A long time ago, a brewer told me that it’s incredibly difficult to source rum barrels. It’s very easy to find barrel aged rum, but in terms of getting those barrels once they’re done, that is hard.
Most rum distillers are based in the Caribbean, and apparently when they finish with the barrels, they are turned into furniture. Cool looking, to be sure, but a travesty when it comes to all the deliciousness those barrels still hold.
To that end, we look to domestic rum distillers, of which there are many. Especially here in Florida, where sugar cane farms (the raw material used to make rum) are plentiful, some excellent rum distilleries are starting to pop up.
The latest one we visited was Wicked Dolphin, housed in a bright teal building in Cape Coral. It’s about 15 or so minutes away from their new brewpub Big Blue Brewing. But that isn’t where the beer-rum connection ends for them.
For a distillery that makes an amazing selection of insanely good rum, They are quite friendly to beer. The distillers homebrewed before taking up distilling, and in the back of the building are trellises currently growing hops. Give them time; the vines are still young.
Wicked Dolphin also produces the Brewers Series of rums, a particularly ingenious line of rums made in collaboration with breweries from around the state. The program is as such – Age a rum in a barrel for two years, give that barrel to a brewery that will then age a beer in the same barrel for about a year, then take the barrel back and age another rum in the same barrel for a year.
That final rum is then released with the special Brewers Series label. I got a bottle of the first release, a rum aged in barrels that Cigar City had just used to age a stout.
This is where our tour starts, with distiller Matt examining a draw of their next Brewers Series rum, in barrels that Due South Brewing had just aged a run of their Marianas Trench Imperial Stout. There’s still a chunk of time before the rum is ready, but already the character of the heavy malt is evident and really sweet. When this goes full power, it’s going to be fantastic.
Beyond that is the extensive (but not at all air conditioned) distilling floor. One that was currently operating, as is Matt’s opinion that when you visit a production floor, you want to see something being produced. What good is equipement that sits there all shiny if nothing is happening?
And he has an excellent point. It was great to see their massive copper distiller running as we spoke, with a fresh batch of rum. We were flanked by giant fermentation and boil tanks, quite similar to an average brew system but nowhere near as complicated.
Even though they have extensive experience with brewing, he said distilling rum is much easier. Rum is a more forgiving drink, with significantly less steps and less things that can go wrong than beer. They had plenty of raw ingredients in there as well, with giant vats of molasses and pallets of sugar ready and waiting to be made into rum.
Around the back is their barrel room/event space. It was covered floor to ceiling with barrels, many of them signed by important people or tour groups that had come through. One barrel that was pointed out to us had been signed by a group of local managers from ABC Fine Wines that had come though to see everything.
That barrel was even more interesting in that it held the next entry into the Brewers Series, this one aged in a barrel recently vacated by a Belgian Golden Strong from St. Pete’s Green Bench. It’s still very new, but already tastes like it is in the right direction.
The tasting room is smartly decorated and packed to the gills with a dizzying array of Wicked Dolphin souvenirs. The most important souvenir is still a bottle of rum, and my wife and I almost instantly agreed that we needed a bottle of the vanilla bean rum, aged on vanilla beans and tasting better than any beverage really has a right to taste. Local rum-filled chocolates also made it home with us.
As a beer blogger, I will admit my knowledge of rum is a bit lacking. I have no problem expanding that knowledge, however, with the products of people like owner JoAnn Elardo and her team constantly pushing the boundaries of taste and quality.
And I’m still incredibly excited to try the new editions of the Brewer’s Series when they come out. I can’t say much, but I did help with some potential future collaborations that may be coming soon.
If they work out, that’s a barrel I would love to sign.
Drink Florida Craft,