Molasses-based rum worthy of a snifter

GOULDSBORO — Put down the rum and Coke.

Bartlett Winery and Spirits of Maine Distillery has launched a fine rum, made from organic molasses sourced in South America.

Rusticator Rum can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

Bob Bartlett who owns and operates the winery and distillery with his wife, Kathe, describes Rusticator as tasting like butterscotch and “almost lemon-limey.”

“It’s got a smooth finish,” he said. “It’s great in drinks like mojitos. It’s good on the rocks with some lime and a little grated nutmeg.”

This is the winery’s 31st year. The couple added a distillery in 2007 to create pear eau de vie and apple brandy, although Bob’s interest in distilling stems from childhood.

Bartlett asked his father, who was a research biochemist, how to ferment. His father wouldn’t tell him, so Bob took matters in his own hands, buying cider from a local mill and sneaking it into the woods to break down.

That childhood creation fell short, but Bartlett has won awards for his Pear Eau de Vie and Apple Brandy, which he distills in a German-made copper potstill using traditional European techniques.

Bartlett distills the rum in the same copper potstill.

“Rum’s always intrigued me,” Bartlett said. “I got a hold of some really good organic molasses, so I made it.”

Bartlett said he had planned to next distill a batch of gin because he is interested in botanicals. However, the organic molasses, which is from South America, came along, so he launched the rum first.

The rum received a rating of 88, a “very good, strong recommendation” in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge at Astor Center in New York in March.

The Ultimate Spirits Challenge aims to offer spirits producers, importers and marketers the opportunity to gain an unbiased evaluation and authoritative endorsement. Challenge judges are the most experienced spirits, wine and cocktail experts in the world.

“Many are beverage-buyers while others are award-winning journalists, authors, bar owners, bartenders and educators,” according to the organization. “Each one has spent copious amounts of time blind tasting with judging chairman F. Paul Pacult over the past two decades.”

The judges’ tasting notes about Rusticator Rum are as follows: “Robust aromas of vanilla, toffee and cigar smoke give way to faint traces of lime and banana. In the mouth vanilla, brown sugar and a subtle touch of salinity work their magic and lend a hand to a long, sweet finish.”

The rum is named for the “rusticators” who came to Maine from cities at the turn of the century for fresh air and exercise.

Maine chef Jonathan Chase, Bartlett notes, once said Bartlett wines embody the rusticity of Maine.

And, Maine had a significant history in the rum trade, Bartlett said.

According to a history on website mainememory.net, Maine traded with the West Indies during the late 18th century and much of the 19th century. The islands had been deforested for sugarcane plantations and lumber was needed for sugar and rum barrels. The islands also sought food since much of their land was reserved for cash crops. Schooners returned to Maine from the West Indies with shipments of partially refined molasses to be transformed into rum in northeastern distilleries, including Maine distilleries.

Bartlett is meticulous about every aspect of his products, including labels and bottles. The bottles are made in the United States. The Bartletts have been working with the same graphic designer to create their product labels for several years.

Rusticator Rum can be found on store shelves this month.

The Bartletts opened their Gouldsboro winery in 1983. Today, they produce nearly 7,000 cases a year. Bartlett Winery has more than 20 varieties of wine, which, range from dry and semi-dry blueberry reds to pear-apple whites, sweet blackberry dessert wines and honey meads.

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