Interview with Carlton Grooms Director of Operations, Papa’s Pilar Distillery

Carlton Grooms

Director of Operations, Papa’s Pilar Distillery & Brand Center – Key West

1) Bucket List items for this year.

  1. Introduce the original Blonde rum to an audience who appreciates how light rum was once finished.  Filtering to clarity looses flavor, it’s wonderful to offer a light rum that celebrates complexity and can be enjoyed neat.
  2. Continue to hear the ‘wow’ from dark spirits drinkers when they are introduced to our bold crafted dark rum.
  3. Build a world class craft distillery in downtown Key West, and produce a pot still rum that gets back to rums gutsy roots.
  4. Spend as much time in the Caribbean and Central America picking up more skills, meeting more distillers and keeping my passion for rum making strong.
  5. Support the rum industry as a whole through my work with the International Rum Council, a group I co-founded with some of the finest and most rum knowledgeable people I have ever met.

2) What is the biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplish for the rum industry

The rum industry goes back to before the 1700’s.  My contribution pales in comparison to the depth of knowledge and passion of the masters who have created this wonderful spirit before me.  I can only hope that my place is to produce rum that is true to this history and one that Ernest Hemingway would have lifted in a toast to my teams efforts. 

3) Favorite Drink + Recipe

There can never be only one!

My favorite with Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum is a Hemingway Daiquiri.  Faithfully made to the days at the El Floridita.
Hemingway Daiquiri

1.5 oz Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum
.5 oz fresh Grapefruit juice
.75 oz fresh Lime juice
1 tsp Maraschino liqueur
1 tsp Sugar
Combine all ingredients & shake; strain
Coupe glass

My favorite Papa’s Pilar Dark recipe is a Pilar Sazarac.  I offer this with all due and deep respect to the history of New Orleans and a proper Sazarac.  That said, Pilar works great in this drink.

Pilar Sazarac

1 sugar cube
2.5 oz Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lemon peel

4) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?

Five years is a blip in the history of Kill Devil and Rum.  Without question there is notable growth in premium and super premium rum.  The world is learning, finally, that rum belongs shoulder to shoulder with the other great aged craft spirits.  There is also a wonderful and rapid growth in the United States in small craft distilling.

My major draw to become a Rum Maker was that I felt this category allows the greatest creativity.  We must be made with sugar cane.  There are no other rules.  The rest is up to consumers to judge our success.   

5) Share some (2-3) of your mentors and how they have helped you.

  1. Don Pancho Fernandez –  He has inspired me, supported me, taught me and most importantly challenged me to be better at all I produce.
  2. Ron Call – Not only is he my mentor but I have the great fortune to work side by side with him everyday as we make Papa’s Pilar Rum together.  It is a true gift to be his friend and learn from him.
  3. Michael Streeter – Mike is the man behind  He was the first to believe in my knowledge and passion for rum.  He was the first to recommend me and support me to the the industry.  His knowledge of the the full spectrum of the world of rum reminds me to not get too caught up in what I’m making today, but what I should be making tomorrow.

6) Any last words?

It is an exciting time to be a rum maker.  We are embracing new woods and aging methods like never before.  The science available to us to analyze everything from yeast to final distillate gives us great and new insights.  The levers we can pull to influence the final flavor of our rum can be overwhelming and amazing at the same time.  Finally, consumers are drinking the resulting rum with appreciation and gusto.

It is truly an exciting time to be a rum drinker.


7) About Carlton Grooms

As a former Naval Aviator, entrepreneur, chief financial officer, world traveler, author and rum enthusiast, Carl has an impressive resume – not to mention an MBA from the Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.

He also truly embodies the Papa’s Pilar “Never A Spectator” philosophy, having run with the bulls in Pamplona, leaped from the world’s highest bungee jump, completed an ultra-marathon, landed on aircraft carriers over one-hundred and eighty times, and flown as a volunteer pilot providing humanitarian relief to Haiti.

A Key West resident, Carl built his knowledge of his favorite spirit over many years and numerous trips to Caribbean distilleries.  Ultimately, his experiences and reputation in the rum world led to him co-found the International Rum Council  and co-author the book, “Rum & Contemporary Cuisine.”

Author: Fede

Share This Post On
... ...