In case you haven’t heard, Secret Barrel is a new company based in Calgary producing white rum. To be honest, we we’re skeptical at first. Reaffirming our stereotypes of rum during the tasting, the gents at Secret Barrel were quick to point out the perception of rum in Canada: “A really crappy alcohol in a plastic screw top 26 with a pirate, palm tree or beach towel on the label strictly for mixing with copious amounts of coke to get it down your gullet only to blackout and do it all again the next day.” Yes, it’s thought of as an amateurish college drink and maybe even more so an illicit high school one because most college folks after 1st year are the ones who have been smart enough to steer clear of the stuff.
Rum out there as we know it, is awful on its own. We’re looking at you captain, don’t even try and sell us on the spiced stuff anymore. Been there, done that. When’s the last time you’ve ever taken a shot of rum at the bar or even heard of anyone doing so for that matter? At least vodka has class with some high end products, whisky and scotch is a given, and tequila has many sippers. But rum? We thought there was no hope for the sugarcane spirit, especially one made by a bunch of Canadians. However, this is no secret anymore. Secret Barrel Batch 001 is some of the best alcohol for it’s price point, and it’s like no other sipping liquor we’ve ever tried. It would be a shame to add even the finest of colas to it.
Enter the land of square glass bottles with corked tops and vintage labels. The rum has been aged in barrels and that has imparted some colour. However, in the bottle it’s crystal clear as is expected for a white rum. This is due to a charcoal filtration process that removes colour but retains all the beautiful flavour of this white rum. We poured it. No rocks, no chilling, just neat. The aroma of the rum had natural notes of vanilla, caramel and butterscotch that one can only experience in person. You know it’s a great rum when the first glass is just as good as the last. The guys at Secret Barrel are redefining rum in the land of rye.
If you are looking to try some Secret Barrel, it’s available a few select boutique liquor stores in Calgary. Be sure to visit their website for the locations. They will also be exhibiting at the Calgary BeerFest May 6th-7th, so you can try a sample of Secret Barrel there.
If you have an awesome product or service and would like to meet QuadRipple to be featured in our Entrepreneurial Endeavours blog, let us know.
QuadRipple decided to interview Secret Barrel for Entrepreneurial Endeavours because we we’re intrigued by the concept of artisanal white rum being produced in rye country. We love the entrepreneurial spirit these guys have and their commitment to sourcing as much as possible locally. We also think that classmates originating from out East and starting a business out West, on an unbeaten path, really makes them pioneers. For a bit more of a background on Secret Barrel and their entrepreneurial endeavours, see some of our questions and their responses below.
[QuadRipple]: How did you get started in liquor production?
[Secret Barrel]: Spirits weren’t the start of it. Back in residence at St. Francis Xavier we started brewing beer in our rez rooms. Now, since our rooms did not have any stoves, which are necessary in the brewing process, we had to transport the beer off campus, brew it, and brought it back to be bottled in our rez!
[QuadRipple]: Any commercial experience?
[Secret Barrel]: It started as a fun hobby in rez and on campus as I said. Truthfully, we did not have much money as students and it was a cheap alternative. Second semester I got a call from my uncle in Ottawa, to start this craft brewery in Ottawa. He pioneered craft brewing in Ottawa with Kichesippi Beer Co.
[QuadRipple]: How do you guys all know eachother?
[Secret Barrel]: Well, three of us were born out east and have known eachother for almost 10 years. We met at St. Francis Xavier University, played hockey and extracurriculars and all and headed out West at different times to pursue full-time job offers. Our fourth member is a native Calgarian.
[QuadRipple]: Why not stick with beer?
[Secret Barrel]: Craft brewing, especially in Calgary doesn’t need anymore help or love. The craft brewing scene is so cool, there’s tons of them, so we thought we’d just leave it alone. Craft distilling on the other hand, needs tons of help.
[QuadRipple]: Why rum?
[Secret Barrel]: We wanted to do rum because it’s different and nobody's doing it. Rum is growing like crazy and we want to change people’s perceptions of it. The later renaissance of rum in North America is evolving.
[QuadRipple]: Where do you get the product?
[Secret Barrel]: We bring in the sugarcane spirit and liquid from Guyana. We’d love to source it locally however sugarcane physically cannot grow here.
[QuadRipple]: How did you find Guyana?
[Secret Barrel]: Through a lot of research and reaching out to local distilleries in several regions. No other rum producing region in the world can boast of such a heritage as Guyana. We are very happy with the final product so it was a perfect choice.
[QuadRipple]: What made you decide to start it with full-time jobs?
