Andrew Lohfeld started brewing beer and sake in his dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. He later moved to New York, where he worked at Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn. In 2016, Lohfeld and college friend Patrick Hernandez opened a small rum distillery, Roulaison Distilling Co. (www.roulaison.com), on South Broad Avenue. Lohfeld spoke with Gambit about Roulaison rum and pot-distilling.a
How does pot-distilling differ from other distillation processes?
Lohfeld: There are many different styles of rum out there. With rum you can add flavoring and coloring and different essences, and you don't have to be specific about how it's distilled. A lot of rums out there today are basically just vodka made from sugarcane. I wanted to do the opposite of that.
Pot-distilling is definitely a different style. We use the term "pre-industrial" a lot, and a lot of people call it "colonial." Basically, right around the mid-1800s is where a lot of technological advancement happened. There are three key rum styles right now — Spanish, English and French — and right around the middle of the 1800s was when those started to diverge. How molasses was processed improved; how stills were manufactured and designed changed. Also, it was the time when they really discovered what yeast was. Before, we (had been) fermenting for 10,000 years, but nobody really knew how.
We do modern principles but archaic practice. So we do a lot of things how they were done originally, but with the idea of what's done now. We use better grade molasses than is typically used in the commodity market. Our fermentation times range from seven to 10 days, which aligns more with beers and wine, whereas most rum fermentations are 24 to 48 hours — super quick. The yeast they use to make it that quick is engineered to go as quickly as possible and to tolerate as much alcohol as possible. We use a beer and wine yeast; we use two different ones that we blend together after distillation. The modern yeast today — pretty much across all distilled spirits — is pretty generic, almost like baking yeast. If you look at the beer or wine side of things, there are something like 200 different types of yeast that will give you different nuances for flavor profiles. We went that angle.
We do an alembic style or pot style of distillation, and it's basically the most traditional style. In essence, it's a pot where we're boiling the liquid and then capturing the steam. We do a first run where we take 90 gallons and split it between four (stills) and run it once. When it comes off it's a lower proof, and it's still a little hazy and needs to be refined. We take those four and then put them in the last still and then it's super clear and goes from a much lower alcohol percentage to a higher, more concentrated product. Those wine and beer hangovers that you might get — ideally, we're separating out those compounds.
The oldest style is a little bit limiting. We can't really tweak or control things; we just have to monitor the process.
Another thing that was important to us is there's nothing added: no colors, no flavors. A lot of people will chill filter or carbon filter. We don't do that. Our final product is bottled at about 44 percent (alcohol) and if you go below that, it will start to haze up naturally. That way we can keep the clarity but also keep the flavor.
How would you describe the flavor profile of Roulaison rum?
L: I think it's fun because it's kind of a fusion of Jamaican (style) rum and Martinique (style). It's got some of those bigger tropical fruit and baking spice notes, but also some of that smoky, earthy grassiness as well. We mostly do the one; we also have an over-proof version, and we are coming out with a few aged ones as well. We've been around for about a year, so the oldest one we'll have will be aged for around a year.
What cocktails would you recommend making with this?
L: It's meant to hold up to anything you throw at it. It works well with big flavors like passion fruit and pineapple, but it also does really well in a Hemingway daiquiri — grapefruit juice is one of my favorites with it. Cucumber and lemon or even just tonic and rum work well too. It's a lot softer and luscious on the palate than your average white rum.