Miamians are complicated. We don’t often admit our love for the tropical paradise we’re fortunate enough to dwell in, because half the year it’s too hot to think straight, the traffic will drive whatever sanity you’ve got left right out the window into the 98% humidity, and our football team hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in the three decades of my life. Yet, somewhere within all of us is a patient Dolphin’s fan who loves our Magic City, and who almost certainly loves rum. Which was why I was so surprised to learn that Miami-enthusiast, and Miami Club Rum founder Matt Malone, is actually from Iowa.
Stepping off of North Miami Avenue and into Miami Club Rum takes you away from Wynwood back to an era that leans less toward Miami Vice, and more toward Sinatra at the Fontainebleau. The tasting room is mid-century modern, with retro furniture, cool art deco blues, historical black and white prints on the walls, and a six foot tall poster board of “Miami Club Platinum” their signature bottle. Each piece in the room comes from Miami, and each piece lives up to the motto of the brand: sexy, fun, delicious.
Music echoes through the walls, coming from the first rum distillery in Miami. Matt comes from five generations of rum production and makes every effort to imitate the old world processes. So much so, that the music you hear in the tasting room is bumping from vintage Bose speakers in the distillery – for the rum. “The trademark is infused with music,” he explains, “In the old days it would be in barrels and the barrels would be rolled from one side of the warehouse to another, or used as the ballast on a ship,” the rocking and rolling releasing flavors of the wood into the rum. These days technology provides steel drums that cut the process by a fourth of the time, and Matt found the way to maximize that time, not sacrificing any of the flavor. French oak – the only product in the rum not from South Florida – is coiled for optimum surface area by square inch, and placed in the drums. Then, through rocking and rolling, salsa merengue, dance or any uptempo music, vibrations release flavors of the wood that in a static environment would otherwise not be released.
The rum it is made from Florida Crystals sugarcane and molasses, making it kind of a cousin to Michael’s Genuine Home Brew. After over one hundred trials on the recipe, the conclusion was that the acidity of the sugarcane juice and the caramel of the molasses is the perfect mix for their signature platinum bottle. A bottle you can find at The Cypress Room.
The process starts with seven days of fermenting sugarcane juice into wine, then it is moved into the distiller, aptly named Sugar Lips, where the alcohol boils off into three different barrels. Sort of a Goldilocks process- not too cool, not to hot, but the barrel just right will become rum. Once in the steel tanks with the oak coils, there was just one more rum-maker’s tradition that Matt was missing.
“In the old days they would lose a portion of the rum through the aging process, because it evaporated through the wood, about five percent or so, depending on climate. They called it the angel’s share.” Matt explained, “So I added this little vent.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “You didn’t think it was right not to lose 5% of your product? You do realize most people wouldn’t think it wasn’t right to lose five percent of their product?”
“Yes,” he laughed, “I didn’t want to be the guy who cheats the angels and gets messed up rum.”
Fair enough. He also doesn’t want to be the guy who just makes rum. He and his wife are devoted to serving the community through a charity called Serve Miami, the goal of which is to build a Montessori School in Overtown, as well as benefitting nine other Miami charities. He also hand labels and seals the bottles with wax himself, inspecting every last bottle. There will be a barrel aged rum, but not for a few years. There will also be a local music series that he’d like to host in the ample space behind the distillery. The plans, the rum, the space, it’s all sexy, fun, delicious. And it is a welcome addition to Miami.
You spend long enough somewhere and you learn the ins, the outs, the bests, and the flaws, the wants, the frustrations, but you can’t deny that some part of you belongs to that place, because so many parts of it shaped you. The streets of Miami made me who I am, and they certainly have made Miami Club Rum every bit of what it is. After all, the streets of Miami are nothing if not sexy, fun, and delicious.