TRL: Who is Garrett Robinson?
My name is Garrett Robinson. I’ve been in the wine & spirits industry for most of my life. I was a bartender, a server, an educator, a certified sommelier, a whisky specialist, and now, a rum maker. I’ve also had a passion for beer, wine, and spirits. At the onset of my career, I was fortunate to be directed into the study of fermented beverages – both beer and wine. Working in the industry, I was challenged to learn more and study the field in which I served. I picked up beer, wine, and spirits books whenever I could, and eventually put my knowledge to the test: at both the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 2.
I worked for Southern Wine & Spirits (now SGWS), for nearly five years, taking a special interest in Scotch whisky. I traveled to both Scotland and Ireland multiple times per year to glean as much knowledge as possible about the intricacies of copper pot stills. In 2015, my business partner and dear friend, Derek Schwarz, approached me to bring a pot-distilled rum to his family home in Puerto Rico. We began preparing for this move in 2015, but finally left our day jobs to bet it all on the rum category in 2017 when we first arrived on the island. Ever since we have built everything, we could by hand – from designing the bottles to building our Barrelhouse in Old San Juan to developing the marketing campaign for Scryer Rum. Chasing this dream has been a dream. I am thrilled to wake up every morning and tackle one hundred opportunities to lend our hand to the quality rum movement.
TRL: What does the rum mean to you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
Rum has long been a passion of mine – just ask my friends in college. But falling in love with rum was a much longer, richer process. I began appreciating the quality of the beverage as I was studying for my first wine exams. I built up a nose and an appreciation for subtlety in the study of French and Italian wines. From there, I developed an intense passion for Scotch whisky. Little known to me, this was simply a thread of my larger devotion to pot-distilled spirits. When Derek began introducing me to rich, unadulterated, full-bodied sipping rums like Foursquare, I was hooked. In 2015, almost overnight, I committed myself to the project that was brewing in our minds. It took two years to fully set that plan in motion and move to Puerto Rico, but I was a rum convert that same fateful day I tried Derek’s rum lineup.
TRL: Three essential characteristics that define the rum according to your perspective.
– Creativity: Rum, as a category, is truly unique. There is no sweeping law that dictates what rum must be – it is differentiated from Scotch whisky, Bourbon, Cognac, etc. That’s a double-edged sword in the sense that there’s no guarantee of quality or consistency, but those who deliberately set out to create a top-notch product on their own accord are afforded the creative freedom to try anything and everything. While lack of transparency in much of the rum industry is a troublesome issue at the moment, we try to be very clear about our aging, our lack of additives and coloring, and the barrels we’re using to create something unique.
– Vision: When I think of Scryer, I think of vision. When we began this project almost 8 years ago, rum was a smaller category than it is today. It was undervalued and underappreciated by the masses. It still is – many people do not know how rich the quality and history of the rum category truly is. But it’s coming. Every day, people steer away from flavored daiquiris and toward the classic. People skip the sugar and lean into sipping rum. We plan to keep our eye on the horizon and keep producing a product that should take the driver’s seat – whether in a Glencairn glass or a couple.
– Fun: Rum as a category is undeniably fun. It doesn’t have to be the cliche pirate-laden, careless drinks-in-the-sand kind of fun that’s so prevalent in the rum category’s large-scale marketing. We’re having fun every day at Scryer. People come into the Barrelhouse in Old San Juan with questions and curiosity. It’s a dream to simply share that excitement in a space that was specifically designed for it. We made our Barrelhouse with the intention that a curious traveler could simply stumble in and learn about the entire rum-making process. It’s not pretentious, and it’s not cliche – it’s just fun.
TRL: What is the most important contribution you have made to the rum industry?
We’re newcomers here. Only recently have we started producing to a volume that can soon be exported. In fact, as of today, you can still only buy Scryer Rum in Puerto Rico. Right now, I think the biggest contribution our team: Derek, Ivan, Allana, Katia, and I have made to the rum industry is the passion we bring to it. We’re a brand that’s trying to do it right: we’re skipping the additives and focusing on natural quality. We’re engaging the surrounding people, especially the younger 30-something, that are looking to define themselves on a night out. Our rum is another outlet for that expression: it’s an award-winning quality spirit that carries a very different message than most Scotches or Cognacs on the market.
TRL: Benefits that the rum industry has given you.
Visibility. The rum industry is much more close-knit than most other spirits categories, and a lot less pretentious. At rum festivals, competitions, and other gatherings, there are always familiar faces. Plus, we’ve found that most other rum producers are thrilled to share ideas and collaborate creatively together. We always try to maintain that same outlook.
TRL: What’s another thing you are passionate about, besides rum? Why?
For me, there are too many to count, let alone discuss here! I love playing my acoustic guitar, my bass, and jamming with Derek – who is also a musician. I love boxing, skating, and surfing. But to really encompass all of that – and I believe I speak for the entire team here–we are all passionate about Puerto Rico itself. Everything we love is made so simple right here on the island. One of the world’s biggest rum scenes? Check. A vibrant, passionate music scene – both large and small-scale? Check. An island with great surf, skates, boxing, and an unbelievably skilled cocktail culture? Quadruple-Check.
Most of all, everyone is your neighbor. Everyone reaches out to support their local businesses. Everyone here lends a hand to help with a new project. Everyone in Puerto Rico will share in the passion of a dream. It’s the only place in the world I could imagine starting Scryer, with an unbeatable team that couldn’t have been put together anywhere else on the planet.
TRL: What is your favorite place for drinking rum?
