Founder Hatton Smith fell into rum making after stumbling upon an abandoned rum sill in the Panamanian jungle.
Like many liquors, rum has a bit of a split personality.
On the one hand, it is the drink of daring and adventure, the only friend to a marooned pirate sweetening his days on a desert isle. On the other, it is a too-sweet concoction favored by mischievous frat boys and middle-aged vacationers with little umbrellas in their drinks.
With Campesino Rum, founder Hatton Smith is disregarding the liquor’s staid image and taking it back to its pure, swashbuckling roots.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Smith, 26, spent his youth crisscrossing Latin America with his parents, who worked in the coffee industry, frequently visiting remote coffee farms. By the time he became an adult, he couldn’t imagine a life spent punching a clock.
“In less than two years, Smith became known far and wide as a man roughing it in the jungle, only with a lot of liquor and a lot of cash at his disposal.”
In 2017, after graduating from college, Smith went to live on a sugarcane farm, deep in the Panamanian jungle. There, on the edge of the property, he discovered an abandoned rum still and became a bootlegger, making $20 bottles of liquor with little more than donated sugarcane and his own ingenuity.
“I hung up my hammock in there,” Smith said, with a gravelly twang. “I slept four feet away.”
Local farmers, known as campesinos, would trade Smith food for his hooch. He also did a brisk cash business, pocketing as much as $400 a day, seven days a week.
In less than two years, Smith became known far and wide as a man roughing it in the jungle, only with a lot of liquor and a lot of cash at his disposal. That’s when he knew it was time to leave.
“My goal is to reach the consumer and show them what rum really is.”
Back in the states, Smith founded Campesino Rum as a homage to his friends and neighbors, the farmers in the jungle. Drawing on his own experiences as a no-frills distiller, Campesino Rum is made with no added sugars, colors or additives – unlike most other rums on the market.
“My goal is to reach the consumer and show them what rum really is,” Smith said.
Like a coffee maker, Campesino Rum blends rums from different locales, including Nicaragua, Barbados and Panama, to give its spirits a deep, textured flavor.
Campesino Rum is a one-man show, with Smith essentially living out of his car as he traverses the deep South, selling to high-end cocktail bars and golf courses. But in short order he’s built relationships with several of the world finest rum distillers, including Foursquare in Barbados and Alcoholes Finos Dominicanos in the Dominican Republic, to distill his unique blends.
“Smith never intended to become a rum maker. He just wanted to live a life free and clear, like his friends, the campesinos.”
Campesino Rum’s Aged XIV, with a menacing jaguar on the label, blends 8-year-old rums from Barbados and the Dominican Republic with 6-year-old rum from Panama, all aged in bourbon barrels. The result is an oaky liquor with hints of vanilla and brown sugar that Smith has found appeals to bourbon drinkers.
Campesino Rum’s other spirit, Silver X, blends rum from Nicaragua and Trinidad and Tobago that’s been charcoal filtered to give it a clean, round finish. Smith finds Silver X, which sports a snake coiled into an infinity sign on its label, has been popular with vodka drinkers and fans of Blanco tequila.
For the moment, Campesino Rum is sold only in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, with Florida soon to join. But through its website, campesinorum.com, consumers in 41 states can order its spirits for delivery.
And Smith is just beginning. He soon expects to hire a consultant of some sort, to help him run the business as it expands. But he hardly seems concerned about the future or about Campesino Rum’s corporate prospects. As with everything, he prefers to live in the moment, letting life unfold for him at its own, steady pace.
Smith never intended to become a rum maker. He just wanted to live a life free and clear, like his friends, the campesinos.
“This thing,” he said, “found me.”
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