the number of combinations that can go wrong multiplies.

With the EHP still, because it’s old – and by old, I mean it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the modern process control technique – when the product quality goes off by a percent or two, there’s no valve to turn at each of these stages along the way to account for those changes. This severely limits the extent to which you can control the process, making it a lot trickier to manipulate. Having said that though – to our guys’ credit – they’ve developed the touch and feel for the operation of that still, so we do get it right. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require a lot of running up and down, turning of the valves, just to fine tune the right quality that we’re looking for. The EHP Coffey still is definitely the most difficult to use.

David: Do you enjoy the challenge of working with that still, or do you find it frustrating?

Shaun: Oh, we like the challenge! Especially because of the all history associated with the still. There must be a certain mystique associated with a piece of equipment that has been around for so long and has such a rich heritage. The fact that it demands your attention, I think makes people respond positively to it – me, as well.

David: Which still produces your personal favorite rum at the distillery?

Shaun: Personally, the metal Coffey still. The second would be the ICBU Savalle still. Those two.

David: That’s funny because those are both column stills, yet most diehard spirits fans gravitate towards pot-distilled things. What is it about those two that you particularly like?

Shaun: I like the fact that we can make a fruity rum and we can have a range of fruity rums with various fruity notes. We can isolate the pear, the pineapple, the banana. We can isolate the orange, as well. Not always as well as we would like, but just being able to manipulate the still and get rums that are all rich and flavorful, but still different, makes for an intriguing appreciation of what those stills can do, and – by extension – the product itself.

David: With all the attention that, for example, American and British spirit aficionados give to pot stills while looking through whisky goggles, do you think they’re missing out on the potential of column still distillates? Maybe because they don’t fully understand the process?

Shaun: Absolutely. That’s one reason, and the other would be the fact that column stills are mainly used for making light rums. You add other heavier rums afterward to blend them into what you want. Because we do things differently here, where our rum comes off the columns with a distinct flavor profile, not many people appreciate that. I think if they knew to appreciate this in the first place, then they’d understand that the art of distillation requires masterful intervention in the case of those column stills, as opposed to the pot stills.

David: What type of intervention specifically?

 Shaun: What we’re doing first of all is manipulating. It depends on the number of columns in operation. It depends on the process flow. We can actually change where things flow, so they may enter at different points and they may also flow in different directions. It also depends on the process parameters; the operating temperatures and pressures at different stages of the column can be adjusted, so as to emphasize or de-emphasize certain components. Also, the point at which we remove congeners can have an influence on what eventually finds its way into the product and affect the flavor profile.

When I was commissioning the new column still, as well as the new metal Coffey still, I learned so much from that process. Here was a new piece of equipment, which you’ve designed so that it has features that can replicate most of the other stills, but you still have to figure out those exact parameters – tweaking things and seeing the impact those changes have. Because there are so many levels of control which can be adjusted and fine-tuned, it really allowed us to explore our approach to distillation and the final product quality. The exciting thing is that, while we have not yet been aggressive about creating new products or new releases of El Dorado, it has opened our eyes to the potential of new possibilities beyond what we currently produce. We have so much flexibility and versatility in the operation now. That’s what’s possible with column still distillation.

David: Part of the reason people love pot stills is because they capture more flavor from the base material. When it comes to distillation of Cognac or Armagnac, a brandy producer will always talk about the importance of the base wine. However, with whiskey, there’s very little talk about the quality of the corn or barley. How important do you think the Demerara molasses are to the flavors of the El Dorado rums?

Shaun: It does have a significant influence because the environmental influences and the fermentation process both make a huge difference in terms of the number of congeners that are produced (NOTE: congeners are substances other that alcohol produced in fermentation that are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic beverages). At one point we did an exercise engaging some overseas facilities to try and catalog as many of these congeners as possible. We discovered that over two-hundred compounds are present in our molasses wash. It’s a very, very rich brew. Not only that, but then because of the presence of native, wild yeasts and the local fungus, the bacteria in the sludge of the molasses, all of those things help to not only introduce additional congeners, but also increase the content of those additional congeners. When it comes to distillation, they present more possibilities in terms of what flavors we can keep in the product and how we can influence their profile.

Having said that though, again because we want to strive for reliability and consistency, we tend to remove all of the congeners that we do not want in a particular rum. So, in a way, sometimes their benefit may be lost because we might have to remove them. But on the flip side of that, if we decide we want a different combination, it opens possibilities for new core products that we can produce. In other words, having all these congeners is useful and can benefit us when looking for new product possibilities.

David: We’ve been experiencing a huge renaissance of distilled spirits in America, even globally, particularly centered around single malt whiskey and American Bourbon. How do you think rum can position itself to help capitalize on the overall growth in the distilled spirits category?

Shaun: What is happening is that the consumer is developing a nuanced appreciation of those particular spirits. Obviously, in the process, we can move away from rum being seen as a cheap spirit that can get you drunk quickly. We can focus on quality, an appreciation of flavor, and offering rum that resonates with that fine appreciation. Rum has a market with this consumer; there’s a niche – to the extent that we now have many brands going after these consumers. They want consumers who appreciate quality, but also who are willing to try something different – a different experience of appreciation in a way that they’re already accustomed to with their enjoyment of whisky. Because rum is now able to do that I think we’re ready to bring rum into these niches.

David: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. I think your words will go a long way in inspiring new and curious drinkers to give El Dorado rum a shot in their liquor rotation.

-David Driscoll