I do a lot of public speaking, much of it on travel, some of it on food history. A currently very popular presentation I give is on the history and impact of rum, which arose in the Caribbean in the 1600s and spread around the world. If you want a little more background on its impact (like the American Revolution), you can check out my earlier post, Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum . One expects rum in a fair number of places–the Caribbean, Australia, South America, and Hawaii, for example. But one does not expect to find rum being produced in Illinois, which has a long history of corn whiskey but no history at all of rum making. It was a most unexpected discovery–and was, quite obviously, something I had to check out.
Tailwinds Distillery in Plainfield is a top-notch distillery of exceptionally fine rum. When I met Toby Beall, who is the founder and head distiller for Tailwinds, I learned that his interest in rum, like mine, is anchored in history. He is a descendant of some of the hundred-plus early rum distillers of colonial New England.
Toby took me on a bit of a tour of the facility and answered a few questions about his rum. The molasses comes from Louisiana, but he pays extra to have them stop the sugar separation earlier in the process, which makes it possible to create a finer rum. His white rum, which is lovely and fragrant, is an award winner. His amber rum, which is aged for 8 months in rye whiskey barrels, has more body and is very smooth. Whole Foods carries these rums in the Chicagoland area, but Toby hopes Tailwinds will soon be able to expand their reach. (And their facility has plenty of room to grow.)
Toby and his brother/partner, Jamie, are both pilots–hence the company’s name, Tailwinds. Traveling in the Caribbean, and sampling the greater variety and higher quality of rums there, is what switched Toby from looking for the usual stuff at liquor stores to wanting to produce a really high-end rum back home.
The handsome, copper and brass still that lets them make the magic happen was built in Louisville, KY (another place that knows something about distilling fine spirits). In addition to rum, Toby also makes a very clean-tasting agave liquor–just to keep things interesting. But rum is still the main focus.
Now that things are moving along at a nice pace, Toby feels they can start putting rum up for longer aging. (Since the company is only one year old, they haven’t had a chance yet to do anything with a huge amount of age.) I think this is a company to watch–but even if you don’t want to track their progress, you might want to pop into Whole Foods (if you’re in the Chicagoland area) and check out this new, Midwestern entry in the rum race. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.