Rum Connoisseur Interview of The Week MAGGIE CAMPBELL PRIVATEER RUM

Rum Connoisseur
Interview of The Week




1.    Who is Maggie Campbell?

Maggie is a current Masters of Wine Student and Head Distiller – Vice President, at Privateer Rum.  She was the founder of the Denver Brewer’s League, currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Craft Spirit Association and chairs their Spirits Judging Committee.  She also serves on the Wine and Spirits Education Trust’s International Advisory Alumni Board, representing North America. She first became interested in learning distilling in 2004 on a trip to Scotland and has since received her Diploma in Craft Distilling Technologies from the Siebel Institute, her Level IV Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and won the Denver Brewsters Women’s brewing competition. She previously worked as assistant distiller at Germain-Robin.

Her advice, ”Read all the books you can and knock on every distillery door you can get to. Having mentors with different philosophies gives you a whole world of tools to pull from.

2.    Biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplish for the rum industry.

It is exciting to feel like Privateer has helped in some small part in opening the discussion on added sweeteners, artificial oak flavor (boise), artificial age flavor (rancio syrup), mouthfeel agents, and coloring additives in rum. When we first started there was a lot more silence around the issue and we felt a lot of push backs from brands who did not want it discussed. Now we are seeing brands open up and talk about their choice of additives with openness. As a distillery who chooses to use no additives it is thrilling to see consumers begin to get excited about a pale hue rum that has been aged for 3+ years in a 3rd or 4th use cask as they know the oxidized and esterified flavors of maturity will really sing free of too much new wood masking the delicacy. It doesn’t have to be a dark amber to be delicious.

3.    What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

I was late to rum. I always thought my career would be in whiskey. I trained to be a whiskey distiller and my diplomas were highly focused on whiskey. I went on to fall in love with brandy distilling in the Cognac style at Germain-Robin but I assumed it was a step towards more whiskey. It wasn’t until Hubert Germain-Robin called me to recommend I work at Privateer that I ever thought of making rum. On the plane to my interview I read Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum and I became thrilled at the freedom rum brings. At Privateer we will distill our amber rum to different marks (different batches come off the still at different strengths meaning some have higher purity while other distillations show richer flavors) and age these different rums in different casks so when we blend them together we get a whole range of complexity. I had never seen that in whiskey. There are many techniques that come from the international community of rum makers that teach you to look at spirits in new ways.

4.    What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?

Now that I make rum I don’t think I will always want it to be the focus of my work because the community is so global and diverse. I get to interact with distillers from Kenya, New Zealand, Australia, China, the Caribbean, all over the Americas, and beyond. There is excellent representation of women and people of color and each distiller I meet thinks in an original way. I can talk to a distiller who thinks about the emotional experience stirred in the drinker one day and the next day talk to someone who is all about the chemistry of ester development in neutral vessel aging. It definitely opened me up from a smaller, more self-referential spirits community.

5.    Favourite Drink + Recipe

I adore Rum Boulevardiers. My local bartender calls them a ‘Killjoy’ after my nickname Killjoy-Campbell. I earned the name by always talking about additives, bulk purchase and repackaged spirits, and the like. Bartenders would joke that I ‘killed Santa’ by opening the discussion to  discuss a lot of the obfuscation and lies in spirits marketing. A good, cold Rum Boulevardier after a long day at the distillery helps restore me.

6.    Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?

It’s hard to say where rum will go. I do see a further premiumization as drinker choose to drink less volume but better quality. I am worried that the (finally) growing interest in rum means less passionate people will jump on the bandwagon and produce products that will turn people off. Rum is tricky as it lacks the oils and structure of whiskey and brandy, you can taste everything in a rum – which is why I think it so often is sweetened and artificially aromatized and flavored to hide things. If a distillery rushes to hop on a fad the lack of attention to quality shows. I do not want to turn off the drinkers who are beginning to treat rum as more than a specialty meant for a niche crowd.

