Drinks: Sugar Rush

June 24, 2015

A.J. Rathbun


Kill-devil, hydra-monster, cursed liquor.

With its sinister monikers, rum has spent some time on the wrong side of the tracks, in the company of unsavory pirates and ruthless smugglers. Its a curious spirit, with a fiery history and a present that conjures bikinis and tropical scenes. That spirit and the fact that its main ingredients sugarcane byproducts such as molasses or juice arent exactly locally available make it a strange fit for Washington distillers. So why are so many rums from the Puget Sound area now showing up on liquor store shelves?

As is often the case with local distillers, theres usually a story behind the decision to focus on a particular spirit. Take Ryan Hembree, owner and distiller at Snohomish-based Skip Rock, which released two rums last winter. As Hembree tells it, his wifes best friends family has been farming sugarcane in Louisiana since the 1700s, and he had always hoped to make rum using raw turbinado sugar from that farm. His first batch required 44,000 pounds of it. He even named his line of rums Belle Rose, after the small Louisiana community near the farm.

For Will Maschmeier, owner and distiller at 3 Howls Distillery in Seattles SoDo district, rum is also a family affair. He used to live in Costa Rica with his father, where he experienced and fell in love with the rums of Central America, along with the attendant laid-back sun-and-sand lifestyle. When he opened his distillery, he wanted to help bring that experience to the Northwest with his White Label rum the first rum distilled in Seattle.

Perhaps rums easygoing personality stems from the fact that different countries have different standards and categorizations. This gives producers lots of freedom. It can be aged for 30 years, spiced or crystal clear, and it is all rum and each has its place, Hembree says.

Skip Rock has two different rums: a light rum thats been aged in white wine barrels and an amber rum aged in bourbon barrels. The distillery is also working on a third, which will begin by being aged in bourbon barrels, but then finish in used red wine barrels.

The rum at Sun Liquor on Capitol Hill in Seattle also spends time in two different barrel types, but in this case, the barrels were used to age bourbon and sherry. And 3 Howls just expanded its rum selection with a limited-edition rum aged in Madeira barrels.

Its easy to see how the freedom in making rum mingles nicely with the creativity of local distillers. But it still seems that rums beachside spirit and our cloudy corner of the country constitute an odd match. Then again, maybe the juxtaposition is actually driving the local rum expansion. That first sip of a good rum instantly warms your imagination and ignites what Hembree describes as rums ability to transport us to another place.

Six bottles of rum that bring the tropics home.

Belle Rose Amber Rum, Skip Rock Distillers ($32)
This darker rum is aged in Skip Rock bourbon barrels and has a nice layering of flavors, a little gentle tobacco and whiskey, and then more traditional caramel, vanilla and sugar. Its a great rum to sip solo or over ice before experimenting with it in cocktails.

Sun Rum Barrel Aged, Sun Liquor ($40)
This rum is run through the distilling process twice and then aged in two different types of barrels: American oak bourbon and French oak sherry. The result is a taste that has apple and pear cuddling up with a little maple sugar. Try it in a rum old fashioned.

Navy Strength Rum, 3 Howls Distillery ($35)
A rum suited to sailors even those who dont actually pilot boats this rum has a 57 percent alcohol content (equaling 114 proof). But its not all muscle. It has a great personality, with spice, vanilla, caramel and smoke. Its a nice sipper but also can play in cocktails.

Belle Rose Rum, Skip Rock Distillers ($30)
Though aged in American oak barrels originally used for white wine, this rum is still very light on its feet. It goes nicely in any classic summertime cocktail that calls for a white or silver rum, thanks to tropical fruit, banana and coconut notes in the taste, which are underlined by smooth vanilla and butterscotch. Try it in a daiquiri for starters.

Gold Label Rum, 3 Howls Distillery ($30)
Most gold rums are brought to that color with added flavorings or chemicals. Not this delicious rum, which is made from Barbados molasses and aged slightly in American oak. The flavor mingles vanilla, caramel, oak and a hint of cookies. It goes well in the mighty mai tai.

Sun Rum Silver, Sun Liquor ($32)
Much like Sun Liquors aged rum, this is double distilled and a great example of a classic silver rum, with a slight sugarcane sweetness. Use it to make a mojito that will make your taste buds sing.

Skip Rock Distillers
104 Avenue C, Snohomish

Sun Liquor Lounge
607 Summit Ave. E, Seattle

Sun Liquor Bar & Distillery
512 E Pike St., Seattle

3 Howls Distillery
426 S Massachusetts St., Seattle