Rum Connoisseur interview of the week:
Distillers of delicious rum from San Diego California!
1) Who are Cutwater Spirits?
We started distilling 10 years ago as Ballast Point Spirits in the shared space with Ballast Point Brewing Company. The decision was made to enter the spirits category after 10 years of brewing, allowing the team to begin experimenting with the distillation process with much of the same equipment they had already grown quite familiar with in the brewery. Yuseff Cherney, the head brewer/head distiller of Ballast Point started with the company in 1992 as a clerk in the Home Brew Mart, the very beginning of Ballast Point. Yuseff built a small distillery in the “employee break room” and began distilling rum, whiskey, and gin while he was still making beer about 100 feet away in the brewery. The distillery grew and eventually was producing 12 products including nonalcoholic Bloody Mary and Mai Tai Mix. Upon the sale of Ballast Point Brewery, principal owners of the distillery (Yuseff and Jack White) continued the distillation company while changing the name to Cutwater Spirits, as the spirits division was always a separate entity from the brewery. The new facility that had been in the works prior to the sale of the brewery was rebranded as were the bottles and barrels that followed the team to Cutwater Spirits. We currently employ over 100 people with a full restaurant and production facility in the area known as Miramar in San Diego.
2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
The trips our team had to the early ADI conferences put us in touch with many people in the early days of craft distilling. Meetings with people such as Wayne Curtis and reading his book on rum definitely gave us a sense of rum’s history and impact on America. As a San Diego-based company the fact that we are located right on the Pacific also helps with our nautical connection to rum. The area known as Shelter Island and its Tiki Inspired architecture was a part of our culture growing up and our favorite place to sip on rum drinks with a bit of Tiki nostalgia was, and still is the Bali Hai.
3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.
Our Barrel Aged Rum that uses only sugar cane and virgin heavily charred American oak was our first rum to market, and we believed this might be reminiscent of the first American rums that were born of cane sugar and stored in barrels. Having a product that is so simple, yet so delicious is great to unleash on folks who “only drink whiskey.” We believe we have created a true San Diego sipping rum. Once we began winning awards with our barrel aged product, we then introduced the un-aged white rum, a bit of a backward release, but we wanted to show people we were not entering into distilling just to get products to market quickly. With these two products, we enable the bartender to create not only the classic white rum-based drinks like a mojito or a daiquiri but also rum interpretations of classes whiskey cocktails like a Manhattan as the barrel aged rum stands up to the robust barrel aged quality that the traditional whiskey drinks demand.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?
Rum deserves recognition for the complexities that can be derived from raw materials, barrel aging and fermentation conditions. The evolution and elevation of rum from a mixer to a sipping drink shows that not only the quality is improving but so is the diversity.
5) Favorite Drink + Recipe
Put mint leaves and 1 lime wedge into a shaker. Muddle the mint and lime to release the mint aroma and flavor. Add 1 more lime wedge and the sugar, and muddle again to dissolve the sugar in the lime juice (or use fresh sugar cane juice and skip this step). Pour into a pint glass, do not strain! Fill the glass 3/4 with ice. Pour the rum over the ice, and fill the glass with carbonated water. Stir gently to mix carbonated water, rum and mint mix and garnish with the remaining lime wedge, some fresh mint and a center cut sugar cane swizzle stick.
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
Many more craft producers will enter the market which will create an explosion of creativity and competition. New ideas and non traditional methods will be explored and the rum scene will see an invigorated renaissance. The consumers will become more educated and the desire for locally crafted products will become the norm.
7) Share some of your mentors and how they have influenced you.
Our team has been inspired by Fritz Maytag from Anchor Brewing and Distilling was an inspiration to not only brewers in California but Distillers as well. He took a failing brewery and created a world class beer with a true American style. Fritz went on to pioneer craftdistillation and helped California’s governing agencies wrap their minds around craft distilling. Lance Winters at St. George opened his distillery to early craft distillers and routinely held classes on distilling, another pioneer in California. Chris White from White Labs who has done so much for the industry regarding fermentation science and creating a world wide market for quality yeast. Finally, Drew Kulsveen from the Willett Distillery for inspiring us with great whiskey and helping us along the way, always taking the time to answer questions and tour us around the amazing distillery in Kentucky.