As a Scotsman, educator and connoisseur of all things Scotch Whisky, I travel the globe enlightening the masses about the distinct characteristics of this fine spirit—history, production, regional influence and, most importantly, how to enjoy drinking. In my travels, I’ve found one topic on many whisky drinkers’ minds: wood management and cask maturation, better known as the aging process. So here’s a quick primer.
Traditionally, wooden casks have been used to transport and house spirits. Time spent in the casks directly affects the flavor, and the relative humidity and temperature of the environment where the casks mature gives the spirit some of its essence. The surrounding atmosphere replaces some of the volume lost in the cask due to evaporation, a phenomenon affectionately referred to as the “Angel’s Share.”
An old Scottish tale posits that the evaporating spirit ascends to the heavens to be enjoyed by our well-behaved ancestors. I’m not sure what the definition of “well-behaved” is, but just in case, I’ll insist on returning to my homeland when I’m gone. An eternity of sipping evaporated spirit? Sounds like my type of heaven.
One can imagine my intrigue when I heard about another spirit, a rum, that is also aged in wooden casks… deep under the surface of the ocean. Seven fathoms deep, to be precise.
Given my research in cask maturation, one can imagine my intrigue when I heard about another spirit, a rum, that is also aged in wooden casks… and spends its time maturing deep under the surface of the ocean. Seven fathoms deep, to be precise.
No joke. Seven Fathoms Distillery sits in the heart of Georgetown, Grand Cayman’s main port town. Rum has been produced in the Caribbean for centuries, but this is truly an unusual and novel approach. To learn more, I had the pleasure to join co-founder Walker Romanica at this innovative distillery for the day.
Editor’s note: are you a visual learner? Check out Ricky’s tour of Seven Fathoms in the video at bottom.
Before I could even think about the rum, I was captivated by the location of the distillery. The view over the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean was enough to make this Scotsman a rum drinker for days. I understood how someone would be inspired to use the natural environment and raw materials to produce something that truly represented the beauty of this place. Still, I wondered, why age the rum underwater?
“The tide mimics the caring touch of a distiller rotating their barrels in a cellar to ensure good diffusion of the molecules through the barrel,” explains Romanica. “Despite the diligence of even the most committed distiller, the waves are able to massage the rum with a far more consistent and steady precision.” Who wouldn’t love the combination of rum, massaging, and ocean tides? It sounded too good to be true.
I can presume that seven fathoms under the ocean provides a habitat unique and unparalleled to that of any spirit matured on land. Just as in Scotland, the distillers of Seven Fathoms have their own folklore. I was told that the evaporation rate is significantly less than that of the casks on land, and it is the Grand Cayman Mermaids—rather than the Scottish angels—who benefit from this occurrence.
As my tour came to an end, my curiosity about the secret location of the maturing casks had only grown. With my best efforts in Scottish persuasion, I expressed to Romanica how eager I was to don my scuba gear and check up on his casks. As any protector of rum would do, he smiled, politely declining my request and offering me a drink as compensation. Gentleman that I am, I accepted his atonement.
The result of this innovation, devotion, and true love affair with the art of fine rum? A libation that exudes everything you can imagine about a small island paradise. The spirit entices you with a brilliant amber color followed by a sweet caramelized nutty essence and raisin bread pudding aromas. The pallet picks up on delicate candied exotic fruits preceding the easy medium finish, with a slight hint of white peppery spice.
My only dilemma now is: where will I be laid for my final rest? In Scotland, where I will benefit from the angels share with all my ancestors (and hopefully a few of the Victoria’s Secret Clan Angels)… or at sea in the Western Caribbean to enjoy my afterlife with the beauties of the deep?