SARASOTA — The United States has a centuries-old relationship with rum dating back to before its independence from Britain, and several US states still produce a significant amount of sugarcane.
But in the modern era, the spirit of choice in the US has often been whisky.
That is beginning to change, however, as major cities like New York and Miami (the latter probably America’s rum capital) increasingly drive spirits-drinkers to the glory of sugarcane.
And as American tastes for spirits begin to change, the US is becoming a hub for micro-production of rum.
In fact, one of the world’s tastiest new rums is made not in the West Indies, but West Florida.
Siesta Key Rum, which calls sunny Sarasota, Fla., home, is the brainchild of Troy Roberts, who sold his internet business in 2007, ordered a German CARL copper still, and, after a long and difficult permitting process, tried his hand at making rum at what is now the only such distillery in Sarasota, one of the pearls of southern Florida.
Roberts, the founder, CEO and distiller, has long had a love affair with Sarasota’s Siesta Key — and with rum.
Wanting to create something tangible and scalable, but with an artistic side, he created Siesta Key Rum with a simple goal: “to make the best rum we can that I like.”
The rum is born and raised in Florida, sourced from 100 percent Florida-grown table-grade molasses.
Roberts, who styles the distillery (which he runs with co-partner Tom Clarke) as something of a rum laboratory, is always experimenting — from varying temperatures to secretly modifying the cooling pipe.
The distillery is truly a boutique — with nearly everything done by hand, in house — even the labeling.
Siesta Key currently produces three varieties — a silver rum, a spiced rum and a gold rum.
The spiced rum, while the most recent addition, has quickly become the flagship of the line, a blend of all-natural spices like honey and cinnamon and flavours added to the award-winning silver base. (Although, always the rum scientist, Roberts says he has been experimenting with adding a little of the gold rum to the spiced to give it depth.)
Unlike the majors, the spiced rum uses no corn syrup or cheap ingredients — just fresh, natural spices.
“We start off with the silver rum, then we put real spice in it — we weigh them out, put in real spices, dump in a bunch of honey for the sweetener — there’s not corn syrup — and filter it all out,” he says. “But what you end up with is just something that tastes completely different.”
The spiced rum took home the Best in Class medal at the RumXP International Tasting Competition, beating out the likes of Bacardi.
“I want to produce the very best rum we can — we’re trying to develop a following,” he tells Rum Journal. “I just want to continue to grow in Florida primarily, with more stores, and more people in those stores — and it happens every time we get into a new store, we try and build up our customers in that location and sales will just continue to go up.”
And so Roberts continues in his laboratory, the mad rum scientist — looking to make the small distillery in Sarasota into a force in the world of rum.
“We’re doing more like the microbrews did way back when – it may not be to the mainstream taste,” he says. “Some people may love it, some people may hate it, but the people who do love it, they’ve got no choice but to buy it — because it’s unique.”
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On to the tasting note:
Silver: Siesta Key Silver is exquisitely smooth with hints of butterscotch and a subtle note of almond. It would work well with a traditional rum and coke, but Rum Journal recommends it with a generous splash of pineapple juice.
Gold: the gold rum, a light amber colour, stands out for its smoothness, and stands halfway between the silver and shows a flavour profile that is a happy medium between the silver and the spiced.
Spiced: the Spiced is the superstar of the line. Notes of fresh spices, honey and cinnamon, and even nutmeg, although that is not actually one of the spices included. We’re not prone to hyperbole, but it’s easily the smoothest, greatest spiced rum we’ve tasted. As for the spiced, we recommend it on the rocks — and by the pool or on the beach on a Sunday afternoon. — CJ