By Annette Hinkle; Michael Heller photography
Since its heyday as a 19th century whaling port, Sag Harbor has built a reputation as a hard-working town with a penchant for spirits — in more ways than one.
So perhaps it was inevitable in this day of micro-brews and locally sourced food stuffs that someone would produce a drink that evokes the flavor of yesterday.
Business partners Jason Cyril Laan and Michael McQuade are doing just that with Sag Harbor Rum, a decidedly 21st century twist on that most sea-faring of beverages.
The inaugural batch of Sag Harbor Rum is about six weeks from release and is now aging in old bourbon barrels, having been infused with exotic spices and fruits like ginger, black cherry, vanilla, pineapple and a touch of walnut and coffee.
Expect Sag Harbor Rum to hit the shelves of local liquor stores, bars and restaurants sometime in mid-May. A 750 ml bottle is expected to retail for $37 and a total of 6,000 bottles are being produced in this first batch of rum.
For Mr. Laan, it’s about time.
“I’ve been a life-long rum drinker and part of the Sag Harbor sailing community and I felt Sag Harbor was missing its own rum,” says Mr. Laan. “Mike and I worked at Murph’s together last summer and we wanted to do a liquor evoking the spirit of Sag Harbor with its whaling tradition — it’s perfect for an amber rum.”
“We’re not in the liquor marketing business,” he adds. “We’re bartenders who felt the East End needed its own rum.”
“We’ve been coming up with the concepts and we thought about it for a while,” says Mr. McQuade.
Laan brings a fair amount of knowledge to the distilling process, having lived in Amsterdam for six years where he ran a bar with a friend and produced a private label vodka. For Sag Harbor Rum, he and Mr. McQuade are partnering with Baiting Hollow-based Long Island Spirits and Rich Stabile, who brings 20 years of his own experience as a master distiller to the process.
While many big distillers want consistency of flavor in their spirits, Mr. Laan and Mr. McQuade are hoping for the exact opposite with Sag Harbor Rum.
“We’re doing batch numbers and we expect each to be slightly different and have its own profile,” explains Mr. Laan.
Of course, any sailor worth his sea-salt knows rum is made from sugar — not exactly a locally sourced crop. In the old days, seafarers provisioned rum when their ships called at ports in the Caribbean, storing it in whatever empty barrels were on hand. Over time, the rum naturally took on the flavor of the barrel along with whatever fruit or spices had previously been stored in it.
Mr. Laan and Mr. McQuade are using pretty much that same technique in producing Sag Harbor Rum.
“We’ve imported the rum from Trinidad,” explains Mr. Laan. “It’s distilled five times —which means you’re getting the purest rum. We import it at a large volume and put it in bourbon barrels to age here for about six months.”
Mr. Laan explains that initially, the rum doesn’t have much flavor when it arrives from Trinidad and only gains that with time.
“Most alcohols — including whisky or bourbon — get their color and flavor from the wood,” explains Mr. Laan who adds that botanicals such as spices, peppers and fruit are often added in the process. “We’re setting ourselves apart. Instead of traditional tropical flavors, we’re doing nuts, coffee and ginger.”
While there may come a day when Mr. Laan and Mr. McQuade will be able to infuse their rum with locally grown botanicals, for now, the pair are just excited about seeing their first batch of Sag Harbor Rum make it to market.
“We wanted a rum that was a great stand alone — a great sipping rum that mixes well with cocktails or tastes good on its own,” says Mr. Laan. “Because we’re doing small batches and because of the aging process, we wanted that hand-made artisanal feel, which is a bit of a trend right now.”
That feel extends to the hand-drawn label design on the bottle itself — which sports a whale, naturally.
“We’re going around doing pre-sales old school style — door to door, bar to bar — asking people if they’ll take a bottle or do a tasting at liquor stores,” says Mr. Laan. “It’s nice to see these micro industries — that’s what we want to fit into.”
“We don’t want to go outside the South Fork in the first year.”
To learn more about Sag Harbor Rum, visit sagharborrum.com or find them on Facebook.
Sag Harbor Rum Scuttlehole Special
½ oz Vervino Vermouth – Channing Daughters Winery
2 oz Sag Harbor Rum
2 oz San Pellegrino Limonata
Splash of Bitters
The Montauk to Manhattan – a Rum Manhattan
2½ oz Sag Harbor Rum
½ oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
Shake over ice and serve with a cherry of choice