#rumfamily : Favourite – Kate Perry

Next up in the #rumfamily series we get an in depth view from someone who manages the La Maison and Velier portfolio in the US, Kate Perry.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself, what is your background in the industry?
I’m pretty new to the Rum world. Like most people (at least here in the US), Rum was a bit of a blind spot for me. I was managing a restaurant for a few years and I knew the owner wanted to open a new concept and wanted me to manage it. When he suggested a Rum bar I thought he was a little mad. Seattle isn’t exactly close to the Caribbean in geography or culture, and I didn’t know much about the spirit. I booked myself a 3 week trip to the Caribbean to go experience the spirit in its most authentic setting, if we were going to do this, we were going to do it correctly. I fell in deep and never looked back.

I managed and bartended at Rumba for 5 years after we opened in 2012, navigating a backbar of upwards of 700 bottles these days. We focused sharing the depth and diversity of Rum as a category and encouraged guests to enjoy Rum neat to experience the spirit.

Our drink menu focused on classic Caribbean and tropical cocktails that showcased the Rum as the protagonist. I started finding that all of the bottles that excited me the most had this little word “Velier” written in small letters on the back. As I jumped into rabbit hole after rabbit hole of nerdy Rum stuff, I found that I kept running into this word. In my travels, I would stuff as many bottles with this word on them into my suitcase as I could.

How did you come to manage the La Maison and Velier portfolio in the US?
I never was interested to come to the supplier side but I used to say that the only company I ever wanted to work for was Velier, but they were never coming to the US so it didn’t matter. And then they were, and now I do. In 2017, Luca Gargano explained the new company (La Maison & Velier) to me as a joint venture between Velier and the famous La Maison du Whisky. We launched the portfolio in the USA in January of 2018, so very recent!

Please tell us a bit about the Rums in the portfolio?
My portfolio in the US includes the bottlings of both Velier and LMDW, The Spirit of Haiti (Clairin), Hampden Estate’s aged expressions, Palenqueros Mezcal and Vermouth Mulassano. For me, LMDW and Velier are the perfect compliment to each other and I feel it is a privilege to represent the projects of both companies along with our other partnerships (Hampden, The Spirit of Haiti, Mulassano, Palenqueros). I love working for LM&V because I don’t work for a brand, I work for the category of Rum and real spirits. I get to talk about all my favourite distilleries, notably Foursquare, Worthy Park, Hampden and all my favourite regions, notably Barbados, Jamaica and Haiti.

What is it like working with LM&V and Luca Gargano?
Working for LM&V is a perfect combination of all of my training. I have two degrees from the University of Denver: Anthropology (the study of people) and Geography (the study of places). Rum is my life and happiness. Working for a company that is so thoughtful about people, places and liquid is a perfect fit for me. I don’t think there is another job that fits me so well, it wasn’t ever a choice. I went to university because I wanted to be Indiana Jones and now I work for Luca Gargano.

I think that in the way that the world is going towards corporate corruption, plasticized commodities, bullshit marketing practices that tout cheap goods as symbols of quality, it’s a sign of hope for me that people are interested in real things made by real people. This is the return to the tactile experience of high quality things, coffee, chocolate, wine, blue jeans and yes, Rum, made by traditional methods using real materials. This is the new (old) revolution.

What Rum would you recommend to a newcomer to the category?
When people ask me “what Rum should I try?” my first response is always to drink distilleries. Drink the house brands of distilleries to find out their identity and how they choose to present themselves. It’s only possible to understand divergences from house styles when you have a solid understanding of the liquid of the distillery itself.
The world of Rum is very confusing. There are thousands of bottles that could be distillery releases, partnership projects, independent or merchant bottlers, and a whole lot of marketing projects. If you can’t tell who distilled it or where it comes from by looking at the bottle, it’s impossible to understand the identity of the liquid in the bottle.

What is the best thing about being in the Rum industry?
For me, the best thing about being in the “Rum industry” (I prefer “community” because nothing I’m involved with is “industrial”) is just that, the amazing community of distillers, blenders, representatives, enthusiasts and Rum drinkers. We have an incredible “Rum fam” that is so supportive, attentive and encouraging and it spans across islands, oceans and countries. It’s really an incredible feeling to know that I can travel anywhere and have a community to meet and enjoy a Rum with.

What is the worst thing?
The worst thing is the confusion I mentioned before. There are so many political and economical factors that try to drive the market away from authenticity of real spirit and the real people who make it. All this fake stuff, marketing of “pirates” and “sea monsters”, fake age statements, adulteration by sugar and chemicals to convince consumers of perceived value, it’s just unnecessary. The real stories of producers, cultures and pure (unadulterated) spirit is vastly more interesting.

The way that we describe Rum is harmful to the category. We know that words like “Gold”, “White” and “Dark” mean nothing, but also words like “British”, “French” and “Spanish”. We need to come out of this colonialist mentality and recognize that this isn’t the Rum of the British, this Rum belongs to the Barbadians, to the Jamaicans, to the Cubans and to the Haitians.
The story of Rum is the story of humanity for all of its good and all of its brutality. But we need to recognize that the provenance of the producers, the traditions, culture and history belong to the people of these places. The best way to move forward from a difficult beginning is to pay this respect.

How do you think the Rum category will change in the next 5 years?
I hope that the future of the Rum category comes with the respect of places, producers and provenance. Good quality doesn’t need “fixing” and it doesn’t need marketing spin. I hope that the next 5 years brings the revolution: not only in Rum but in life. The return towards quality of production and the respect for the people of whom traditions belong. This is where value should flourish.