We recently had a chance to chat with Kate Perry, renowned rum-head, former manager of Rumba in Seattle, and now the North American Market Manager for La Maison & Velier, to ask some burning questions we had about what LM&V does, the Gargano Classification of rum, and the spirit in general. Here are some highlights and hot takes to get us all excited about these hot new arrivals in the rum world.
How did the partnership of Velier and La Maison Du Whisky come to be?
La Maison du Whisky is a spirits powerhouse that started as a retail shop and progressed into importation and distribution. They have 2 beautiful shops in Paris, plus a shop in Singapore and La Reunion island. They have been in business for 60 years and are super skilled and strong in European spirits - mostly Scotch whisky and Cognac. Velier is an import and distribution company based in Genoa, Italy. They import and distribute many brands in the Italian market. Helmed by legendary Luca Gargano, Velier was the first company to see an opportunity for the rum market in Italy and began importing rums in the 1990s. Now they are considered to be the foremost company in the research and celebration of authentic rum. Velier started several ranges more as passion and research projects than as "brands" - Luca loves to share his discoveries with the world. The two companies have been friendly for a long time, with LMDW suggesting interesting whiskies to Velier, and Velier introducing interesting rum companies to LMDW. Their partnership grew closer and closer until they started a new company, La Maison & Velier in 2017. LM&V is the global distributor of six companies: Velier, La Maison du Whisky, Everglades (Hampden Estate), Palenqueros (Mezcal), The Spirit of Haiti (Clairin) and Mulassano Vermouth.
The arrival of La Maison & Velier marks an influx of pure, unadulterated Caribbean rum to the American market. What sets Velier apart from other independent bottlers?
Talking about rum specifically, the thing that sets "Velier Rum" apart from independent bottlers is that they are not an independent bottler! Velier is a DEPENDENT bottler - everything is done as a partnership. Velier rums celebrate the distillery as the protagonist of the liquid (and in the Habitation line, the still itself). The distiller is the artist, Velier is the liaison between the artist and the market. They never buy stock off the broker or blenders market in Europe, everything is a direct connection with distillers. The bottles are always tropically aged in the home source of the liquid. Velier believes that aging is terroir - if I was taken out of my home as a baby and raised across the globe, I would still be Kate Perry but I would be a very different Kate Perry. The same is true for liquid - taking Jamaican rum out of Jamaica and having it mature somewhere else creates something that is no longer "Jamaican Rum." Velier considers this to be an act of colonialism. Velier is not a colonialist bottler. Tropically aged, high or full proof, no additives and sugar free. Velier symbolizes the return to authentic rum as a spirit that demands and deserves respect.
The Habitation Velier line contains one specific category of rum, what is “Pure Single Rum”?
Pure Single Rum is 100% pot still rum from a single distillery. There are 49 distilleries in the Caribbean with only 18 using pot still distillation, for a grand total of 38 pot stills. Habitation Velier's Pure Single Rums are the celebration of the pot still. This goes hand in hand with the Gargano Classification that follows the Scotch Whisky protocol: Pure Single Rum, Single Blended Rum (a blend of pot + traditional column distillate from a single distillery), Traditional Rum (single or double column still distillate from a single distillery) and simply "Rum" or multicolumn distillate.
Why create the Gargano Classification?
The world of rum is a mess. There are thousands of brands, official distillery bottlings, bottlings with no distillery stated, and marketing projects. The way that we describe rum is outdated and no longer reflects the identity of the liquid in the bottle. One common way to describe rum is by "color" - white, gold, dark. This means nothing! White rum could either be unaged OR aged and charcoal filtered to remove color. Gold rum could mean it is lightly aged or has a bit of color added. "Dark rum" could mean it's well aged in a tropical climate or just has a whole lot of caramel coloring added. Slightly better is "French, Latin, British." French and Latin-style rums are more coherent. AOC Martinique is highly regulated so production method is more or less the same. "Latin rums" are often big brands with big volume and so are made on multicolumn stills with big production. I don't know what "British style" means - if you have rum from Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, how can you classify all these rums under "British" when the liquid and taste is nothing alike? This system is out of date - especially if you consider that we are classifying a spirit by the Colonialists that enslaved the islands. Let's stop doing that.
It's common to see Rum by Country listed on menus around the world. This is a little more reasonable because it relates the liquid in your glass to a real place. But again, we need a better system of communication. A rum from Barbados could mean it is pot still sugar cane syrup, a blend of column and pot still, or neutral spirit off a multicolumn still. You can't understand what is in your glass when the production style is so diverse. The Gargano Classification seeks to create a new language to describe rum in terms of production. Every rum fits into this classification because it describes all of the ways possible to make rum. As long as you can identify where the spirit comes from and how it was made, you can classify the rum. There's a line down the middle of the classification and to the right is all of the rums that do not declare where the rum comes from. If we do not know how the rum was made, we cannot define it in the classification so it lives outside. I hope to see less and less of these rums in the future, with the credit given back to the producers as the artists of the spirit.
