Rum with a punch: Raleigh Rum hits sweet spot with aged, dark spirit

Some of the best rums I’ve tried come from, well, you guessed it, North Carolina.

Then again, you may have little idea of the great spirits, including spiced, aged and unaged rum, made in the Tar Heel State.

North Carolina distillers from Asheville to the Outer Banks are making unique rums — Outer Banks Distilling, for instance, has a sipping rum infused with pecans and honey. TOPO makes an organic spiced rum, and Muddy River Distillery makes a coconut rum. Lassiter Distilling Co. is making a wonderful lightly aged rum. Rums are also coming out of Fair Game Beverage Co., and Broadslab Distillery, as well as H&H Distillery. The list goes on, and it’s growing.

Raleigh Rum, for instance, is making something quite different and understandably enticing. It’s new 80-proof Sweet Dark Rum, begins with its base product, made with blackstrap molasses and brown sugar. The sweet rum is aged in American oak barrels and, before bottling, finished with a bit of molasses.

It’s nicely sweet but far from cloying. Rum with a punch, so to speak.

Friends John Benefiel, Matt Grossman, and Chris Mendler grew up in the area and all went to college in the state’s “Triangle.” They often met at the Flying Saucer, a venerable beer bar in downtown Raleigh. Somebody mentioned starting a brewery, Benefiel told me for “Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.”

The beer market was packed, though.

“Can we open a distillery here in Raleigh?” says Benefiel, recalling the conversation. “What would we call it? Raleigh Rum Company?”

Yep.

“It was a two-minute conversation. We said, ‘This is a great idea. We can do it.’”

The friends moved into their current space in July 2014 with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. They set things up and waited. By 2015, Raleigh Rum was in business with one relatively small electric six-plate copper reflux still.

Recipes were tossed, reimagined, and reworked. The distillers decided to soak the white liquor in oak chips as a means of mellowing and flavoring the spirits.

“It was good, but it wasn’t smooth enough,” Benefiel told me.. “It wasn’t that it was bad, but there was just something that was missing. We really wanted to smooth it out. You could still taste the alcohol—the heavy alcohol. When we put it on the oak, it really just pulls out a lot of those flavors, really mellows it out. Then we distill it again. It really flavors it, really smooths it out. It’s delicious.

“That kind of sets us apart from others.”

The distillery released its spiced rum, using the white rum as a base, in December 2015. The Spiced Rum includes ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne and is aged in barrels donated by a local brewery.

Raleigh Rum now has two small stills.

“We’re going to go the small route. We like the taste, we like the flavor profiles of the smaller stills, and this is how we’re going to continue to roll.”

Tours of the distillery are typically given each Saturday.