Ho! Ho! Ho! And a bottle of rum! Visit the Outer Banks Distillery, home of Kill Devil Rums, in Mateo, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks, to get a flavor of the history of this spirit.
Rum came out of the slave trade when crystalized sugar was worth more than gold during tribal trade. To make sugar, they would boil off the cane sugar to make sugar crystals and the other byproduct was molasses. Slaves realized how fermentable the remains of cane sugar, molasses, was and started making beverages out of the waste from their fields.
Graveyard of the Atlantic
The Outer Banks has long been known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of more than 1,000 ships being shipwrecked off this giant sandbar. Some of these ships were headed to the New England states and contained big barrels of rum. Legend has it that the locals tied a lantern around the neck of a nag (a horse, and where Nags Head, NC got its name) and paraded the nag up and down the shoreline to lure ships at sea close to shore and become shipwrecked. Once that happened, the loose barrels of rum were rolled behind the hill which became the location of the Wright Brothers Monument.
How did the town of Kill Devil, NC, get its name and from where did the term “kill devil” come? The first time rum was mentioned was in Barbados in 1650, and it was called Kill Devil, rum strong enough to “kill the devil.”
An historic brick building houses The Outer Banks Distillery. The building was home to a furniture store, a department store, and even the Dare County Board of Education. As we walked through the beautiful cypress front door, we found the cypress beams had also been used for the tasting bar and retail store.
Matt Newsome, one of the owners, was our tour guide for the day. This tour is a necessity for anyone interested in spirits. The four owners of the Outer Banks Distillery know what they are doing as proven by 24 international awards. With Matt’s help, I finally understood the distilling process which I want to share with you here.
The Rum Making Process
In the pretreatment tank called a Reaction Tank, water and molasses combine. For proper fermentation, you need to reduce the sugar content of the molasses by adding water to make a more manageable starting material for the yeast. High sugar content can inhibit the yeast from producing alcohol.
From there, it goes into a Fermentation Tank. Here the Molasses Wash turns sugar (of the molasses) and yeast into alcohol, CO2, and heat. The yeast eats the sugars in molasses and the yeast settles to the bottom. The fermentation process takes five-seven days.
Next up is the Copper Pot Still where the molasses wash is warmed with steam heat. The alcohol turns to vapor sooner than water. Vapor rises and journeys to the top of the Reflux Column. At that point, the alcohol is 90% alcohol.
These vapors hit the cold chamber of the Condenser where it becomes liquid again and is separated into three parts consisting of Heads, Hearts, and Tails. The liquid comes off crystal clear. (Captain Morgan’s adds artificial coloring.) Heads have a chemical taste like nail polish. Tails have a watered down flavor. Hearts are the good part. The saying is, “21 liters of Heart with 300 liters of start.”
Kill Devil Rum Varieties
One of the Outer Banks Distillery’s pride and joys is their Rum with Pecans & Honey. To make this, they soak pecans in a bag with rum for about 10 days to get a natural flavor and color and then add just a hint of honey for body. The Rum with Pecans & Honey is 40% alcohol. I can attest to how delicious this rum is because I purchased a bottle to take home.
Dark Rum 90 is 63% alcohol and is aged in the barrel for a year and then goes back into distilling to get it back to 40% alcohol. They use bourbon barrels to age rum because bourbon is only made in new barrels. The dark rum is aged at least a year in the barrels. An interesting fact is that the barrel staves contract and expand with temperature and the rum goes in and out of the staves as it expands and contracts which adds flavor to the rum.
According to Matt, since the Silver Rum has no residual sugar, you will not get a hangover from it.
The Outer Banks Distillery also does some special rums at different times of the year like one spiced with cocoa nibs, almonds, and coconut. This series is called their Shipwreck Series.
These owners truly love their community and contribute the profits from their Angels’ Share Rum where proceeds from this small batch rum go back to help others. They have rebuilt a playground in Manteo and given to the Hurricane Relief Fund their second year. Ask the owners, and they say, “the Outer Banks is steeped in rum history and pirate legend, and we want to keep this spirit alive!”
To purchase some of this boutique rum, go to their website at: https://outerbanksdistilling.com/ When you visit the website, you will find this great summer cocktail:
2 oz. Kill Devil Silver Rum
2 fresh watermelon chunks (seedless)
½ oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
Combine all ingredients into a shaker tin with ice. Shake and strain into large rocks glass. Garnish with the lime wheel and mint sprig.
My tour of the Outer Banks Distillery was comped to me, but the bottle I bought to take home was my purchase, attesting to how wonderful these rums are.