France, Submarines, Underwater Explorers… and Rum

SPYTAIL™ Black Ginger Rum enters the premium rum category

I ran into my friend Elwyn Gladstone a few weeks ago and asked him what he was up to. His answer was surprising, but, then again, everything Elwyn does is unique and extraordinary.

I’ve known Elwyn for a number of years and wrote about him last year when he launched Malfy Gin. He is a smart businessman, an astute marketer, and a successful product innovator. As I mentioned in my earlier post about him, he was instrumental in the development and launch of brands such as, Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry, Kraken Rum, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and others.

The company he launched, Bigger & Leith, has this description on their website:

Biggar & Leith owns a small portfolio of fine spirits from established, family-owned distilleries who are dedicated to innovation and quality. We search the globe for brands whose bottles transmit the personality and stories of the people who make them.

With that in mind, let’s take a close look at SPYTAIL Black Ginger Rum.

Submarines and rum

SPYTAIL Black Ginger Rum is produced by La Compagnie Bathysphere. It is Caribbean Rum aged, spiced, blended and bottled in the Cognac Region of France. It’s based on the French tradition of aging rum with fresh ginger.

SPYTAIL’s story celebrates the French deep-sea pioneers whose underwater efforts are renowned both in fact and fiction—from Jules Verne to Jacques Cousteau. The name “SPYTAIL” was discovered by their distillers stamped on an old engineering plan for a submarine in the local maritime archive. They also discovered that, while submarines sailed along the bottom of the Charente River, ships laden with rum and ginger followed the same route from the Caribbean.

Voila—an inspiration emerged. Barrels of rum filled with fresh ginger roots and aged until the liquid turned almost black.

Why stop there? The packaging inspiration

Elwyn and his distilling partners decided that to fully acknowledge the product, the history of the region and French submarining, an appropriate package needed to be created.

The SPYTAIL bottle shape is based on a Bathysphere (a primitive form of submarine) with a porthole embossed on the front and back. Hidden within the embossing are the co-ordinates of the final resting place of Jules Verne. The navy blue and orange striped label, based on a French Navy signal flag, is adorned with engineering details from original submarine designs.  The heavy stopper is crafted from metal and embossed with the words “Voyages Extraordinaires” – a nod to underwater pioneers.

It’s a fun product with an interesting back story.

But what about the taste and the product itself? I’m glad you asked…

The liquid

Black ginger rum is a terrific idea and a strong entry in the growing premium rum category. In addition, ginger has become a seriously popular flavor among cocktail consumers – Moscow Mules, Dark & Stormy, ginger beer, and more.

I’m not a spirit’s reviewer— just a booze business guy who enjoys cocktails and trying new products. So, here’s a layperson’s observation.

I tried it on the rocks with a twist of orange peel and with ginger beer. I also used it in a hot toddy instead of whiskey. The rum and the ginger really complement each other and it’s enjoyable and unique.

On the rocks
With Ginger Beer
The Nautilus: 4 pts SPYTAIL, 2 pts Amaro, 1 pt vermouth, allspice and bitters

Product details

SPYTAIL Black Ginger Rum is produced and bottled in France and imported by Biggar & Leith. It’s 40% alcohol by volume and a 750 ml sells for under $25. In addition to the U.S., SPYTAIL is also available in Canada, France, U.K., Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

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I very much look forward to my conversations with Elwyn. He has a unique grasp on the booze business and incredible insights. Beyond that his product offerings are top notch, creative, and based on his in depth understanding of today’s drinkers’ need and wants.

Malfy Gin is doing quite well and the early indications are that SPYTAIL is getting good reviews by the trade.

Here’s to continued success, Elwyn. Cheers!!

The press packet presentation of SPYTAIL.
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Malfy Gin

Your views on gin are about to change

I’ve always found gin to be a fascinating category. While some will tell you that gin is really flavored vodka, don’t Malfy_Bottle_Fbelieve them. From my standpoint, flavored vodkas are based on added flavorings that, while not artificial, often taste that way to me. Gin is made with juniper berries, of course, and other botanicals as part of the distillation process. Some gins fall into the citrus camp but most use exotic spices and herbs.

What also make the category fascinating to me are the attitudes and opinions drinkers have about gin. Here are the five things I’ve heard most about gin.

1. Not everybody likes gin

Many of the consumers I’ve spoken with over the years seem to have a love or hate relationship with gin. The haters will tell you that they dislike the taste and blame it on the juniper and, as some have told me, those awful botanicals.

