You may not think of Louisiana as rum country. But before the Revolutionary War, the state’s sugarcane plantations were so flush with rum that it became a form of local currency. And prior the Prohibition, rum distilleries were commonplace all along America’s east coast.
So describes Trey Litel, President of Louisiana Spirits LLC, maker of Bayou Rum. His company distills in copper pot stills within a 36,000-square-foot facility, using Louisiana sugarcane. The Bayou Rum lineup, launched in 2013, now includes aged, spiced, and silver rums, plus a Satsuma Rum Liqueur. We recently spoke with Litel about the current and future state of the U.S. rum industry.
Cheers: How does the Louisiana climate affect your rum?
Trey Litel: We make rum from sugar cane grown in four-to-six feel of topsoil dumped there by the Mississippi River. So the raw material stock is brilliant. The yeast we use is proprietary, identified during our year of testing, and originated on the sugarcane. It makes a big difference.
CH: Is America ready for craft rum?
TL: The premium rum category has been starved for innovation for so long. Look at any backbar and you might see Myer’s Rum, Sailor Jerry. Then craft comes along. Craft bars are loving it because the rum category still hasn’t been fully explored.
CH: How would you tap into that potential?
TL: We want to build the call for American-made rum. There’s an appeal to a Louisiana rum — an opportunity. We own the trademark, “America’s Rum.” We could be the Tito’s Vodka of rum.
CH: Why hasn’t American craft rum taken off yet?
TL: Part of the problem is that the U.S. government basically funds some of the bigger rums made in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The government is giving money from the federal excise tax back to those islands so that they can promote their rum industry.
That holds the price down on rums made there. It’s no wonder that rum hasn’t been premiumized yet. We really need to educate the public that domestic American rums are at a disadvantage. I certainly hope the laws improve, and at the very least make it more even for domestic rums.
CH: How are you barrel-aging?
TL: Rum ages nicely in Bourbon barrels. We’re using barrels from Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace and Four Roses. We’re also employing the Solara process, which is looked over by our master blender, who grew up in the Dominican Republic.
His father was also a master blender, for 15 years in Cuba and then 20 in the Dominican Republic. Our master blender mentored under his father for a decade, giving us that connection back to Hispañiola, where Louisiana rum historically originated.
CH: What was the original idea behind Bayou Rum?
TL: We were thinking how weird it was that there was no world-class rum from Louisiana, since we produce more sugarcane than any Caribbean island. And our rum culture is strong. The Hurricane was invented here! But there’s no homegrown brand. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we do that?’
CH: Premium rum is inevitably contrasted against sipping whiskey.
TL: People are too tied up in whiskey. First of all, good aged rum sips every bit as well as a premium whiskey. Also, whiskey has to be made to very specific guidelines. Rum can have so much more variety. Though we’re also distilling at a similarly pure level. We’re working with aging in barrels and we have that wood influence transforming and softening the spirit.
There’s outstanding value now in rum. When you compare our prices to the prices of premium whiskey, you get a bargain with sipping rums.
Premium rum made right gets a much softer, smoother finish than whiskey. Sure, some guys like that bite and sting. But the younger people like whatever tastes good. And I believe that those people are going to give premium rum a fair shake. There’s huge potential there for growth.
Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at email@example.com