Alcohol and Tradition
9:00 am
Fri July 5, 2013

Celia-Infused Rum: Distillery Keeps Family Tradition Alive

 

Miami Club Rum, located in the heart of Wynwood, was launched in November of 2012.  Owner and operator Matt Malone’s family comes from a long history of rum making: his children are the sixth generation of rum makers in a tradition that dates back to the 1800's. So, after his grandfather-in-law passed away, Malone decided to bring the family tradition from Puerto Rico to Miami. 

And some new Florida legislation is helping keep that tradition alive. More on that after a quick history:

Rum's Shaky History In The U.S.

Measuring and tasting in the distillery
Measuring and tasting in the distillery
Credit Gabriella Watts / WLRN

Rum in the United States dates back to the mid-1600's and was initially America’s favorite spirit.   Main ingredients sugar and molasses were steadily streaming in from England’s other colonies in the Caribbean.

But unfortunately for rum, whiskey took over as “the spirit of America,” and there was even a “Whiskey Rebellion” when George Washington taxed the distillers at the end of the 18th century.  

In the 1920's, the United States could no longer sip on spirits. At the time the average man was drinking multiple bottles of whiskey a week, and across the country there were thousands of distilleries feeding the masses. So, women, at the forefront of the temperance movement, demanded the government stop the mass consumption.

Another theory points to a conspiracy between big business and the government to shut down the smaller distilleries to make room for the distilling oligarchy.

Whether the reason or not, fewer than 20 distilleries remained. Of course, throughout the 1920's, bootleggers and moonshiners in the countryside and gangsters in the cities sold liquor to the public.

Even though distilleries could reopen their doors in the 1930's, they remain highly regulated to this day. Federally, it is illegal to distill alcohol (but feel free to distill water and oils) unless you are a licensed distiller at the federal, state, and local level. Complicated, yes, but that did not stop Matt Malone, whose distillery required more than a dozen distilling licenses.

Keeping The Rum Tradition Local

Miami Club Rum is a family business, uses all local ingredients, sells to local businesses, and has a retro-chic-mid-century-cool flair. “Retro-chic-mid-century-cool” is the official branding style of Malone’s distillery. 

The entry room is decorated with mid-century art, including a large slab of metal called “the man in the moon,” and images of Miss America and Miss USA through the ages.

The mid-century flair is in the art on the walls and also in the equipment. One of Malone’s habits: “I name everything.” The wine vats are named Margaret, Eva, Greta, and Rock Hudson. The still: Sugar Lips.

Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of Miami Club Rum is the aging, which is done in the “music infusion tanks.”

Credit Gabriella Watts

Malone explains that music is played 24-7 in the distillery, not just for the pleasure of the four-person distilling team but also for the rum itself: “We use music as a sonic tool to vibrate the wood inside these tanks… And as you can hear in the background, each aging tank has a vintage Bose 901 speaker set up against it to play classic music.” The soundtrack includes Celia Cruz, salsa, meringue, and the classics. And during bottling: opera. Even the bottle says that the rum is infused with music.

Miami Club Rum has only been on the market for 7 months, but its distribution is already going international: it has exported to Zurich, and is looking to send rum to London and Australia this month. Malone says he wants Miami Club Rum to grow, but of course, stay here in Miami.

To help out distilleries, a Florida law just went into effect that now allows distillers to sell their products in-house. Previously, distillers could only sell through a distributor. But, of course in this highly regulated industry, there’s a catch: only two products per customer per year.

This seems limited, but Malone says this can help their retro-chic-mid-century-cool branding: “We’re doing tours here. We’re going to have tastings. We will be able to sell a distillery-only bottle that is a memento more than our typical bottle so we can build brand-loyalty.”

And Miami Club Rum does have a pretty swanky, in-house only bottle design. 

You can find Miami Club Rum in liquor stores around Miami and in restaurants like Zuma, Michael’s Genuine, Abbracci, and Tarpon Bend to name a few. 

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