Earlier this year City Paper interviewed Paul Yellin, chef and owner of East Bay Street's Cane Rhum Bar & Caribbean Kitchen, to see what he had in mind for the restaurant, which features, highlights, and glorifies rum in all of its iterations. At the time he told CP's Dustin Waters, "I would like to help Charleston redefine and cultivate their palate of what they thought rum was or is."
Now he's doing just that with his brand spankin' new rum club, launching this November. "It started two years ago with a couple people. We would meet at bars and distilleries," says Yellin of the small group of rum drinkers who met to talk, drink, and be merry with their favorite spirit. Yellin got a little sidetracked when he opened Cane, but he knew that the restaurant and bar would be the perfect home for an official Lowcountry rum club, and he never gave up on that idea.
"We'll feature a rum once a month," says Yellin of the club. He estimates membership will be $25 per person for the year. This club isn't just about drinking, though — Yellin really wants to educate people on the rum they're swilling, and the spirit in general. "We'll have a rum 101 for the first one or two [meetings], but it can't be every time," he says.
Rather, he'll rely on the knowledge of distributors and brand ambassadors to answer any questions members may have. Yellin says that he often sees liquor reps reading from a script, not prompted to dive deeper into their knowledge of a particular spirit. He hopes inquistive rum members will challenge that status quo.
Cane Rhum Bar has already collected over 50 names of people interested in joining the club, and Yellin imagines that number will grow as more people find out about it. He tells his staff to suss out interest from customers, asking particularly avid drinkers if they'd like to join the club.
Yellin hopes to expand customers' taste horizons and customize drinkers' profiles. He says there will be tastings of rums like Gosling's, Pussers, Rum Fire, Rational Spirits, and more.
"It's important for us to have people come with an open mind," says Yellin. "For people who are novices, forget everything you thought you knew about rum."
Charleston is, for the most part, a bourbon-minded town, but Yellin doesn't think that designation will keep people from exploring rum — you know, the stuff that doesn't come in a plastic bottle and taste like coconut. "While we definitely respect the bourbon industry and the fact that Charleston is a bourbon town, we would like very much to offer an alternative," he says.
Rum club meetings will feature tastes of a rum, along with a specialty cocktail that highlights the product. Oh, and this is a restaurant, so guests can also expect to pair their liquid diet with some small bites.
Yellin is passionate about rum, and he's found that a lot of Charleston is, too. "I've already had five or six people bring me back bottles from their trips," he says. Cultivating and sharing an interest has come naturally to Yellin's growing rum community; when customers bring him bottles of rum from afar he pays them in a free meal. The old barter system, probably what they did in rum's early Charleston days.
"There are a lot of rum drinkers out there," says Yellin. "They just don't know it yet."