To the hum of classic rock playing in the back room of a small distillery in Baiting Hollow, John Cato singlehandedly bottled the second batch of Sag Harbor Rum, as founder and sailing enthusiast Jason Laan wrote “2” on the back label.
There’s something about the sea and rum, and it’s only natural to find a sailor with a bottle in hand. But this label, downed by the gallon in local pubs and bars along the Long Island coast, is more than it seems. Mr. Cato calls it a “rum for the people, by the people,” pouring the light amber liquid into a modern-day version of Martin & Whiteley’s National Tonic bottle.
Mr. Laan—who grew up sailing most of his life in Southampton—and his business partner, Mike McQuade, first met in 2011 behind the narrow bar of Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in Sag Harbor while working a shift together. Standing behind that same dark-lit bar last week, Mr. McQuade pulled his own Sag Harbor Rum off the shelf.
The spirit inside this bottle, he said, was their way of bringing Sag Harbor back to its roots.
“There was a lot to learn in every aspect of taking an idea and turning it into something tangible,” Mr. McQuade said. “The fun part of Sag Harbor Rum, for me, has been the learning experience, and the meeting of new people.”
One of those fresh faces belonged to Long Island Spirits founder Richard Stabile, who was first approached by Mr. Laan in 2013 about his Sag Harbor Rum venture. It was the pitch that sold him.
“When we first met, it was mid-September, kind of a harried time for us,” Mr. Stabile said during an interview last week at his Long Island Spirits distillery in Baiting Hollow. “I get approached by a lot of people, so I play the skepticism out just to see how real people are, what their thought pattern is, and their commitment to the project.
“I asked some very pointed questions about the distribution, funding, how he was going to roll it out, what his expectations were, and it wasn’t over [after the] first or second conversation,” he continued. “It was a series of conversations where we finally said, ‘Yeah, I think this might be a good idea.’ The similarity would be to dating, I guess. We went on several dates.”
Founded in 2007, Long Island Spirits is the first local distillery to operate on Long Island since the 1800s, according to Mr. Stabile. Located on the outskirts of North Fork Wine Country, its mission and the aged flavor that marks Sag Harbor Rum fit right into the landscape.
“We’re only selling this on the East End of Long Island. We’re not trying to blow up the world with Sag Harbor Rum,” Mr. Laan said. “We’re just trying to make a really nice product and get it out to people.”
The raw rum, imported from Trinidad, is aged at the distillery using Long Island Spirits’s Rough Riders Bourbon barrels, to extract the essence of the historical whalers’ method of storing rum in old spice barrels. What comes out is what the duo calls a “versatile” rum.
Rum fanatics rejoiced when the men released their first 1,500 bottles on May 1. Their second batch will finish with 2,000 hand-cased bottles, they said, which range from about $30 to $40 each.
“People are more willing to try something new,” Mr. Laan said. “We wanted to make something that would work well as a sipping rum, but was also a really nice mixing rum.”
The most challenging roadblock, so far, has been encouraging adults to even give it a try, Mr. McQuade said—including distributors.
“We went into a liquor store to get someone to pick up the rum. They get inundated with all these people coming in with their products,” Mr. Laan said. “Immediately, as we poured him a sample, he was like, ‘Who are you?’ and opened up the door and threw the sample on the ground.
“One of the people in the store knew us and were like, ‘No, no, no, they’re friends of friends! Please try it,’” he continued. “It helps to have local connections. So he said, ‘All right, give me another pour.’ He tasted it and said, ‘All right, I’ll take a case.’”
John Noonan, owner of Jobs Lane Wine & Liquor Shop in Southampton, said he started carrying the rum because it was local. His first case sold out in a week. “We’ll be carrying it all summer,” he said during a telephone interview on Tuesday morning.
Paul Tavernier of Amagansett’s Atlantic Wines & Liquors also ordered Sag Harbor Rum to support local business and soon followed with a second, doubling his order.
With their second batch bottled, the men behind Sag Harbor Rum say this is just the beginning.
“You have a dream to do something, and you kind of just go after it,” Mr. Laan said. “You get up every day, make a list and get done what’s on that list.”
For more information on Sag Harbor Rum, visit sagharborrum.com.