To the benefit of every tourist to Key West, there is no shortage of places to get a good drink. Having spent some time there recently, I came across the Key West Legal Rum Distillery. This small, unassuming tasting room was full of different varieties and flavors of rum: lime, coconut, vanilla creme brulee, and Cuban coffee… you name it, they might have it. I naturally brought home a bottle of their flagship rum, Bad Bitch Spanish Marie, to give it the full review treatment.
Paul Menta is a professional kitesurfer and kiteboarding pioneer who eventually settled down in Key West, Florida. One there, he cultivated his culinary talents, working as a chef and then restaurateur. In 2012, Menta and business partner Tony Mantia decided to open the first legal rum distillery to operate on Key West since prohibition, selecting the historic location of Jack’s Saloon (the fanciest saloon on the island circa 1900) as their location. Namin it Key West Legal Rum Distillery, they emphasize the “legal” aspect of this distillery in name due to the history of rum running that abounds in the Keys.
But while emphasizing the “legal” aspect of the distillery, they have also embraced the outlaw pirate mentality that goes along with rum running. In fact, this flagship rum is named after Spanish Marie, who took over her late-husband’s business running strong rum between Havana and Key West. Menta decided to dedicate their flagship rum in honor of this real-life “bad bitch” — a “woman who took the high proof rum and added red wine to it, to cut it down and make her own cocktail”.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
There is, unfortunately, very little detail about how this rum is produced. The one thing that is made clear about Key West First Legal Rum Distillery spirits is that they use pure Florida demerara sugar as the raw material (aka, “never molasses”). That sugar is added to water and yeast, which ferments the liquid into something that is mildly alcoholic.
The next step in the process is distillation, and for these folks they made the decision to batch distill their spirit a full six times. After distillation, the newly made rum is then matured in salt cured French oak barrels — which previously held red wine, a nice nod to Spanish Marie — to finish the journey.
Menta and Mantia describe themselves as chefs first and distillers second. This “Chef Distilled” process looks to infuse the base sprit with various flavors. It’s clear they take pride in their product, and are happy to show it off in their small taproom, allowing visitors to sample nearly every product they offer. If you happen to be visiting Key West, this taproom is worth a visit.
The bottle shape is a boringly standard design: a stout, round bottle with straight walls, a short shoulder, short neck, and synthetic stopper. It almost has a sort of medicinal feel to it, like you’d expect it to be holding some 1900’s physician’s elixir instead of rum. It’s nothing exciting, but you can’t really fault a small distillery for going with the common glassware.
The label takes on a very nautical theme and feels like something off a 1800’s nautical chart, designed as a black, gold, and red colored badge centered around an image of Spanish Marie. The label is adorned with “Bad Bitch”, “Rum”, and “Key West Fla” on banners streaming around the edges. My biggest complaint is that it’s very dark, and a lot of the detail is lost at a distance. The best part of the label is the that it leaves a lot of room around the edges for the dark amber spirit to show through.
The heavy smell of strong raw alcohol is the first thing I notice from this spirit. At first, there is unfortunately not much else — it’s initial aroma is sadly similar to a neutral grain spirit (probably thanks to those six distillation runs stripping out everything else). Inhaling for a second time, you can pick up some some very faint notes of sweetness, as if you were walking by the cotton candy machine at the county fair.
Thankfully, the weak aromas don’t mean a weak flavor profile — this definitely picks up the pace when you take a sip. Right up front, there are notes of cinnamon, cane sugar, baking spices and banana, which develop and enhance as time goes on towards a hotter, spicier version of themselves accentuated by the strong raw alcohol. That quickly dissipates into a mild sweet finish.
This is a good drink, but not my favorite. The burn is more than I would look for in a sipping spirit.
I’ve never been a fan of rum on the rocks, as it seems to do some strange things to the flavor profile. Usually, the spirit just gets way too sweet for me. But in this case, the ice seems to do some good work for a change, resulting in the flavors becoming more mellow and additional flavors coming to the front.
Peach cobbler is the best way to describe what I am tasting at this point: a solid flavor of peaches mixed with sugar, and the more savory baking spices spices and cinnamon. I don’t dislike it, but for all it’s improvement, I’m not convinced I prefer this format over the neat version.
Cocktail (Dark and Stormy)
Sadly, this is where the rum completely fell apart, in my opinion.
There are a lot of interesting flavors developing in this spirit both neat and on ice, but all of that was completely lost with the ginger beer. I can tell there is some rum in the drink… but it might as well be vodka at this point. Presumably thanks to the six distillation runs, just isn’t enough power or energy in those rum flavors to compete with the ginger beer and make themselves known in the end.
This might be one of those situations where the experience and the memories are more potent than the spirit itself. I loved the hospitality of their tasting room, and I’m very happy that I stumbled in there (and stumbled out happily buzzed). That said, in the cold light of day, the rum is just okay. It is decent neat, but does not make a great drink on the rocks or in a cocktail.
|Key West First Legal Rum Distillery Bad Bitch Spanish Marie Rum|
Produced By: Key West First Legal Rum DistilleryProduction Location: Florida, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A decent rum, but the name on the bottle is writing checks that the flavor cannot cash.