The Golden Liquid

March 2nd, 2012
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

Robert Van Der Weg next to his home rum bottling station. He bottles his grog. Grog is historically a drink combing water and rum, introduced by British Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740, was the official drink of the British Navy. Before that, grog - rum, with water and nutmeg was popular with pirates.

Robert Van Der Weg next to his home rum bottling station. He bottles his grog. Grog is historically a drink combing water and rum, introduced by British Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740, was the official drink of the British Navy. Before that, grog - rum, with water and nutmeg was popular with pirates.

Rum is made in places as diverse as Jamaica, Japan and Canada, and while Roatan isn’t brewing any rum yet, it does now have its own label: Roatan’s Pirate’s Grog–an exercise in logistics, marketing and distilling.

Launching a Bay Islands alcohol isn’t easy. The last time someone tried to introduce an alcoholic beverage produced in the Bay Islands was in 2005 when Iri Maska, a Czech artist-entrepreneur built a brewery and began selling his pilsner to bars and restaurants throughout the island. Maska’s problems with consistency, temperature of kegs and introducing the heavier tasting beer to islanders were tough. Now the only way to taste the beer is at Maska’s brewery in Santos Guardiola.

Roatan’s Pirate’s Grog is the brainchild of Robert Van Der Weg, who has tried many a shoe on Roatan during his ten years on the island. He has been a real estate agent, a bar owner, property manager, commercial sailor, and now rum bottler. Robert says the idea of introducing a Roatan rum came to him at an island waterhole. “I was at a bar and a person came in and ordered a rum and coke. The bartender automatically served Flor de Caña. I thought, ‘Why is that? Why can’t Roatan have its own rum?'” said Robert, who soon after embarked on a quest to launch a Roatan rum label.

He located a rum distilling company on the internet and sent the company a sample of the rum he wanted to match, requesting that it be “smooth, to look at bit like gold, and not too expensive.” The company sent him 24 samples and Robert’s panel of 14 testers almost unanimously agreed on the sample that is today’s Pirate’s Grog.

“All rums are blends,” says Robert, “Our rum comes from Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica.” While Robert didn’t want to reveal the name of the blending company, he did say that they’ve been in the business since 1772.

Robert bottles the rum, which is shipped in plastic 1,000 liter containers, in a space below his Sandy Bay apartment. He has a four-bottle fill station which “can do 60 boxes [640 bottles] a day with one other person,” says Robert. He fills bottles with the golden liquid four-at-a-time, caps them, then wraps the tops with a red, plastic tape that is placed in a pot of boiling water, so that it shrinks. Robert has to cap over 1,300 for each plastic container. “I bottle so many that my hands start to hurt. I have blisters,” says Robert about the hundreds of bottles he has capped. In early December 2011 the company was bottling a third container, a plastic bladder containing 1000 liters.

Pirate’s Grog is for sale at around 30 places on the island–bars, gift shops and supermarkets, as well as on Norwegian Spirit and Norwegian Star cruise ships. “I have the only Roatan product sold on board a cruise ship,” he says proudly. Each bottle is typically priced between $8 and $12, well above Honduras’ Plata and somewhere around four-year-old Flor de Caña. Ron Plata, often sold in plastic bottles, is produced by Honduran Licorera Los Angeles. Other Honduran labels, Tatascán and Yuscarán, are less easily found on the island and have a much smaller following. “I’m not saying that I am brewing it here, but I am bottling it here and thus it becomes Honduran rum,” says Robert.

Robert is so committed to his product that he had its logo, a skull with a crest, tattooed on his right ankle. Robert says that he invested all his savings into the venture: “I had Lps. 1,600 in my pocket when I was finally ready to sell the product.” Robert and his rum company are doing much better now. [/private]

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