Lost Ark Rum CEO Brad Blackwell

Published by The Rumlab ago about the Lost Ark company

Lost Ark Rum CEO Brad Blackwell article cover image

“At Lost Ark Distilling Company, our mission is very simple, make delicious rum. We are focused on creating a renaissance of flavor built on tradition, agriculture, ingenuity, and a drive for excellence. Our passion is to produce a spirit worthy of renewing a forgotten category- American Rum.  Our methods are very intentional layering in flavor, complexity, and never too much sweetness.”

Brad Blackwell is the CEO and Distiller/Blender at Lost Ark Distilling Company. Learn more about him in the next interview:

TRL: Who is Brad Blackwell?

I am the Founder, CEO, and Distiller/Blender at Lost Ark Distilling Company in Columbia, Maryland. I’m also a husband and father to a big awesome family. I grew up in Alabama where my Father and Grandfather both worked in the coal mines. I joined the Army to find a new path which landed me in Maryland in 2004. After many years of a desk job in the corporate IT world, I began to take on many hobbies- one of them being homebrewing.

I loved the idea of taking a raw ingredient, putting it through a very distinct set of steps and getting something amazing on the other side. The process intrigued me, but I also loved the social aspect of it. It was great to brew with friends and share bottles of homebrew. Once I learned about the craft distilling industry, I knew I had to take my passion for spirits and brewing and make something of it. 

TRL: What does the rum mean to you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen? 

Rum has helped me on a path of self-discovery. I know it sounds cliché, but starting the distillery and working through all of the hurdles, complications, and successes has changed me in so many different ways. When I first started the distillery, admittedly, I didn’t know exactly what my focus would be. I knew whiskey took a long time and I didn’t want to compete on the overcrowded vodka shelves- so I chased after rum. When I first started trying to make rum is when I realized that I was up for a very big challenge. When making Bourbon, for example, there’s a fairly standard set of mash bills and rules to follow. On the other hand, with rum, there are hardly any rules at all.

At first thought, this is great (and it is), but it also meant I had a LOT to learn. In all honesty, it has taken many years to finally produce rum that I am fully proud of. The variations of ingredient styles, yeast types, fermentation methods, and temperatures, and of course method of distillation all intertwine to complicate a final “recipe”. I always tell guests on my tours that rum is easily the most diverse spirit in the world. It’s the chase that really made me fall in love. It seemed the more I made and the more I tasted from around the world, the more attractive rum became. 

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

Rum for me has to meet a few certain criteria to be interesting. I don’t think there’s another spirit in the world that comes close to the diversity and complexity of rum. So, I like to spend time on rums that have depth, character, and complexity. I love to just drink and break apart what I think may have been the ingredients, whether it was fermented at high temps, or whether it was distilled on a pot or column.

Rum has to be fun. Part of this diversity and complexity is the ability to create a product that breaks barriers and introduces new ideas and methods. For me, that is a lot of fun and I love tasting rums. I know a lot of passionate thought and consideration went into it.

Lastly, it just simply has to be good. I know that is a very loose definition to use, but no matter how intricate the process is or how much effort was put into it, it still needs to be approachable. The more I sample from around the world, the more diverse my definition of “good” becomes. I shouldn’t taste or smell faults instantly in the glass and I should never have the feeling that some part of the process was rushed or cheapened. 

TRL: What is the most important contribution you have made to the rum industry?

This is a tough question because I am always very forward-looking and trying to think about what is next. I think one of the keys to our success and for the success of rum overall is taking a guest that claims to only like whiskey or vodka- and teaching them to love rum. It happens more often than you would think. I’ve also had an awesome experience doing some product development and blending/production work for a larger international brand. 

TRL: Benefits that the rum industry has given you. 

Community and family. Building our distillery has opened up my life to the community around me. It has been awesome getting to know people, gaining new friends, and seeing how your passion can also be a part of someone else’s lives. It has also been awesome to grow our small team, which are all now basically like family. These have all been huge benefits that the industry has “gifted” me. 