The rooftop bar in our Barrelhouse, of course! There’s nowhere better to sip a rum than right where it’s made. Passing by a wall of Port and Sherry barrels, you step out of the dimly lit main room, drink in hand, already sweating from the humidity. Heading upstairs to the rooftop is finally a safe bet now that the Puerto Rican sun is slipping just out of view. As you duck under a palm frond, you notice the sky is alive with reds, oranges, and purples; the sunset reaches out, offering its last light to the sky-blue morning glory flowers that dot our left wall. Someone is smoking a cigar.
Most of the aroma is picked up by the breeze, but the faintest smell of Spanish cedar and tobacco reaches your nose. A flamenco guitarist strumming quietly in the far corner, soon to be swept up by the beat of plena drums once the night steals the sky away. An entire evening could pass up on that rooftop and you’ll feel you’re just getting started.
Another cocktail, please!
TRL: Favorite drink + Recipe
I always love the classics. Rum-Fashioned, riffs on the classic daiquiri: maybe with a fuller-bodied rum and the smallest dash of Angostura. But one that I’ve been crazy about lately: Rum Paper Plane – subbing whiskey for Scryer and lemon for lime.
TRL: Why is it important to educate the rum consumer?
More than any other spirits category, rum desperately needs education. Most consumers are unaware that there are three fundamental styles of rum based on their island of origin. Most consumers do not know that rum can be dry – they assume its sugar-laden and spiced by design. What’s worse: consumers are often confused about what exactly they’re buying. There’s a lack of transparency in rum. Age statements aren’t consistent. The addition of flavoring, coloring, and sugar is prevalent. Without education, rum will never reach its well-deserved throne on the top shelf for most consumers.
TRL: Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum?
Trust your gut and take outside opinions with a grain of salt. If you like something, you like it – simple as that! I lean toward rich, bold-palate rum with little to no residual sugar. But that’s not the answer for everyone. We once spent weeks testing and double-testing Scryer because we felt it had the slightest metallic character that drove Derek and me insane. Most people would insist we were imagining it. We fixed that issue a long while ago, discovering the intruder was forming in our dilution process. If we hadn’t secured our own opinions on the rum, I’m certain that I’d still be tasting that metallic character somewhere deep down in the rum today – and it might’ve cost us the gold at the IWSC! Be firm in your beliefs, don’t second-guess yourself, and enjoy what you enjoy without question.
TRL: How can rum contribute to improving the crisis in some countries?
The population in Puerto Rico continues to decline. Companies and individuals come to the island for tax incentives and spend that money elsewhere. Many of those with college degrees or higher leave the island for better-paying jobs on the mainland. Physical products are outsourced and limited manufacturing occurs here directly. The issue is complex – certainly over my head. But I know this: we are proud to call Puerto Rico our home. We will continue producing here on the island and exporting from where we stand. We pay our team as much as we can and hope to recruit the brightest minds from universities here on the island – giving them the option to earn the same amount near their family as they would a thousand miles away.
TRL: What are your next goals in the rum industry?
We want to create something unique here at Scryer. We strive to see: to see the rum category from a different angle. We want to be one pillar of the rum category, demonstrating that rum carries the same, if not greater, quality as the luxury category leaders of Scotch and Cognac. We work on branding to ensure that Scryer Rum says something about those who choose to enjoy it on their night out. It’s an outlet for your own creativity: we want it to illustrate a person who thinks independently, someone who appreciates quality, and someone who is always willing to try something new. It’s an adventure!
Speaking of adventures, we’re very much in expansion mode here at Scryer. We’re working on plans for a new distillery in Rio Piedras. We’re preparing for export of the rum hopefully by the end of the year. We want to keep expanding upon our growing list of accolades. We’re closing in on our dreams quicker than expected, and that’s exciting!
TRL: Plans you have when you leave the rum industry.
Derek and I are in for the long haul, no doubt about that! If he has plans to leave the rum industry in the next 25 years, he certainly hasn’t mentioned it. For me, I think I’ll be old when that day comes – and probably still kicking back a glass or two!
TRL: Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry?
Bartending is the lifeblood of this industry. It’s one role I’m most passionate about, alongside my personal love of hand-selecting wine barrels. I’ve been a bartender for a long time now. Sometimes I still fill in behind our Barrelhouse bar when we have a team member out sick. The fact is: most people don’t want to sip a spirit neatly. Most people would rather have that spirit mixed in a cocktail – be it rum, whiskey, brandy, you name it. Our job is to create something that can be enjoyed.
Ideally, we create a rum that’s applauded by enthusiasts for its sipping characteristics but is versatile in cocktails as well. That’s where talent in bartending is irreplaceable. A good bartender recognizes that no two spirits are the same, especially in rum. You can’t swap Scryer for an Agricole, for example. A talented bartender is the difference between an enjoyable experience and a letdown.
TRL: What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry?
An interesting question, as I think we are part of the new generation in the industry. To all of our fellow movers and shakers in the rum category: keep your heading. Set your eyes on some point on the horizon and don’t stray from your course. Create the thing that the world is missing. Let it be a conduit for your passion. Don’t be steered by what others tell you is possible – make it yourself, and fail now and then along the way.
It’s a beautiful industry we work in. Sometimes we’re misled by the daunting task of building a name for ourselves, but it’s a simple thing, really. Enjoy what you do, build a vision, work hard towards pursuing that vision, do your best for those working alongside you, and have fun with it!
TRL: How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?
The best way to learn more about Scryer is to visit us at our Barrelhouse in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. We’re at 259 Calle Tetuan, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 00901, and we’re open every day. Just walk right in and have a drink at the bar. It is a gathering space to meet new friends, not a stuffy tasting room. And if you can’t make it to the Barrelhouse, visit our website and social media.
Published by The Rumlab ago
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