2. There are vodka drinkers and there are gin drinkers and neither the twain shall meet

3. The origin of gin is widely and strongly believed to have originated in the Netherlands with Great Britain playing the major role in its growth over the years.

4. Gin is to be either consumed in a cocktail or with tonic, and never on the rocks.

5. Gin as a category is not growing.

So, with these beliefs and opinions in mind, let’s take a close look at Malfy Gin.

An Unusual Gin from Italy

14770953_lIf you’ve ever been to the Amalfi Coast of Italy, you know about the beautiful scenery, the great food and those amazing lemons. Those lemons are at the core of Malfy Gin.

The Vergnano family distills Malfy Gin in a family run distillery in Moncalieri, Italy.  Although the spirit is infused with Italian juniper and five other botanicals it is the infusion of the famous Italian Coastal lemons, that give Malfy Gin it’s unusually fresh and zesty aroma. It clearly is not a traditional, juniper-heavy gin.

The gin is imported by Biggar & Leith (more about them in a moment) and is the “first luxury Italian gin” in the 12477426_lUSA. In fact the product carries the GQDI™ designation, which stands for Gin di Qualità Distillato in Italia.

Not only is the gin from Italy, but according to Biggar & Leith, “We were researching the history of gin – and there it was, staring us in the face; gin was invented in Italy – long before the British or Dutch.” I have found other references to Italy as the birthplace of gin, including here and here.

In addition, I emailed Gary (gaz) Regan (The Bartender’s Gin Compendium, The Joy of Mixology, The Negroni and more) and asked him about the origin of gin and Italy. He tends to agree and points out that the distillation of beverage alcohol began at the University of Salerno, Italy, circa 1050 – 1150, and juniper grows in abundance in that area. Since monks/students were seeking the “water of life,” it makes sense that they would add herbs to their distillates, so a juniper infused spirit would also makes sense.

The Product

Malfy Enjoying the ViewI found Malfy Gin Con Limone to be delicious, versatile and appealing to both gin drinkers and those who are not regular consumers in that category. I’m partial to Negronis and they refer to the Malfy version as the real Negroni—Italian gin, Italian vermouth and, of course, Campari. The Gin & Tonic was extraordinary with the prominent lemon taste and especially when enhanced by a slice of lemon (Italian, Meyer or California).

I also think that Malfy on the rocks was the most enjoyable way to appreciate the taste. Who says gin is only for cocktails?

Oh, and vodka fans I asked to try Malfy, enjoyed it very much. A crossover product, whereby vodka lovers enjoy gin? What is this world coming to?

About Biggar & Leith

Elwyn picThe company was founded by Elwyn Gladstone, a well-known spirits industry executive, most recently head of marketing at Proximo Spirits, and prior to that head of new brands at William Grant and Sons. Elwyn has been instrumental in the development and launch of such brands as Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Rum, Kraken Rum, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, and a host of others.

Here’s how he describes the company he founded and their first imported brand:

“Biggar & Leith owns a small portfolio of fine spirits from established, family-owned distilleries who are dedicated to innovation and quality. We search the globe for brands whose bottles transmit the personality and stories of the people who make them.”

The name Biggar & Leith comes from his great-great-great-great Grandfather, Thomas Gladstone. He left his home in Biggar, Scotland in 1746 for the port of Leith, near Edinburgh where he apprenticed and then started his own wine and spirits business. (It might also interest you to know that another ancestor of Elwyn’s is William Gladstone, the four time Prime Minister of Great Britain.)

If I know Elwyn, he’s already found the distillery and product that likely will come next.

The Score Card

I said at the outset that Malfy Gin would change your opinions and views about gin, so let’s tally the score.

1. While not everyone likes the taste of gin, I’ve found that gin rejecters, like Malfy. More than they thought they would.

2. The brand appeals to both vodka and gin drinkers.

3. The Dutch and the British may have made gin and genever famous, but I believe its origin was in Italy.

4. You can drink your gin any way you like, but I’ll have it on the rocks with a slice of citrus (usually grapefruit).

5. The gin category has two major components—domestic and imported. The former is declining. Across the board, small batch, crafted gins, both US made and imported are the growth engines for the category.

* * *

Malfy Gin sells for roughly $30 for a 750ML. It has only recently gone on sale so you might not be able to find it right away. But, trust me, you’re gonna love it.

I think my friend Elwyn Gladstone has a winner on his hands.

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