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Thomas Tew Rum Revives A Corner of Rhode Island’s Triangle Trade

Thomas Tew Rum Revives A Corner of Rhode Island’s Triangle Trade

Wed, 24 Jun 2009 13:45:39

By Thomas J. Morgan
Journal Staff Writer
For years, rum formed one leg of the infamous triangle trade — Caribbean molasses to Rhode Island, rum to Africa, slaves to the Caribbean, until it died out in the middle of the 19th century.

The Newport Distilling Co. revived the best part of the spirits tradition with Thomas Tew Rum, a golden-dark brew that comes in numbered bottles and performs best savored in the manner of a single malt scotch. Its name derives from a 17th-century Rhode Island pirate.

Brent D. Ryan, president of Newport Distilling and of Coastal Extreme Brewing Co., brewers of Newport Storm beer, has been at it quietly for three years. Ryan says the company “recognized over the years that there was a connection with rum — there were restaurants called the Rhumbline and the Rumrunner. We would talk to people and they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, rum was big here years ago.’ I did some digging.

Thomas Tew Rum is distilled in Middletown, Rhode Island and aged for two years in oak barrels.
“Two hundred and fifty years ago Newport was the rum capital of the world, and most of the best rum was being distilled here,” he said.. “We became intrigued with the idea of doing distilling — we found out that a lot of the equipment we had for making beer we could use to ferment molasses.”

The company located a still, and took out the first state distillery license in more than 135 years, Ryan said.

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There once was a pirate from Newport
“The last one we could find a record of was the John Dyer Distillery on Dyer Avenue in Providence,” he says. “It closed in 1872, The last one in Newport was the Whitehorne Distillery, run by brothers Samuel and John Whitehorne. They shut down in 1842. In 1769 there were 22 distilleries operating in Newport. That’s a lot of distilleries. We looked at all this and said this is something that really should be done in Rhode Island again.”

The distillery shares a cramped space with the brewery in an industrial complex on Oliphant Lane in Middletown. Ryan hopes to move both operations to expanded quarters in Newport later this year. Plans include a retail shop and an area for visitors — the Middletown location is too restricted to provide tours.

The unmistakable aroma of fermentation salutes the nose at close quarters in the distillery. To one side sits a stack of 54-gallon barrels of French and American oak, most bunged and numbered.

“These are bourbon barrels from Labrot & Graham in Kentucky,” makers of Woodford Reserve bourbon, Ryan says.

By Kentucky law, the company cannot re-use the barrels, so Newport Distillery buys them.

Because the rum further changes the barrels flavor profile, the distillery sells them to home brewers of beer, or uses them for displays.

The creation of any alcoholic drink begins with fermentation. For rum, a molasses-water mix, known as the “wash,” ferments inside Newport Distilling’s still.

The still, a gleaming copper kettle, resembles an old-fashioned potbelly stove with a short pipe sticking out of the top — true to its shape it’s actually known as a pot still. Its 105 gallons of wash simmers away happily as Ryan works.

The other style of still is called a column still, a taller version used for larger quantities, a Gulliver versus a Lilliputian.

“We do it on a batch process,” Ryan says. “A column still is a continuous process. A pot still makes a heavier, more flavorful product. The column still makes a more neutral spirit and is more efficient. The big names — Bacardi, Jim Beam, Cuervo — use the continuous column.”

When the wash reaches 10-percent alcohol, Ryan says, the distilling process springs to life.

“The idea is to separate the alcohol from the wash,” he says. “Ethanol boils at 78C. Water boils at 100C, so ethanol vapors work their way up the short column. Then the vapors go to a condenser.”

The condenser cools the vapor back to liquid form. The result: A stream of clear liquid arcs from the condenser into a container the shape and size of a fire extinguisher. The aroma of rum is powerful here.

A technician sinks a hydrometer into the distillate to test the alcohol content. It’s much like the gadget used to determine the specific gravity of car-battery acid.

“The finished product is 42 percent alcohol,” Ryan explains. That’s 84 proof. The rum is aged for about two years, or until Ryan is satisfied with the taste.

“We do single-barrel rum,” he said, meaning that no blending takes place. “When the barrel is finished aging, we package it without blending. It’s a very small-scale way of making spirit.”

The bottles are filled via a rotary device and are hand-labeled, corked and sealed.

“After we cork the bottles we dip them upside down in that deep fryer,” Ryan says. “That’s melted wax in there.”

With such a small operation, each barrel can have its own characteristics, and some barrels age earlier than others. To determine whether a barrel is ready for bottling, testing is required. That’s testing as in tasting.

Ryan is the taste-tester.

“It’s a tough job,” he says, “but somebody has to do it.”

Details: Thomas Tew Rum is available in many Rhode Island liquor stores and some bars and restaurants.

Recipe: Champagne Punch1


Ice (in block form, or use large chunks)

6 ounces fresh orange juice

2 ounces fresh lime juice

2 ounces fresh lemon juice

4 ounces simple syrup

6 ounces light rum

6 ounces dark rum

One 750 ml bottle brut Champagne, chilled

Orange, lime and lemon slices for garnish

Put the block of ice in a large punch bowl. If using ice chunks, fill the bowl just under halfway.

Add the juices and simple syrup. With a large spoon or ladle, stir 10 times (whichever direction you choose —the curse doesn’t get specific on stirring).

Add the rums. With the same large spoon or ladle, stir 10 more times.

Add the Champagne and stir very gently. Add lots of orange, lime and lemon slices.

Ladle into punch glasses, white wine glasses or historic goblets, working to get a little fruit in each receptacle. Serve immediately.

Serves 10.

From Wine Cocktails by A.J. Rathburn

Recipe: Skinny Rum Punch1


1 ounce white rum

2 ounces light orange juice

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce dark rum

Add white rum and the juices to a highball or other cocktail glass with ice, then pour the dark rum on top and let it flow through the cocktail for effect.

From Skinnytinis by Teresa Marie Howes.

Recipe: The Beachbum1


1 ounce light rum

1 ounce dark rum

1/2 ounce apricot brandy

1/2 ounce almond syrup

3/4 ounces lime juice

1 ounce pineapple juice

Shake with ice and strain into ice-filled Collins glass. Garnish with cherry / orange flag.

From Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide

Recipe: Bahama Mama1


1/2 ounce dark rum

1/2 ounce coconut liqueur

1/4 ounce 151-proof rum

1/4 ounce coffee liqueur

1/2 lemon juice

4 ounces pineapple juice

Combine all ingredients and pour into ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a strawberry or a maraschino cherry.

From Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide

Recipe: Bajito1


4 fresh mint leaves

4 fresh basil leaves

5 slices fresh lime

1 tablespoon superfine sugar (or simple syrup)

3 ounces dark rum

In shaker glass muddle mint and basil with lime slices and sugar or syrup. Top with ice and them rum. Shake well and strain into ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a basil leaf.

To make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Store in fridge.

From Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide

The Coastal Extreme Brewing Company is about ten minutes away from The Spring Seasons Inn where our classic Victorian Newport Rhode Island Bed and Breakfast lodging offers amenities that will make your stay memorable. Candlelight breakfast, Jacuzzi style baths and our location close to waterfront dining, shopping and attractions make our Newport Rhode Island Bed and Breakfast perfect for your Rhode Island escape.

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