The Habitation Worthy Park 2005 and 2007 were made at the same distillery, on the same still, with the same molasses source. What can you expect from these bottlings?
The 2005 and 2007 are both the WPL (Worthy Park Light) marque - ester count between 60-199 g/hLAP. Same marque, same 10 year age, same ex-bourbon barrels, but they taste so completely different! You really see the progression of the distillery style from their first year in production to just 2 years later. 2005 is the first year they started distilling after a 42 year hiatus. It's the oldest juice possible from Worthy Park and super cool. But man, 2007 just sings, maybe it's 2 years of use on the their stills. 2005 is scotch like, precise, lean, and spice driven. The 2007 is so expansive and lush. Tasting them next to each other is a treat!!!
How does the idea of terroir play into Clairin and Hampden Estate?
For The Spirit of Haiti, terroir is everything. The liquid is the distillation of local heritage sugarcane that is fermented with the wild yeast of the villages, pot-distilled once only and bottled at still proof. It is terroir, distilled into your glass. Fresh cane spirit has to be terroir driven because it is an agricultural product - the cane has to be squeezed and fermented within a short time from harvest or it will go bad. It can only be harvested in the dry season, too much rain dilutes the sugar and makes it difficult to cut. Fresh sugar cane spirit is the essence of terroir - and Clairin is this times a thousand because of the use of heritage cane, wild fermentation, and pot distillation.
For Everglade Farms, terroir is at the focus of production as well. Nestled on the edge of the Trelawny Valley, Hampden Estate makes rum today as they have for 265 years! They use Jamaican molasses that is combined with dunder and sugarcane syrup, fermented with the natural yeast of the valley, pot distilled and aged at the distillery. Spring water from a local spring is used in production and to proof the spirit. Hampden Estate is the celebration of ancestral Jamaican Trelawny rum, and is quite possibly the best rum in the world based on these five pillars: Spring Water, Natural Yeast, 100% Pot Still, Tropical Aging, Sugar Free.
Clairin has taken the world by storm, and has been called the new Mezcal by many. What’s next for Velier and Clairin?
Who would have thought that a spirit from the forest of Haiti could create such a stir! It's been really amazing to see the enthusiasm for Clairin in the US market! Europe has had this spirit for 3 "vintages" already, but you're right - it's like wild fire in the US right now. I feel so much pride for the distillers Michel Sajous, Fritz Vaval and Faubert Casimir. The 4th Clairin will be landing with the next vintage. Le Rocher is completely different than Sajous, Vaval and Casimir which are all made from sugar cane juice. Le Rocher is made from syrup from the village of St Michel de l'Attalaye (where Sajous comes from, considered the "Grand Cru" of Clairin). Le Rocher is a bit of a cross between Clairin and Jamaican rum - they use dunder to boost the flavor intensity during fermentation like old Jamaican distilleries. You don't sip Le Rocher, you chew it. It's rich and meaty and even more wild than the Casimir. Extreme funk lover juice - like you guys at Bitters & Bottles!
What has changed in the life of these Clairin producers?
Even though only a small amount of production is channeled into The Spirit of Haiti bottles (most is still sold locally to their respective villages), I know that the producers are really proud to have their liquid in bottles with their name on it. Until these bottles, Clairin was consumed out of plastic water bottles or jugs filled up at the distillery or at the village emporium. If you wanted to drink Clairin, you would fill up your jug then go home and drink Clairin. Fritz Vaval is a super great person - he is proud to employ over 20 families at his distillery in Cavaillon. The Spirit of Haiti is really a friendship. Michel, Fritz & Faubert have come all over the world with Luca to talk about Clairin and see the wild fire spread for themselves. Michel and Faubert were even in New York earlier this year at the LM&V launch event in Brooklyn. They are really friends and involved in the company.
The Transcontinental Rum Line’s central hook is the partial continental aging. What’s the benefit?
Transcontinental Rum Line is the independent bottling of La Maison du Whisky. It is a range of rums that are bought off the same blenders market in Europe as many other independent bottlers, but they aim to be as transparent as possible with all of the information regarding their "passage." Rum has been brought from the Caribbean to Europe for over 300 years, and was historically blended, bottled and branded in Europe. This range is a playful tribute to that history, while opening the conversation about tropical vs. continental aging. Each bottle lists exactly how long the liquid spent in the tropics and how long in the continental climate. These bottles tend to be a bit higher in ABV than other independent bottlers (43-60% ABV) and have no sugar or additives. Panama, Jamaica, Guadeloupe and South Pacific will remain constants, with a rotating single cask at cask strength.
Are we gonna run out of Caroni soon?!?
Probably! It's all been allocated to current and future US markets. When it's gone, it is gone!