TRL: What is your favorite place for drinking rum? 

Right next to the still. Seriously. Sometimes I still walk into the distillery and it doesn’t feel real that I am doing this. But I love the smell of fermentation, fresh distillate coming out of the parrot, and glass to taste. Being so passionate about the process, sometimes I enjoy the journey more than the destination- and that is saying a lot because the destination is pretty delicious. 

TRL: Favorite drink + Recipe 

I went back and forth over this question several times. But honestly, I just love a solid classic daiquiri. I’ve always wished that there was a secret distillers code that whenever we visited each other’s distilleries we would have raw distillate to share- the heart of what we do as distillers. So for me, our base spirit, white rum, is where I like to focus primarily.

One of the best ways to showcase the hard work of fermentation and manipulating the still is a drink that showcases those flavors. Two ounces of white rum, an ounce of fresh lime juice, and an ounce of simple syrup- adjust lime and sugar as needed to balance sweetness to your taste. 

TRL: Why is it important to educate the rum consumer? 

This is SO important for the future of rum. As trends have changed over the decades from vodka to whiskey (bourbon), rum has quietly been hiding in the background just waiting for more people to take notice. The consumer has just been riddled with bad experiences from macro brands for decades. Our small producers have the opportunity to create something new and distinct that most average consumers have never tried. This means that there is a lot of opportunity, but it also means that we have to work extra hard for it. 

TRL: Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum? 

The easiest thing to do is to never just drink one spirit at a time. Find yourself a good glass and pour two similar types of rum. Spend time nosing before tasting. Sip slowly. When you drink just one barrel-aged rum a day, then it will just always taste like rum. But when you try side by side, it allows your senses to notice the differences, and then over time those differences just become like instinct. After a period of trying all of your rums like that, have someone pour them blind for you and you will soon be able to identify what’s in each glass without seeing it. 

TRL: How can rum contribute to improving the crisis in some countries? 

Sugar cane is certainly a great economic driver and for some countries, a very key part of their economy. So, in my opinion, maintaining integrity for the rum category in these countries is extremely important. Barbados just recently instituted a “geographical indicator” which most believe will be huge for the growth of the category in Barbados. 

Under the GI, Certified Barbados Rums will be required to be distilled, matured, and bottled in Barbados, free of adulteration- which is what I mean when I say that maintaining integrity is very important. It creates jobs in agriculture, industrial production, and tourism. 

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

I would really love to meet Maggie Campbell. She has had such a unique journey and has such a broad depth of knowledge and experience. I don’t have any specific questions that I would ask, but would love to share a few cocktails and nerd out over everything rum. There are so many talented people in this industry, though, so it’s not really fair just to pick one. 

TRL: What are your next goals in the rum industry? 

My future goal is the same as my current goal- make amazingly delicious rum and educate as many people as we can about it. There’s no magical formula to grow or change. The only way to advance is to be consistent and persistent. So, we will keep making great rum and educating one sip at a time. For a more specific answer- I absolutely can’t wait until we reach maturity on some of our barrels- and fingers crossed we can keep growing the number of barrels we are laying down.

TRL: Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry? 

This question circles back to the education question above. The bartender is usually the first line “sales” person for the consumer. They have the unique opportunity to not only create drinks with rum that the consumers can enjoy, but they also get the opportunity to talk and educate. That component is absolutely key for growth in the category!

TRL: What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry? 

Be patient. Seriously, like anything else, good results take time and patience. But this is especially true in the world of rum. Short of working in another established rum distillery and having some very specific experience, creating a rum from “scratch” is very difficult- at least it was for me. There are just so many variations to work through that it takes time. 

TRL: How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?

You can out more about Lost Ark Distilling at the link below:

Website: lostarkdistilling.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/boozecruiser/ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brad-blackwell-36119a103/

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