Friday, March 7, 2014
The growth of the craft distilling movement in the United States is on an upward tick, with 467 more craft distillers in this country now than in 2003 according to the American Distilling Institute. Ten of those are in Maine. This increase benefits not just distillers, bartenders, and cocktail aficionados, but farmers. Consider how the three distillers profiled in The Root’s series on Maine’s craft distilled spirits industry have brought another level of value-added agriculture to the state’s food system. Gin, whisky, and brandy made in Maine with ingredients sourced in state are helping Maine farmers pay the bills. How about a toast for the local food and drink movement!
For this group of articles, The Root collaborated with Andrew Volk, a native New Englander, and nationally award-winning bartender who is opening Portland, Maine's first craft cocktail bar, the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club this month.
We are wrapping up this series with Bartlett Maine Estate Winery’s spirits division Spirits of Maine Distillery in Gouldsboro, Maine.
“Bartlett as a farm winery/distillery is as good as it gets,” said Bill Owens, founder and president of the American Distilling Institute. “Located in the Maine woods it is a trip well worth the time and effort. He did it right.”
When Bob Bartlett and his wife Kathe arrived in Maine in 1975 they brought with them a passion and knowledge of wine-making. In 1983 they opened Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro and became the first winemakers in the state. In 2007, the couple added a distillery to produce pear eau de vie and apple brandy (the apples are sourced from Maine producers). Two months ago they introduced Rusticator Rum made with organic molasses sourced from South America.
Bob’s childhood (his father was a biochemist and mother a harpist) laid the groundwork for what has become a creative life full of science projects. At any given time Bob has rebuilt a Triumph TR4 and 1949 Vincent, studied enology at Cornell University, and assisted on a Roman-Etruscan dig. It was only natural he decided to pursue distilling, a process many consider an art form, albeit one that requires a solid handle on science. Of course, one need only look at his choice of a still for a primary clue as to what this man is about. Bartlett uses a German custom-designed handmade copper pot still, a carefully crafted fine-tuned instrument combining aesthetics and function, which allows him to distill whatever he wants. The still is steam heated, which Bob believes gives him the best control.
Distilling ethanol, which is produced by the fermentation of sugars, creates rum, like other alcoholic beverages. Bob approaches the process of fermentation like a palette of characters he can then blend, rather than go one straight course. The distillate (liquid product that results from the distillation process) is aged in barrels. Bob uses new French oak barrels to age his rum. He prefers new, because he does not want the influence or character of a used barrel on the rum. “A barrel is like a condiment,” he said. “Like mustard and ketchup on a burger, it’s just adding different dimensions, more complexity.” Bartlett’s Rusticator Rum is butterscotchy with a sort of smoky finish.
Photo by Spencer Charles/Louise Fili Ltd
The name 'Rusticator Rum' references people from the Boston, New York, and Philadelphia areas, who beginning in the mid-nineteenth century traveled to Mount Desert Island for the summer. Bob chose Louise Fili, an inspiring graphic designer (her work is in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and the Biliothéque Nationale) to design the label.
“When Bob Bartlett explained to me about the influx of rusticators to Maine, I knew that I wanted to design a label with late-nineteenth century charm,” said Louise Fili. “The type was hand lettered based on printers' samples from the period. A die-cut deckled edge completed the historic look of the label.”
Andrew – What is your approach in balancing the art of craft and the science?
Bob – There’s always this fight with design, about form and function. They are kind of the same thing. Everybody has his or her philosophy on whether form comes first or function comes first. If you are an engineer you always say function first and form follows. To me, they should be together, not one should be ahead of the other. When you do that, you have the most ultimate design or the best product really I think. I try to keep in balance. A lot of times you to try to do something new and be creative, that part overtakes. Ideally you can put it all together. They both dictate if they work equally together… the best product, the best architecture, the best flavor. In architecture and art design, some say function some say form I think they are both important.
Andrew – With spirits what was the goal when you set out? To create a specific style, to express a certain flavor?
Bob – Yes somewhat, usually kind of what I like stimulates me to do something. I like gin, might be the next thing. Have you ever seen “The Piano” filmed in New Zealand? It took me a while to figure out…(there is an) image of this kid and pathways. He goes down one pathway, and like life you make something and it takes you in another direction. In a way it’s circumstance that has a lot to do with what’s happening. In life (there are) so many things to do and experience. I didn’t intend to do rum, but I like rum, and we’ve been to the islands and had some pretty good stuff. I thought what the hell dive in and learn about (it).
Bob is the genuine article, a “real McCoy.” Herein begins our final lesson in Maine’s history in regard to distilled spirits. According to Bob, the McCoy brothers used to haul booze from Florida to Maine on a schooner. The term 'the real McCoy' is derived from them, because they sold the real thing, while a lot of bootleggers during Prohibition supposedly did not. “They were smart, hauling off in international waters and someone from the coast would go out and meet them and haul in so the government couldn’t do anything about them for a long time," said Bob. “Finally they got caught. Very enterprising guys.”
According to Wayne Curtis in his book And a Bottle of Rum, Captain William Kidd, one of the most notorious pirates in history and the likely real life inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver enjoyed a punch of “rum, water, lime-juice, egg yolk, sugar and a little nutmeg scrap’d on top.”
In honor of Bob Bartlett’s enterprising spirit and passion for great tales, Andrew Volk has created not one, but two cocktail recipes.
Andrew Volk’s Recipes
'Ti Punch is short for petit punch. It's usually made with rhum agricole, a product from Martinique, but Bob Bartlett's Rusticator Rum works well here too.
In a large old fashioned glass, squeeze 1/2 lime and add 1 teaspoon of rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water). Add 2 ounces of Rusticator rum and several large ice cubes. Garnish with the used lime hull. Adjust sugar as necessary; there are no hard and fast rules for 'Ti Punch.
A Rum Negroni made with a nice, funky rum like Rusticator adds a bit of zip to a traditional cocktail.
1 oz Rusticator rum
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Add all ingredients to a glass. Fill with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a strip of orange peel.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.