Interview with Duncan Taylor’s Peter Currie

This time we have Duncan Taylor‘s Global Sales Manager Peter Currie and his team in charge of the selection process answering a few questions. Thanks a lot for taking the time to do so!

Duncan Taylor has a long history in bottling Scotch Whisky. What was your motivation to start bottling rum as well and more generally, what is your philosophy when it comes to choosing and bottling Rum?

We are not distillers. As bottlers and blenders, our expertise is in sourcing quality spirits and maturing these in the best quality Oak casks we can source, and then bottling at high-proof without colouring or chill-filtration.
We always felt this skill is transferable to other spirit categories, and our intention was always to use our expertise into other spirits categories including gin, rum, bourbon, Irish whisky and cognac.
Initially our intention was to blend all the Rum casks together and bottle them under our ‘Fiddlers Green’ brand. However, when we started sampling the rum, we quickly realised the massive range of flavours in each cask/age/distillery and the variations between sugar cane/molasses and Pot/Column distillation. Our whisky instincts and expertise in Single Cask bottling kicked in, and we realised that it would be a waste to blend these together. The decision was made to bottle these as single casks under the Duncan Taylor label (however, we have created a couple of single vintage Caribbean Blends).

Your first wave of releases in 2012 was a big surprise with many Rums of not only very good quality but also with relatively rare vintages. Did you buy them over time or were they all available when Duncan Taylor entered the market? Could you elaborate on that process? 

These casks were purchased over time, and had all been maturing in Scotland. A quick look at the market told us that we had some very special casks including many closed distilleries. Also, the extra maturation in Scotland had caused the strengths to drop and the character of the rums to change dramatically. This only added to the ‘uniqueness’ of the casks, and we felt that our Scotch customers would be on-board with this project, and we could also gain some new fans within the rum drinking market.

If you ask me and many other rum geeks, the quality of your released decreased a little bit after that initial wave even though you still release some of the better Rums out there. Does your history in Whisky and the connections to Whiskybrokers help you getting the precious barrels?

Yeah, I think our connections in the Whisky Industry have helped us source the rum casks. We have now bottled almost 100 casks of Rum for distribution throughout the world, and we are the first to admit that every Single Casks won’t appeal to everyone. That’s what keeps a company like us in business, tastes vary from country to country, and we are not trying to appeal to the masses. Big brands are all about consistency and will offer sweet, middle of the road flavours. Our fans come to us looking for more extreme, concentrated flavours, be it Peat, Sherry or the overripe banana, hogo and dunder found in some of these rums! Luckily, we will only have a couple of hundred bottles from the cask to sell, and we have not had any problems finding homes for these.

Can you maybe explain the process Duncan Taylor is going through when deciding which barrel to bottle!?

We usually select about 20 casks for analysis, and have a panel of 8 people who sample these and decide which casks are ready for bottling, and which markets they will be offered to (i.e US, Europe or Asia).
With Scotch Whisky, most of the time they are in agreement when a cask is ready, but we get less consensus on the rum. Many of these rums have such extreme flavours that we rarely get 100% agreement (except with Caroni’s!) In cases like this, they have to look at the quality of the product, even if it doesn’t necessarily appeal to the individual palate. Sometimes we bottle a cask as it has such a unique flavour, and we know that some will hate it, however there will be enough people who will absolutely love it.

You bottle all of your rums at some rather odd abvs. Do you have a system behind this or how do you decide how much water to add? Why do you do it at all?

All the rums we bottle are at cask strength, with the exception on anything bottled at 46%. You have to remember that the majority of the maturation of these cask has been in Scotland, where the alcohol evaporates at 2% per year and the strength drops. This is why we are able to age our rum far longer than 23 years, which friends in the Rum industry tell me is the maximum age Rum can be matured in the Caribbean without becoming over-oaked.
Have you had a chance to try the 27 year old Enmore, 25 year old West Indies Rum Distillery and 23 year old Utvlugt we bottled. All great examples of the balance and complexity we can achieve with maturation in Scotland.

Is there a chance that we will be getting releases at cask strength in the future?

See above. -(SCR: I am not buying this, at least not entirely. Most of the time when we’ve got cask strength rums of an identical batch from other bottlers, Duncan Taylor had systemically lower abvs than their competitors. That cannot be a coincidence, i.e. I  think it is highly unlikely that Duncan Taylor always selects the lowest abv barrels. Given that I don’t believe Peter has been lying to us, it must be that they pre-dilute their rums within the barrel. That way it is still cask strength, albeit not the natural one. And I think it makes sense since their rums typically don’t taste like they have been diluted excessively. After all it makes a huge difference whether dilution takes place within the barrel or in the glass since the product gets to ‘marry’ for some time. Duncan Taylor did not respond to further inquiries on that regard.)

How do you see the future of the Rum business? Prices have been picking up recently and producers and bottlers alike slowly become more transparent. Are you noticing any changes for you as a bottler?

We will try and continue sourcing and bottling quality casks. If there is an explosion in ‘craft’ rum over the next few years, then hopefully our small part in the boom will be recognised. The CEO of Duncan Taylor owns an import business in the US called Shand Import LLC, and I know they are looking at Rum as big growth category in the US.
The will continue to offer the Duncan Taylor Single Cask, Cask Strength Rums however will shortly start working with Rum Sixty-Six from Foursquare Distillery, and are also looking at bringing some Savannah Rum from the French Reunion Island to the US (the French are ahead of the curve in this category.)

If there’s anything else you have to say or if there’s anything that might be of interest to the rum scene please feel free to free to let us know!

pcdc
Peter Currie. Photo by divingforpearlsblog.com.

I just wish rum distillers and brands would be more open with consumers with information on production techniques and ingredient (the addition of sugar!). Scotch blenders like Johnnie Walker always boasted that they used Cardhu, Mortlach and Lagavillin in the blends, and this played a large part in the growth of the Single Malt category. Consumers wanted to try the malts used in the big Blend brands and came to companies like us to buy them, which then led to the distillers release official bottlings. Rum brands don’t appear to have any interest in allowing this information to get out (I think the big Cognac brands take a similar position). Rum needs more transparency to allow drinkers to ‘geek out,’ and we have tried to give as much information as we can on our labels, but the distillers make it as difficult as possible to get any info on production. We have been hearing that ‘next year will be the year of Rum’ for the last 10 years, but it won’t happen without support and openness from the big brands. Small-batch and ‘craft’ Bourbon, Rye, Tequila, Mezcal, Gin and many other categories have boombed over the last few years, and it should be the turn of Rum.

Thanks a lot, Peter!

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