May your ANCHOR be tight,
Your CORK be loose,
Your RUM be spiced,
And your COMPASS be true.
As one person interpreted that rum toast: May your journey always be an adventure you experience on your own terms. And how apropos that the sentiment of adventure and experiencing things on your own terms rung ever so strong as it has for Troy Roberts, owner of Drum Circle Distilling. August 16th happens to be National Rum Day and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about one of the best Rum Distilleries around. A distillery that has been winning awards after awards in a field that has generally been synonymous with the Caribbean Islands.
But first we need to know some basic rum tidbits…or at least I needed too so that I could fully appreciate the work and craftsmanship involved in distilling rum. Even though I do enjoy my rum flavored cocktails I must admit, I didn’t know what the whole rum process entailed let alone the difference between the various grades of rum. I just knew what I liked and what I didn’t (I quickly learned that I wasn’t alone thinking this way).
• Rum is a liquor distilled from fermented sugarcane juice
• Most of the world’s rum comes from the Caribbean
• Rum distinguishes itself from other spirits by the plant from which it is made: Sugarcane, a member of the grass family. The sweet juice of the mature plant is extracted by pressing the hard stalk in mechanical mills. Some distilleries use this fresh juice while others use the by- product of the sugar refining process (molasses) as the raw material for the fermentation process
• RHUM agricole is literally cane used rums. A style of rum originally distilled in the French Caribbean islands from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice rather than molasses. Very floral in taste. Rums using this method will literally mark their bottles with the RHUM spelling to distinguish the difference
Grades of Rum
White Rum: is generally light-bodied. They are usually clear and have a very subtle flavor profile. White Rum is primarily used as mixers and blend well with fruit flavors.
Golden Rum: also known as Amber Rum, is generally medium-bodied. Most have spent several years aging in oak casks, which give them smooth, mellow palates.
Dark Rum: is full-bodied, rich, caramel-dominated rums. The best are aged in oak casks for extended periods. The richest of these rums are consumed straight up.
Spiced Rum: can be white, golden, or dark. They are infused with spices or fruit flavors.
Anejo and Age-Dated Rum: are aged Rums from different vintages or batches that are mixed together to ensure a continuity of flavor.
During my Culinary Immersion Trip to Sarasota, Florida I had the pleasure of visiting Drum Circle Distilling, makers of Siesta Key Rum. Just walking into the warehouse where the distillery is located, the powerful sweet smell of molasses hit me and then my eyes landed on the beautiful copper machinery being utilized (I later found out the purpose of the high-grade copper). But first some background info as to how it all came together.
After leaving the corporate world in California and having some sports car enthusiast websites which he founded, Troy Roberts, Founder/CEO and Head Distiller of Drum Circle Distilling wanted to venture into a field that he felt would make him happy…he loved rum and thought…Why not give it a try?
So with that in mind in 2007, Roberts decided to sell his websites and go back to his roots in Sarasota and bought a still. There was no turning back after that first still. Roberts quickly found out that he not only had a remarkable ability to formulate and perfect recipes for his signature rums but that it was going to catch on very fast for rum lovers all over!
Troy Roberts, Founder/CEO & Head Distiller at Drum Circle Distilling
Roberts explained that rum is typically made using one of 3 ingredients to formulate a batch: juice from freshly squeezed sugar canes, molasses or sugar crystals. Siesta Key Rum uses only locally sourced sugarcane for its molasses – no crystalized sugars are being used for their line of rum. Roberts said many companies use the sugar crystal method as it’s ‘cheap and easy’ but it comes with a one-dimensional taste not to mention a harsher flavor with some burn to it (he tried and tested this method and opted out as this wasn’t the flavor profile that he wanted for his rum).
As mentioned earlier, Roberts prefers to use the molasses method for his award-winning rums. When sugar cane juices are extracted then boiled out, sugar crystals are then formed, what is left over are the molasses. The molasses from the very first boil is the best stuff, according to Roberts. The highest grade of molasses that they can buy is from the first boil. The opposite side of the spectrum is Blackstrap molasses – what’s left when you extract all the sugar out (often used in cooking). Roberts explained that they tried a small batch of rum with the Blackstrap molasses and did everything the exact same way, but found that the rum wasn’t as smooth and had a harsher flavour. Economically speaking, many rum companies use Blackstrap molasses as it’s ‘dirt cheap’.
