At the height of the recent federal shutdown, U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) took to the House floor and said, "There's a rum maker in Pittsburgh who was just getting his business together ... ready to produce legally, good rum in Pittsburgh. Maggie's Farm Rum."
But, she continued, it couldn't open for business because the shutdown stopped the approval of new labels — a situation she called "egregious and horrific."
Tim Russell, owner and distiller of Maggie's Farm Rum, says that while Lee was a tad hyperbolic, the shutdown did cause several sleepless nights: "Not having anything for sale was my worst-case scenario."
Happily, the shutdown ended before his capital ran out, and rum is now dripping from a small still in his Strip District warehouse. "I'm taking it slow to make sure I get it right," Russell says of his 20-gallons-per-week operation.
Since production is so limited, Russell is currently focusing his distribution to bars and restaurants: Bocktown, Kelly's, Piper's Pub and Industry Public House are among those already selling Maggie's Farm. Russell expects to start selling retail in January, though he plans some one-off events before then. The first is set for Black Friday, when the distillery will offer bottles at $28 each (plus tax) starting at 11 a.m.
Maggie's Farm Rum is distilled from turbinado sugar, which contains a significantly higher percentage of molasses (the traditional raw material used to make rum) than common table sugar. The white rum is soft and grassy, with a hint of residual sweetness. It's sipable on its own and also makes for a nice mixer. Russell says he's also planning on aging some of his product in bourbon barrels.
Russell says that until now there have been no outstanding American-produced (Puerto Rico aside) rums, something he hopes to change. The spirit also fits nicely into the growing Pittsburgh-distilled marketplace. "We have people here making whiskey and vodka," he says, "so I chose rum."