[Secret Barrel]: We wanted to start something, and we all had a passion and experience in alcohol making. We’re all at the age where it’s great to do this sort of thing. Going out and meeting people, forming relationships over a drink or few, just like we’re doing now!
[QuadRipple]: How big are you guys right now?
[Secret Barrel]: There is a big demand for it. We’re already in 10 liquor stores in less than 2.5 weeks.
[QuadRipple]: So how did you start?
[Secret Barrel]: Figuring out where we could do it. We don’t have our own facility, we are importing it from Guyana but using the facilities at Highwood.
[QuadRipple]: So basically you are using a commercial kitchen?
[Secret Barrel]: Exactly. Highwood is a great facility with all the necessary permits and regulation to produce Secret Barrel rum in line to exceed health and safety standards.
[QuadRipple]: What do you think makes the taste so amazing?
[Secret Barrel]: The distillery in Guyana has been doing it since 1786, the barrels contain aged wood. They age the liquid for a year which does affect the colour and it is charcoal filtered to remove the colour. We use Alberta water to mix and blend the rum for bottling and distribution, that’s certainly a factor in the taste. We are so happy with the product.
[QuadRipple]: What process do you have to do for the labels?
[Secret Barrel]: Every single bottle was individually labelled…4000 hand labelled bottles. Front, back and over the top. That was a ton of work.
[QuadRipple]: What’s the price point of your rum?
[Secret Barrel]: It is about $50 per bottle (26oz). We locally source everything we can. For example, unicom graphics did the labels, company provided us with boxes, Evans Hunt digital marketing agency did the logo design. It’s sad to just outsource to billion dollar companies that have offshore tax havens.
[QuadRipple]: Is it tough to start something crafty is such a resource dependent province like Alberta?
[Secret Barrel]: I think that the problem is that people think that Alberta is just an oil and gas run province but really there’s so much more to it. So much culture, music, history, that is forgotten when the gas prices are good, but it’s these people and industries that help bring it back when the prices are down. Local companies love helping each other out here. So many creative people and entrepreneurs are doing it by themselves.
[QuadRipple]: How did you get your first sale? What are the challenges you face?
[Secret Barrel]: Vine Arts which is an awesome wine boutique on 1st street. Cork: fine wine and spirits in bow valley square and Kensington Liquor Cellar are our first three boutiques we’ve gotten into and they have been super supportive of us. We are focusing on the boutiques because they focus on supporting local as well. Also, their clientele are looking for craft spirits and beer like our stuff. Something different that you can’t get at a large chain.
[QuadRipple]: So do you just walk in and show them the product?
[Secret Barrel]: In comparison to the situation in Ontario in which the LCBO has a monopoly on liquor sales, we love to have the freedom to be able to go in any small liquor shop giving us greater opportunity. We are very lucky to have the privatization of liquor stores in Alberta for this reason. With the LCBO, they want the product in every single store, we simply aren't big enough, don’t have the capital or the resources to do that!
[QuadRipple]: What did you think when you tired your first batch?
[Secret Barrel]: We were amazed. When tasting, we tried a variation of cocktails. Never coke, we don’t want to wake up with a cavity in the morning! Like, secret barrel it’s not chilled to numb your taste buds or served on ice for the same purpose and dilution. It’s the purest form of rum, and it’s got character, flavours, notes that you can’t taste in any other spirit.
[QuadRipple]: How many bottles did you guys drink after the first batch?
[Secret Barrel]: Hahaha, well, not all of them!
[QuadRipple]: When did you start?
[Secret Barrel]: Started to get the idea formulated in May 2015, so it’s taken a good 8-10 months. We could’ve forced things to be done in 3 months, but we’re in it for the long haul. We made sure we produced a quality product using as much local products and services as possible. When you sacrifice quality and value for the customer, you’ll never be successful.
[QuadRipple]: Why the name Secret Barrel?
[Secret Barrel]: We’ll we don’t have our own facility, so we wanted to maintain that mystery in the branding!
[QuadRipple]: What do you need to continue and grow?
[Secret Barrel]: Well, we don’t want to be in too many liquor stores. At that point, we’ll lose our secret identity. We are going to beerfest because we really want people to sample and try our product but we want to remain somewhat elusive, and secret.
[QuadRipple]: Do you guy think you will stick with rum? Can you see yourself diversifying into other spirits?
[Secret Barrel]: Our focus is on rum. It’s what’s really lacking in the market. Of course we love to play into other spirits, but we really just want to focus on the rum for now. We want to make sure everywhere we are, people love the product and feel good about it. That’s the whole local feel we’re committed too.