The first person to shout, “I need a rumrunner!” was not a vacationer basking in the sun on a tropical island in need of a frothy frozen drink. Rum is an inspiration rooted in a long history in America. From the colonists and settlers, to the pirates and sailors, to prohibition’s illegal rumrunners and now our present-day drinkers of mojitos and piña coladas, travelers of all kinds enjoy the delicious spirit. Let’s take an American Rum Tour!
Invented by slaves in Caribbean sugar plantations who discovered molasses fermentation, Rum quickly migrated north. By the 18th century, almost all rum exported from the West Indies was shipped to North America, and colonists were already distilling their own versions.
Today, the creative spin on rum mixology has taken over bars across America, but the real magic happens in the distilleries. What is better than relaxing by the water while sipping a rum cocktail? Probably sipping on a fresh-brewed rum cocktail while watching how it all happens — also by the water.
The following rum distilleries welcome you to taste and tour their creative techniques that are revolutionizing the sugarcane-based libation and resurrecting the American rum tradition.
South Hollow Spirits
North Truro, MA
“Dedicated to all the bootleggers of Cape Cod” is the slogan here, as it was the first distillery on the peninsula since Prohibition. The facility makes handcrafted rums using a 250-gallon copper pot, blending botanicals by hand and bottling and labeling on-site. You can tour the beautiful Truro Vineyards and distillery alongside Cape Cod Bay and check out the famous Cape Cod Spiced Rum, Twenty Boat Cape Cod Amber Rum and the Twenty Boat White Rum. Sample them all and take a tour for only $10.
Where to Dock: Provincetown Marina
Inspired by longtime urban legends of ship captains spotting serpent-like creatures in Lake Erie, the famous “Fathoms Below” spiced rum is the first of its kind in Buffalo. Located along the coast of Lake Erie at the west end of the Erie Canal, the name Lakeward Spirits celebrates the region’s strong industrial history and Great Lakes maritime heritage. Visit the tasting room and factory store to sample the famous vapor-infused spiced rum made with an eight-spice blend. The cozy wood and brick building, live acoustic music, and the taste of a smooth vanilla, toffee and cinnamon blend sinking into your stomach gives this family-owned distillery a charming, homey feel.
Where to Dock: Erie Basin Marina
Lyon Distilling Co.
St. Michaels, MD
This nano-distillery established in 2013 is located in the Old Mill District on the Chesapeake Bay, offering spirit sales, tastings, tours and gorgeous sunsets. The signature line of handcrafted rums is made with carefully sourced raw ingredients, mashed, fermented and double distilled in ultra small batches. The creative crafts include rums ranging from white and dark, to coconut and coffee flavored, to an over-proof French oak finish. Put their best dark rum to good use and ask about recipes such as the Chesapeake Nor’easter or the Tiki Rum Old-Fashioned. Open seven days a week in a lovely location, this is a true Eastern Shore gem.
Where to Dock: St. Michaels Marina
Potomac Distilling Company
Drink a frozen rum and coke while watching yachts cruise down the Washington Channel at District Wharf’s new rum distillery. Brewing and serving Thrasher’s urban rum, the space doubles as a distillery and a three-level tropical-style tiki bar overlooking The Wharf’s newly developed marina. The tiki bar, Tiki TNT, offers Polynesian-style island fare to go with specialty handcrafted rum cocktails. With plans to expand, the first signature rums launched so far include white, gold, traditional spiced and a specialty “green-spiced” rum, made with a unique blend of botanicals.
Where to Dock: The Wharf Marina
Just off the Atlantic coast in southeast Georgia sits the only single-estate rum distillery in America, meaning it’s the only U.S. rum distillery that does not use outside products or ingredients. Both of Richland’s Georgia locations sit on beautiful acres of land that house a unique process, in fact, the only of its kind in the country. Sugarcane is completely homegrown at the estate and reduced to 100% unrefined pure sugarcane syrup, the same method rum makers used centuries ago. It is then fermented into a syrup wine of about 13% alcohol by volume, and intricately distilled and aged in virgin white oak barrels. Take a tour that shows a first-hand experience to every step of the process.
Where to Dock: Brunswick Landing Marina
Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
Key West, FL
Florida’s island cities are the closest to the Caribbean — so they better have some good rum! Key West natives claim to be the first to rum-run to Cuba on the Schooner Wolf, so the region upholds a tradition of perfecting the craft. Mojito- master Paul Menta (whose last name literally translates to “mint” in Spanish), and his partners Tony and Jill Mantia, opened the distillery in 2013 at a former Coca-Cola bottling plant. They offer guided and self-guided tours to witness the distillers live at work, all completely free of charge. They even offer free mojito-making classes every Monday to Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Try the cinnamon- flavored Key West Devil’s Rum, the red wine and salt-cured Bad Bitch Spanish Marie Rum, or the Duval Street Spiced Rum, named after the downtown district. Be sure to grab fresh-baked rum cake and rum-filled chocolates while you’re there!
Where to Dock: Conch Harbor Marina
Papa’s Pilar Hemingway Rum Co.
Key West, FL
A few steps away from Key West Legal Rum Distillery, the seaport city harbors another rum-producing gem. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway and named after his beloved boat, Pilar, rum distilled here is hand-selected from Florida, Central America and the Caribbean — an ode to Hemingway and the places where he lived. The rum is intricately married together in a proprietary solera blending process, meaning a fixed quantity is carefully calculated Through a mathematical solution. Specialties include the Blonde Rum, a light, summertime flavor with hints of vanilla and coconut, as well as the caramel-flavored Dark Rum, perfect for fall. Purchase guided tour tickets for $10.
Where to Dock: A&B Marina
A beautiful coastline and some of the world’s tallest trees align the small town of Humboldt County in northwest California. As the first micro-distillery on the north coast, Humboldt specializes in organic rum by using pristine water sourced from a watershed originating in old-growth redwood forests. With a focus on organic rums, the selection includes a vanilla and fruity-flavored spiced rum, and original gold rum with hints of caramel and toffee. Both are double distilled in small batches from all-organic sugarcane grown solely in America. Tastings and tours are scheduled by appointment only.
Where to Dock: Humboldt Bay Harbor
Old Harbor Distilling
San Diego, CA
In San Diego’s East Village, just off the coast of San Diego Bay, Old Harbor Distilling Co. has been known for gin — but that is changing. The specialty Barrelflag Navy Strength Rum, equaling to 114 proof, is said to be strong enough to ignite a flame if you were to soak gunpowder in it. Distilled from a blend of pure cane sugar and black strap molasses, the unique flavor makes for a perfect Mai Tai — if you like em’ strong, of course. The nautical-themed distillery serves as an ode to the nearby naval base and the community’s maritime history. Tickets to tour and sample are $10.
Where to Dock: Bahia Resort Hotel Marina
Channel Islands Distillery
Less than a mile from the shoreline, this SoCal distillery is famous for its Grey Ghost Rum, inspired by the rum-running ship that crashed into Channel Island in 1926 while being fired upon by the U.S. Coast Guard. This limited edition, extra dark rum is fermented from all-organic, dark whole cane sugar and distilled in an old-world pot for a deep molasses flavor. The facility offers food and cocktail pairings, cigar and spirit pairings, as well as tastings and tours made by appointment.
Where to Dock: Safe Harbor Ventura Isle