Feb. 21, 5 p.m.: I’m at Maggie’s Farm Rum with owner Tim Russell. I interviewed him for Drinking Partners about four years ago. He has a lot less hair and a lot more awards these days. I’m not really into cocktails but when in Rome, order a Zombie.
Feb. 21, 5:10 p.m.: I’m really into cocktails now. Maybe not all cocktails, but this Zombie is pure crack. It’s fruity and spicy, but doesn’t have that super sweetness that you associate with hangovers.
Me: So, tell me about this Zombie.
Tim: It’s a classic cocktail with 1,000 iterations, but this is the original. With that we use our white, dark and Queen’s Share overproof rums. It totals about 3.5 ounces of alcohol, which is why we limit it to two per visit.
Me: Is that why I’m already drunk?
Tim: Yeah. There’s also fresh juice, pomegranate, lime, grapefruit, passion fruit and cinnamon syrup.
Me: What is non-distilled rum?
Tim: It’s not really a thing. Non-distilled whiskey is beer, brandy is wine. I guess you could call it cane wine, but it’s not something you’d see on the market or purchase. It’s not a super complex flavor. There’s a reason it’s not for sale. People don’t drink it that way. Most rum bases are molasses. Fermented molasses is weird and funky and not in a good way.
Me: So, does the flavor from rum come from barrels?
Tim: It’ll develop flavors from the distillation process. You’re going to get esters [flavor and aroma] from the yeast, same as beer or wine. That’s part of it. We acidify our fermentations to make kind of a sour cane wine. And then you get a chemical reaction that not a lot of people know about. When you mix acids with ethyl alcohol, you get more esters over time. So, by having an acidic distillate, the rum will continue to develop more and more flavor. So, you’re not only getting flavor from the barrel, you’re getting it from the aging process, which is a little different from whiskey.
Me: What’s your aging process?
Tim: We start off with used Wigle barrels. We don’t want our rum to taste like whiskey, so the first thing we do is condition them with boiling water.
Me: Wait. You take a fresh whiskey barrel and pour boiling water into it?! Sounds like a brewer’s nightmare. Wouldn’t it be easier to just use a barrel after it’s been leeched by beer?
Tim: We’ve tried that before, and the rum ends up tasting like beer, but not in a good way. Beer leaves organics in the grain, and you don’t want to age something for two years to find out it’s awful. So, it’s easier to buy fresh and condition it.
Tim: So, as the water cools, it draws the whiskey flavor out. We dump that, add rum to it, and soak it for about three to four months. That rum still tastes like whiskey, but we blend that out into our spiced rum to cover up the whiskey flavor. And now that barrel is ready for aging.
Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m.: I love this geek shit.
We continue to talk science and history while sipping shots of examples. Did you know molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane that no one wanted back in the day? It was waste. Rum, like many other boozes, came about by accident, after someone found it rotting and thought it’d be a great way to get hammered. I now think of Maggie’s as a history “Boozeum,” and Tim, its curator. This short column can’t quite cover all I learned, but I do have room for this great nugget:
Tim: There’s this fucked up story that I had read. So, there was a Jamaican plantation way back when, and at night the slaves were sneaking into the distill house to get drunk off the cane wine. The slave owner was getting mad about it, so one day he collected all the chamber pots from around the plantation and in open view of the slaves dumped the pots into the fermenters with the cane wine. Sounds gross. It is gross. But once you distill it, it’s all boiled and sanitized, and nobody is going to steal from that fermenter. It’s full of shit now. What they inadvertently did was compound the bacteria from that shit in the chamber pots. There’s a bacteria in your gut called c-diff that creates butyric acid, which smells like baby vomit or dirty diapers. If you mix butyric acid with ethanol, it’ll eventually turn into butyral, which is the ester that gives pineapple its aroma. So that chamber pot rum, after they aged it, would have turned into a pineapple-y rum. That is how Jamaican rum got its flavor.