As a local San Francisco business, we love working with other local brands in the area. Branded Spirits has been one of our favorite partners. They have a delicious portfolio of spirits with thoughtfulness and love that goes into every aspect of the process. Our February 2018 cocktail kit included their Motu Rum bottles. Here's our interview with the man behind the spirits: Nicholas Chen.
What is your background and how did you become interested in spirits?
I grew up in the beverage business since my dad has been in distribution for the past 25 years. In fact, I made my first beverage brand when I was in 3rd grade for a class project. There was a single batch of about 10 bottles ever made!
Can you tell us about Branded Spirits?
Branded Spirits is a local, family business started by my dad, George and me. We are a craft spirits company, located in San Francisco. Our distillery is a converted prison on the east side of Treasure Island, where we distill and hand bottle Ice Fox Vodka, Hana Gin and Motu Rum. We also import aged spirits from around the country and the world, including scotches, cognacs and bourbon. Our mission is to create unique and excellent spirits, without charging people a "craft" premium to try them.
What led to the start of Motu Rum? Were you behind its creation?
Motu Rum is inspired by our family's connection to the Polynesian Islands. "Motu" is the Polynesian word for "island". My godfather was the late king of Tonga, a Polynesian island nation in the South Pacific. He always loved our rum, so Motu is both inspired by and in honor of the late King George Tupou V of Tonga.
What sets Motu apart from other rums on the market?
To start, Motu Rum is made with Polynesian molasses coming from Hawaii. The molasses produces a long, sweet finish. The flavor profile is also given complexity by a smoky and round flavor that results from the Limosin Oak barrels that we use to age Motu in. These are the same French Oak barrels that they use to make cognac, which we believe has some similar long sugars and sweetness on the pallet.
What's been your proudest moment for Motu?
Being the exclusive rum served at the Royal Coronation for the King of Tonga in 2008.
Do you have any tips for our subscribers on selecting a quality rum?
As with any spirit, the first thing to determine is what style you are looking for. There are many different types of flavor profiles that you come across in rum, so you first have to figure out if you are looking to try something traditional or more modern. Do you like the sweeter, vanilla forward rums, or are you looking for something more funky. Generally, aged rums tend to be both rounder and more complex. If you like sipping, I'd suggest something that has sat in a barrel for some time.
What would you say is the greatest challenge you face as a craft spirit brand in today's market?
Competing with massive spirits companies can be difficult. Those companies have vast resources to keep their brands in the dominant positions at both bars and restaurants as well as liquor stores. So as a small brand we rely on customers who are interested to try new spirits with unique flavors.
What's next for Motu Rum or Branded Spirits?
We are looking to open a tasting room to the public in the second half of 2018. People will have the ability to visit us on Treasure Island, taste our spirits straight and in cocktails and buy bottles directly from our distillery.
And, finally, do you have a favorite cocktail or way to drink Motu?
Right now I'm really enjoying Motu in an Old Fashioned - it's smoky characteristics make it a great substitute for whiskey!