Today I see rum as a thrilling mix from across the globe while being quiet limited in our marketplace. There are so many rums from all over the world that still need to be discovered and expand our minds beyond pirate themed, dosage ridden products. I recently had a cane distillate from a small island in Japan. It was fermented and aged in underground earthenware vessels! There is so much rum to be explored and enjoyed. This contrasts the widespread bulk purchase and repackaging side of rum. There are many brands, even premium ones, that take the same juice and dress it up differently while erasing the roots of the product and the people who worked hard to make it – often people of color. To look at a shelf of rum and realize much of it is the same juice while knowing what treasures are out in the wide world really do reflect the issues of distribution and access. There are thousands of rums out there, and we only see a tiny portion of them in our bars and stores and many of the brands we do get are from the same large companies.

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

Jake Norris, Todd Leopold, and Hubert Germain-Robin have really shaped me as a distiller and helped me get where I am today.

Jake Norris was the founding distiller of Stranahan’s and he always respected me from day one, we met in 2006. We shared a lot of similar taste in music and food so we bonded as real friends. He always reflected back to me that I could be a good distiller even when I had a lot of doubt. I remember him putting his hand on my shoulder on the distilling floor at Stranahan’s and saying ‘next year this time you will be standing here as my peer.’ I was back with my first distiller title six months later. It meant a great deal to me because I was so young and getting taken seriously as a female in whiskey proved more challenging than I expected.

Todd Leopold is an owner and founder of Leopold Brother’s. I first met his Assistant Distiller when they were operating in Michigan and started to sell in the Colorado market. I fell in love with the elegant style immediately. Once they relocated to Colorado I was able to meet Todd and get a private tour of the distillery which, looking back now, I did not realize it was such a rare treat. I really responded to his blend of art and science and calm, confident, non-macho demeanor. He also was incredibly encouraging of me and suggested I get a diploma in distillation when his alma mater began to expand their classes. He has helped me grow a lot technically and we bond over music as well. He is simply the most genuinely kind person in the business and has offered me a lot of support when I have had moments of doubt. When I was offered the job at Privateer I was worried I was not qualified enough and he really pushed me to take the leap – he has done that when I have had nerves about other projects as well. When being pestered because of my gender he is often first to call out the double standard to me in private and let me know I am not crazy, which honestly has made a huge difference or I might have believed people who said I ‘wasn’t ready’ or doubted my knowledge and skill. He has been an amazing ally.

Hubert Germain-Robin never stopped pushing me even when I was ready to walk away. In late 2010 I had become a bit jaded and stepped out of distilling and got back to working in fine wine. He would call me regularly and ask if I was distilling again and I didn’t quite realize why he kept calling, but it was because he didn’t want me to leave behind my deeper passion for distilling. Obviously, working with his 1,200+ barrels of spirit from over 30 years of work was a step into the history of craft distilling in the US, an amazing experience. His attention to quality and the skills I learned from the Cognac technique were incredible and I really can’t be thankful enough for what that experience brought to my skill level and technique. He met Andrew Cabot and reached out to me about distilling there. Truly I have him to thank for bringing my dream from 14 years ago to life.

8.    What 3-5 things do you have in your bucket list for the next 12 month?

I have a view goals in my vision for 2018.

We live on a 65 acre historical farm on the North Shore of Boston and we are looking to put in a grove of historical apple trees. It will be a long process but we are excited to take the first step. It also has the potential to get me back to my brandy roots.

I am taking the Master’s of Wine exam for the second time this June. I passed theory so I only need pass tasting – that is my #1 goal for the year. I have laser focus on that for the next 6 months.

This spring we will be releasing a barrel that I am very very excited about. It has been slumbering for years and I had to fight against our sales team’s needs to keep from harvesting it but soon it will be ready!

9.    How can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?

Our website is and my twitter/Insta handle is @halfpintmaggie and I am pretty active in Instagram.

Author: Jose Hoffmann

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