An interview with Robbie Delaney of Muddy River Distillery & a review of Queen Charlotte's Reserve Carolina Rum
Author’s note: Before I left Muddy River last November, Robbie was generous enough to gift me with two bottles of his product, one each of Carolina Rum and Queen Charlotte's Reserve. I do not normally accept such gifts, but made an exception. Although I do not consider this payment, the FTC does. As such I am disclosing the info now. And though I had tasted all of the products and made judgements about liking or not liking them before I knew the gift was being made, the tasting notes below are from this week. Please use this info to inform the relative accuracy of my thoughts on them.
Back in November, I stopped for a tour at Muddy River Distillery just outside Charlotte, NC. When I got home, I realized that I really liked talking to Robbie. That's Robbie Delaney. He’s the proprietor, the distiller and the tour guide. I enjoyed our conversation enough that I thought you might enjoy it too. I asked him to answer a few questions for the blog. He was gracious enough to do so and they are below.
So Robbie, tell me a little about yourself. How did you get your start in the spirit business? What made you decide to open a distillery?
I learned the meaning of hard work growing up on a horse farm in Wake Forest, NC. I became a General Contractor and traveled throughout the southeast working on projects and grew tired of living out of a suitcase. In early 2011 I read an in-flight magazine article about craft distilling. Construction was a little slow and so I gave distilling a shot. I read up and learned how to distill and designed and built Muddy River’s 3 reflux column stills. Everyone thought I was crazy. After getting the federal and state permits and a lot of hard work, Muddy River was the first rum distillery in NC. We began legally distilling in February 2012 and released our first product, Carolina Rum-a silver rum, in September of 2012. With almost 2 years of distilling under our belt, we released Queen Charlotte’s Reserve, an American white oak barrel aged rum, in October 2013.
What is your specialty?
RUM. Carolina Rum is our smooth, slightly sweet rum and Queen Charlotte’s Reserve is barrel aged at least 8 months in unused American white oak barrels that are charred on the inside.
Is the distillery your full time job now?
Yes, both Caroline and I are full time now. I run the distilling, bottling, and tours. Caroline does sales, marketing, social media, and accounting for the company.
What's a typical day like for you?
An 18 hour day. Not because it has to, but because that’s how we make great liquor. We start by turning the machines on to heat up, run them, then clean and fill for the next day. Our typical activities include making mash, cleaning (the most important job), bottling, making liquor, tours, and a million other activities required of a small business.
So operating your own distillery seems like a cool job. What’s the best part?
People are interested in what I do for a living. It’s a big honor when someone wants to hear about your craft and enjoys drinking your products. We make amazing rums, and that is fulfilling in itself.
Tell me about the biggest challenge you've faced so far.
Properly managing growth. We’re trying to grow modestly, but we have sold out of product a few times.
So you’re trying to make sure you don’t grow too fast?
Yeah, I could spend all my time and marketing efforts trying to sell the first bottle to a million people. But if I can’t sell the second, I’m just a flash in the pan. You need to develop a brand loyalty. And you do that by doing things making a good product. Doing things right. Making small cuts. Using only new barrels. Instead of concentrating on expansion, we focus on selling the second bottle.
Wait, you use new barrels? As a bourbon drinker I’m used to the distillers using new barrels and then selling them to rum distillers, among others.
I buy bourbon spec barrels from the cooperage. And I only use them once. I find that it helps to cut the sweetness a bit. It doesn’t taste like your rum and coke is made with two sweetened products. Not that I would recommend adding Coke to Queen Charlotte’s Reserve.
That’s got to be expensive.
It can be, but if you live frugally, cut costs where you can and then sell it after your done with it, it’s doable. You can make back most of the cost by selling it afterward so you’re just sitting on the investment for eight months to a year. It goes back to growing modestly and making sure you can sell the second bottle.
Anything new on the horizon?
Our next product will most likely be a spiced rum. We have had a lot of people ask for one. We’ve been working on a recipe for a long time, but it has to be great before we put a product on the shelf. We’re still working on perfecting our recipe.
Any advice for readers who might be interested in following in your footsteps?
With the distilling industry growing so quickly, you have to make a top notch product in order to survive. You can sell one bottle, but it has to be good in order to have customers re-buy your product.
Do you offer tours?
Yes! Visit our website to sign up under the “Take a Tour” tab. There is a calendar with all the dates and times tours are offered. www.muddyriverdistillery.com/rumdistillerytour/
In North Carolina you are in ABC stores. Outside of North Carolina, can readers buy your products?
Yes, look and ask for us in the North Carolina section in ABCs, if you don’t see us in the rum section. And we’re in bars and restaurants throughout NC. We are in SC a little bit, but we’re working to keep up with NC and haven’t pushed to spread out much in SC.
Anything else you'd like to plug? Website? Twitter?
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions.
Queen Charlotte’s Reserve Carolina Rum
Purchase info: My bottle was a gift from Robbie and Muddy River Distillery, but if you are in North Carolina, you can pick it up at an ABC store for $27.95 as of this writing.
Details: Aged in new charred oak barrels. 42% ABV
Nose: Delicate sweetness. Honey, dried grasses and a hint of smoke.
Mouth: Warm and tingly with a delicate sweetness. Vanilla, baking spices and a hint of mint.
Finish: Warm with a decent length. Fades to a pleasant bitterness.
Thoughts: I really like this one. This is the first rum I would drink straight. The one I’m tasting tonight was a gift from the distiller, but the next time I’m in North Carolina I’m stocking up.