When friends and longtime colleagues Tom Kelley and Matt McMullen began talking about going into business together, the two engineers wanted a project that struck the right balance of creativity and exacting process. The two already had other friends in the distilling business, and loved the camaraderie they found in the world of cocktails and spirits. Combined with a passion for rum, Puget Sound Rum Co. was born.

Kelley and McMullen’s Woodinville, WA distillery was modeled after distilleries making Jamaican-style rums, with a pot still that distills cane sugar while retaining lots of flavor in the resulting rum. The rum label is part of their Four Leaf Spirits company, which makes tea-infused spirits, and gives a nod to their Irish heritage in its name. It also acknowledges that like any small business getting started, they’ll need a little luck along the way.

As luck would have it, Kelley is friends with the folks at San Juan Island Distillery, which gave him exposure to the distilling business and an informal apprenticeship, for lack of a better term. There, Kelley helped do a little bit of everything, and learned a lot through observing the distillers work. Combined with McMullen’s inquisitive mind, and lots of experimentation, they released their first rum—a white rum called Rum 47—in late 2015.

The rums at Puget Sound Rum Co. are sugar cane-based. Rums around the world are made from various sugar cane products, including molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. In sugar growing regions, many rums are made from fresh-pressed cane juice, but the juice begins to either ferment or spoil quickly, making this option difficult for rum producers in other parts of the world. For Kelley and McMullen, they found a small organic family farm in Colombia to source panela, unrefined cane sugar that is boiled and evaporated, which is much easier to ship to Washington state.

Two goals Kelley and McMullen set out for themselves were to first, produce complex and flavorful spirits. Kelley refers to rum as an “underappreciated spirit,” and blames bland, mass-produced flavorless rums as part of the problem. When made well, rum—even unaged white rum—can have complex flavor and depth. Aged rums can be sipped and savored like other premium spirits such as tequila or whiskey. The second goal was to give back to the community—both men have lost a parent to cancer, so they are donating a portion of the distillery’s proceeds to fund cancer research. “This definitely helps us stay motivated through hard times to keep us going,” Kelley says.

The latest project for Puget Sound Rum Co. is a honey rum called Cane & Comb. They were inspired by Ron Miel in the Canary Islands and wanted to make something similar, but with a higher percentage of alcohol and a little less sweetness. They use Northwest-produced honey to make the rum, which is as good in cocktails as it is on its own.

Puget Sound Rum Co. Honey Mojito

3 ounces Cane & Comb Honey Rum
¼ large lime
8 mint leaves
3 ounces soda water
1 tablespoon simple syrup

Muddle mint, lime and simple syrup with ice in highball glass. Add Cane & Comb Honey Rum and soda water. Stir and garnish with mint. Dance.