Roberts was quick to point out that rum is very much like making beer except that the fermentation process consists of yeast, molasses and other ingredients. Since I already knew that yeast is what turns sugar into alcohol, I was rather surprised to know that using different yeasts would yield a dramatic impact on the flavor profiles of the rum (different yeasts being used = different flavors of rum).
Why the high-grade copper?
Easy…copper has durability! Copper will last forever whereas iron will eventually rust and PVC can crack over time.
The crucial role that copper has in making rum is the fact that it acts like a ‘glue agent’ for impurities to adhere too. If the copper in the still is kept clean, it forms a chemical bond with sulphur and various other things but primarily sulphur. The sulphur found in the vapors will stick to the copper in the still as opposed to going in the rum batch.
Our goal is to produce the finest quality hand-crafted rums available. Our artisanal still was custom-designed and crafted. This beautiful small batch still makes extensive use of copper.
Roberts through trial and errors practices, modified the existing machinery by adding extra copper in certain areas of the columns and drilled holes in them so that the copper will only take out the impurities but wont take out the flavour – a delicate science process indeed!
The Coles Notes version for the main purpose of the still is to separate the alcohol from the water….if only everything could be explained like this….but I digress.
After all that science…my head was spinning from all the intricate complexities involved in such a great tasting liquor. I was very surprised to find out that for Siesta Key Rums, their spices are not added until the actual rum is made…a fact that most people will be surprised to learn.
And then we walked by a the batch of rum at its purest level, considered the ‘heart’ which means it’s the good stuff…at 180 Proof! Hearing the words “I’m willing to try anything” leave my mouth, I quickly realized Oh My God, what have I just done?!
“It has a nice flavor”, Roberts said as I swallowed the 180 Proof sample (Even though the sample was very small, I couldn’t taste any flavor…maybe it was because my precious tongue and soon enough, my organs would all be on FIRE!!)
Considered the ‘heart’ of the fermentation process: 180 Proof batch of rum.
After that BURNING experience, I had just had to ask…
Question: What exactly transpires to make a rum batch that is 180 Proof to the smooth tasting rum that I was about to taste?
Answer: Water! The rum goes through a water softener, put through 2 carbon filters, 2 reverse osmosis membranes and then another carbon filter. So that it’s as neutral and as clean as you can possibly get. It doesn’t quench your thirst as much since the minerals are out of it.
For obvious reasons, I couldn’t take pictures of what is involved in their latest rum flavor: Toasted Coconut Rum other than to say, they are the only company in the world that uses real shredded toasted coconut in their rum, no artificial flavorings here (the process making is kept a secret). As the lid from the blending tank was opening, there was real strong smell of toasted coconut that was just INCREDIBLE!!!
Siesta Key’s Award Winning Toasted Coconut Rum
Verdict: Off the charts! Especially if you like the toasted coconut taste. A tropical dream for cocktails lovers, like myself.
Our new Toasted Coconut Rum has been called “something the rum industry has not seen before” and is said to “raise the bar for all coconut rums” by Got Rum magazine.
Siesta Key Spiced Rum
Siesta Key’s Spiced Rum
Verdict: I enjoyed it and could taste the melange of spices that is put in the rum, however; I found it a bit too strong. The Toasted Coconut was my favorite!
We don’t use liquid flavors. We ground up the spices put them in the run with honey let it mix the flavors and filter it back out,” says Roberts
After the rum has been aged, it is then off to the bottling, corking and labeling room. Six bottles can be filled at a time and each is labeled individually. I was impressed with the attention given to each and every process – a true hands-on company to say the least.
Labelling room for Siesta Key Rum
Automatic corking process for Siesta Key Rum
• Siesta Key Rum took five gold medals at the 2015 Rum Renaissance competition against traditional large producers
• Best American Rum, Caribbean Journal 2015
• Best Spiced Rum of the Year, Caribbean Journal 2012 & 2013
• And many more to list…
Roberts says the awards have been adding up since he started selling his first bottles of rum in 2010. What makes his different? He says it’s the quality.
I must give props to Roberts for taking the time to go over and simplifying the complex and sophisticated process that Drum Circle Distilling does to produce its award-winning rums.
Hopefully one day soon, Canada will be graced with Siesta Key Rum in its liquor stores…till then Florida just gained another reason to visit the Sunshine State!