It’s in the mix. Yes, the mix of sugarcane juice, water, molasses, yeast, sea salt, water and various spices that go into Miami Club rum, the new spirit distilled in our city. But it’s also in the music mix, as if some vibe from Ultra had slipped uptown toward Wynwood and “Miami’s first legal distillery,” a fine point founder Matt Malone is quick to make, Miami being the kind of (magic) city where there has always been more than meets the eye.
A pentagram with a fragment of melody graces the bottles’ label, acknowledging the role played by music in the aging process, when upbeat Latin tempos like salsa and merengue pour from ’70s vintage Bose speakers facing the rum.
“The bass line agitates the French oak and releases the flavors,” Malone explains, adding that beyond the physical action, “some people believe the music’s energy goes into the liquids.” Thus, “no talk radio, no news.”
In March, Miami Club won the Gold Medal for Best White Rum at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, so the party groove might be working. But like most parties, it took some work.
Malone began nine years ago, inspired by his wife’s family tradition of rum-making in Puerto Rico: the small-batch Ron Caneca.
“We had old family recipes, but they didn’t work for us here, so we started from scratch.”
Everyone told Malone his distillation had to mix with Coca-Cola because that’s how most rum is consumed, so he went with a sugar and molasses blend that was mixable. In a nod to Miami Cubans, Malone calls a Miami Club Rum and Coke Mentirita — “ little lie” — rather than the original, and, for exiles, incorrect name, Cuba Libre.
Miami Club is more than local, locavore. Even the water is Miami’s own tap, which Malone claims is “fantastic for fermentation.”
The distillery grows its own yeast, and most of the oils and extracts added to the sugarcane juice are Florida-grown. This is not a spiced rum, though that is in the planning, but herbal seasonings are needed to make a classic rum. And, among the distillery’s cocktail recipes, there’s a mojito made with organic Florida sugar, Ritz soda and Florida limes.
After running through vats and stills, the juices are so alcoholic they knock your nose off, so they are gradually cut with purified water, heated, left open or closed, and finally clarified, “a highly proprietary and most difficult process,” Malone says. “No one would tell me anything. It’s very secret.”
One thing he deliberately kept was the molasses aroma, something not found in most commercial rums. A whiff of molasses, redolent of Caribbean sugarcane mills, is what makes rum rum, as opposed to something closer to sugarcane vodka.
“The bottling process is done by hand,” Malone says. And he grabs a bottle, opens a spout and fills it. The labels are put on by hand, as is the waxing of the top and Malone’s signature on each bottle.
How does it taste? No professional judge, this taster concludes that it tastes like rum should taste at its best. Though an aòejo will be bottled in three years, if one is not fond of the taste of wood, this white spirit is quintessence of rum, its molasses notes nostalgic on the nose, the liquid smooth and kind to the palate.
Mixable? At this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, it was served in a passion fruit cocktail, which was quite tasty but, like most cocktails, hid the nature of the spirit. Drunk straight, its virtues are revealed.
In the meantime, Matt Malone is enjoying his upbeat-music party. Approaching middle age but looking like a college kid, he’s having “an amazing midlife crisis,” he says. “I wanted to make something that if the business failed and I didn’t sell it, I could drink it.”
Enrique Fernandez can be reached at efdll43@ gmail.com.