It was a shot heard ’round the world, and shockwaves are still being felt as people across the planet wonder what in the heck is happening in Elgin, Arizona.
This globally significant shot bore no resemblance to the 18th-century call to arms about which we all read in elementary school. The shot at issue is an aged rum from Arizona Craft Beverage’s Elgin Distillery that put a small town situated southeast of Tucson on the global spirits map.
So, what’s the skinny?
Samples of the distillery’s Regalo de Vida rum were submitted to the top two global spirits competitions this year, the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) in London and the World Spirits Competition (WSC) in San Francisco. According to industry insiders, these annual matchups attract the absolute best from the worldwide spirits community, and entries are scored in a double-blind format by a panel of judges whose palates are widely regarded as the world’s finest.
The results? Drum roll, please.
At the IWSC, the Regalo de Vida earned a Gold Medal, the first time in the history of the competition that an American rum has achieved this distinction.
At the WSC, it not only won Best of Class for rum, it went on to win Best in Show, the competition’s highest honor, in the aged white spirits category.
While some better-known rum producers may assert that theirs is the world’s best, Elgin Distillery can now say with confidence that their Regalo de Vida officially lays claim to that creed. And they have the hardware to prove it.
Once I sat down with its highly decorated distiller to learn more, it became evident that he has rum dripping down his DNA. He told me that one of his ancestors was an initial investor in Mount Gay Rum in Barbados more than 300 years ago, and, fascinated by these roots, he and his wife subsequently spent many years traveling to and from Barbados to bathe in the culture of rum.
What was their top takeaway?
“What makes a great Barbados rum is the water that’s used, and the reason we have such phenomenal spirits at our distillery is because we use our own well water, what we call ‘magic water,’” said Gary Ellam, co-owner and lead distiller at Elgin Distillery, 473½ Elgin Road. “The water has to take as much credit as the distiller. You can’t have a great product without great water.”
Another unique element of Regalo de Vida’s production is the use of sugar cane. Most rums around the world are made from molasses, but Ellam uses pure sugar cane that he sources from Northern Mexico and crushes, juices and ferments all on site.
“We treat the cane juice essentially like we would treat any exceptional wine,” he said.
Add Ellam’s proprietary yeast and strict distilling science, and age the spirit in used bourbon barrels for five and a half years at an elevation that sees great fluctuations in temperature, and you have yourself a rum that has the world’s attention.
“This is a validation of what we’ve been doing for years,” he said, “and to make this kind of international news in a landlocked state known more for roadrunners than rum is affirming for us.”
The Regalo de Vida is priced at $150 per bottle and can be purchased at Elgin Distillery. Just don’t trip over the trophies.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com, a regular contributor to “Tales of the Keg” on ESPN Tucson, KFFN 1490 AM & 104.9 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.