Boukman Rhum Founder Adrian Keogh (Interview)

Published by The Rumlab ago about the Boukman company

Boukman Rhum Founder Adrian Keogh (Interview) article cover image

ADRIAN KEOGH, Founder Boukman Rhum

By Jose Hoffmann

1. Who is Adrian Keogh?

Adrian is a rhum entrepreneur who champions the Clairin of Haiti.  Born in Ireland, he worked in bars in Dublin and the Bronx, and then began a marketing career with Old Bushmills Irish whiskey and Havana Club Rum.  Adrian moved to Paris in 2002 to work in cognac and joined the Haiti Futur non-profit, which introduced him to the people, culture, and spirits of Haiti. After running a start-up innovation fund at Pernod Ricard HQ, in 2014 Adrian decided to combine his professional love of craft spirits with his passion for Haiti and create Boukman Botanical Rhum, which launched in 2016 in collaboration with Haiti Futur.

2. What does the rum mean for you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

I probably fell in love with the idea of rum when celebrating high school graduation with a Malibu and pineapple: freedom & adventure beckoned!  For coming to love the real thing, it was the experience of tasting samples with maestros roneros in 1990s Cuba.

3. Three essential characteristics that define the rum according to your perspective.

Distilled somewhere that actually grows sugarcane, from fresh cane juice or syrup or molasses (take your pick) and that somehow reflects the terroir, tradition, and culture it comes from.

4. What is the most important contribution you have made in the rum industry?

Highlighting the very widespread but largely ignored tradition of naturally infusing rum.

I believe it’s important for rum enthusiasts in North America and Europe to understand how people in rum-producing countries enjoy their rum (hint: it ain’t tiki).

5. Benefits that the rum industry has given you.

I enjoy immensely the immersion in the culture of Haiti and the many friendships I have made there. More broadly, I value the sense of purpose and solidarity among rum makers.  Together we believe that rum will one day take its place as the most admired and enjoyed spirit, and that will bring many benefits to the people and countries that make it.

6. What’s another thing you are passionate about, in addition to rum? Why?

Tea!  As an Irishman, I start the day with four cups of strong African black tea with milk, but in the afternoon I enjoy Indian, Chinese, and Japanese tea. It’s something of a parallel world to rum: a single plant which history (good and bad) has spread to different terroirs and, when done right, brings people enjoyment and conviviality and a livelihood.

7. What is your favorite place for drinking rum?

Probably the Sunken Harbor tiki night at Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Or maybe the much-missed Shakers in Pétionville, Haiti. Or even Rum & Whisky in Kyoto, Japan where rare 1950s and 1960s bottles show that rum is a state of mind as much as a map location.

8. Favorite drink + Recipe

The Presidente – it really should be in the top tier of classic twentieth-century cocktails.  We prefer without grenadine, which is too variable and often cloying, but with a good maraschino cherry dropped in.

Monsieur Le Prezidan:

1.5 oz Boukman Rhum

1.5 oz Comoz Vermouth Blanc

0.5 oz Créole Shrubb

Stir over ice; serve in a Nick & Nora glass with a maraschino cherry.

9. Why is it important to educate the rum consumer?

Rum is held back by a legacy of cheap, indifferent products and beach vacation overindulgence.  Just like tequila did, but over thirty years of quality improvement, consumer education, distillery visits, better appellation rules have helped the tequila boom. So rum needs to learn the same lessons, make better juice, become more transparent about how and where it is made, and explain this patiently to bartenders and consumers.  It’s a long, hard path but over time it will pay dividends.

10. Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum?

Here are three weird but useful tips for getting more out of a tasting:

First, hold your tasting snifter almost horizontal and sniff just the upper side of the glass.

The airflow patterns will give you a different range of the rum’s aromas – and much less overpowering ethanol – than if you stick your nose into the top of a vertically held glass.

Second, hold one nostril closed and sniff the glass with the other; switch nostrils and repeat.

Amazingly, you will detect somewhat different aromas, so it’s a good lesson in understanding that it’s not just that different people perceive aromas differently, even one person’s nose can.

Third, after nosing and tasting, splash a little of the rum on the palms of your (dry) hands and rub them together: if your hands feel a little tacky or sticky, then you know that your rum has been sugared!

11. How can the rum contribute to improving the crisis in some countries?

Oh, where do we start!  Haiti experiences even more acutely the challenges facing the Caribbean and Central American countries: revitalizing the agricultural economy, improving food security, and reducing slum urbanization.  By exporting higher-value organic sugar cane products and growing other crops in the off-season, smallholders can feed and educate their families and make the sector attractive enough for the next generation to stay on the land and make a proper career of farming. A country like Haiti with a deep rum tradition, its sugar cane, and hundreds of distilleries should be exporting dozens of brands.

12. Is the commitment to sustainable development the key to success for the permanence of the rum industry in the world? Why?

Given the zones where most rum producers operate, they are at strong risk from the effects of climate change, e.g. flood/drought/storm.  But a fresh cane juice rum producer is hit immediately: they need cane now to continue distilling and employing people, they can’t just buy molasses from somewhere else. As the demand for transparency increases, consumers will rightly want to know much more about what happens at the source of rum, the cane field, from farming practices to labor conditions and use of resources and chemicals.  For Haiti, the most cane is organic and water is plentiful for now, but the challenges are around raising yields and making it viable for farmers.  Boukman has been running a program with Solidaridad, distillers, and farmers to double yields with new organic techniques.

13. Who would like to meet in the rum industry? What would you say to him/her?

The cool thing about this industry is that you actually can meet many of the important players easily.  I have not yet met the current CEO of Bacardi Mahesh Madhavan, but I would ask him if they are serious about the leadership of the industry, then to do more to raise the quality and character of Bacardi rums, plus invest in terroir distilleries.

14. What are your next goals in the rum industry?

Contribute to building Haiti’s reputation as a leading terroir rum producer, led of course by Boukman.  Then, to see cane farmers prosper from export demand, higher cane prices, and better organic techniques.  Finally,y see some of our profits reinvested in education and all the good things that flow from that.

15. Plans you have when you leave the rum industry.

Haiti brought me to rum, so if I leave the industry in the next twenty years, my involvement with Haiti will continue.

16. Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry?

Rum, at least in the US, has been the poor relation of whisky, gin, and even tequila (which has surpassed it in reputation).  Expert bartenders are the people who can build up rum’s reputation, invent new and delicious drinks and also, perhaps, more importantly, tell rum producers how they need to improve their products to be taken more seriously.  The rum industry should not just treat bartenders as passive one-way ‘influencers’, they are a wonderful community of talented, insightful, and generous people who can tremendous value to the work of distillers.

17. What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry?

Understand deeply then challenge the accepted way of doing things in your distillery, company, country.  Rum needs to move forward by adopting the best ideas and techniques from other distillates, but only after understanding the truth of where its taste comes from, its cane source, terroir, distillery practices.

18. How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?

Pretty much everything interesting we have to say shows up on our Instagram https://www.instagram.com/boukmanrhum/ and our website www.boukmanrhum.com : drinks, recipes, (good) news from Haiti.