Maine is one of the most beautiful places on earth, which makes it easy to understand why Bob Bartlett, a 40-year veteran winemaker, and wife Kathe settled there in 1975 to create the hand-built stone Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro. Then in 2008, the Bartletts expanded their career path by investing in a custom-made, hand-hammered still from Germany and temperature controlled fermenters from Croatia and opened Spirits of Maine Distillers.
Their first efforts consisted of a small batch apple brandy and an eau de vie made from tree-ripened pears. Buoyed by their success, the Barletts turned their collective sights to distilling small batch Rusticator Rum from locally sourced, organic molasses. Once the rum exits the still, it is transferred to French oak barrels for a minimum stay of 2 years. There the rum will stay until it has attained ideal maturity; after which a small number of casks are married together to ensure Rusticator's flavor profile remains consistent from batch to batch. It's bottled at a robust 45% alcohol (90 proof).
Clearly the distillery's bucolic surroundings have contributed to this rum's universal appealing characteristics. Rusticator has an alluring, reddish/golden appearance—not dissimilar to a fine Highland malt—and a satiny smooth, medium-weight body. Its generous assortment of aromatics is quite enticing and includes cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, bananas, caramel and toffee. The longer the rum is allowed to breathe, the more aromatics waft forward to tantalize the nose.
Rusticator is spicy warm upon entry, a warmth fueled by its elevated alcohol content. But the characteristic that has drawn most of the critical praise is its bakery fresh flavors of brown sugar, cacao and vanilla. The lingering finish is flavorful and eminently satisfying.
According to winemaker/distiller Robert Bartlett of Spirits of Maine Distillery, makers of Rusticator Rum, "One of the great aspects of making rum is its basic definition by the T.T.B. Specifically that it must be made from cane sugar or its byproducts. This leaves a lot of room for creativity in how its aged or not. So the distiller can paint with a large pallet of colors and styles. I think that's why our rum is so delectable."
Rusticator is an American-made classic. Shortly after the brand's debut, it won a gold medal from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. But what's with the name? Turns out Rusticator is a 19th century term the locals gave to the rich and privileged city dwellers who every year would invade the countryside for a few months and do nothing constructive other than sunbathe and throw parties for each other.