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11 Questions with World Rum Master, Luis Ayala!

Ever thought about opening your own distillery? What would you produce? If you ask Luis Ayala, he’ll suggest rum.

Ahead of Moonshine University’s 5-Day Rum Course this March 2-6, we talked to the world-renowned rum master, Rum University President, and Rum Central CEO to learn more about this incredible spirit, how he built a career around his passion, and what lies ahead for new rum distillers and the rum industry. Check it out!

How did you get started in the rum business?

“About 25 years ago; first writing about the industry, reviewing some products, visiting distilleries and supervising the production processes, sometimes I would be hired for training new personnel. That has evolved now to where presently I am doing more consulting for startups and craft distillers and I also sell a lot of bulk rum through our DSP in Texas.”

What is it about rum that’s driven you to build your career around it?

“I believe that rum, unlike other distilled spirits, has unlimited potential. There are so many different styles made with different distillation equipment and in different places with different raw materials from fresh cane juice to evaporated cane juice or molasses or different types of jaggery or vanilla that any consumer will find a rum they will like, regardless of what their preferences are.”

What do you tell people who say that they don’t drink rum or don’t want to try rum?

“As long as they’re drinking other distilled spirits, I think there is potential – they just haven’t been exposed to the right type of rum. Going to different tastings with different distilleries and exploring, asking questions. If there are products that they like, what are the similarities, the characteristics? Finding a rum with those same characteristics, that would help. I really believe there is a rum for everybody.”

What’s your favorite way to drink rum?

“I have been fortunate enough with my wife to have amassed a collection over the years of 1,500 different rums. The goal is always not to drink the same rum two days in a row and that has us going back to old favorites and discovering new ones. Which one I like to drink has more to do with which ones are waiting to be tasted or what the circumstances are: if I am wanting to pair one with a cigar or with some chocolates, or if we’re doing an outing, I always try to find a rum that fits the occasion on more than one level.”

How did the 5-Day Rum Course start?

“Through The Rum University, we’ve always offered private classes and consulting for our clients. At some point we became aware of Moonshine University and the mission they have towards educating the industry. We decided it made perfect sense for The Rum University and Moonshine University to join forces and offer this course in a setting that has access to more resources than we had back then. The initial approach was well received by the staff and educators here and we’ve been offering the course since then and it’s been a success ever since. I’m looking forward to continuing this.”

What are some of the things students in the 5-Day Rum Course will learn about rum and the rum business?

“Students will start by understanding the economic, political, and international regulations surrounding the rum industry so they can understand the big picture and see that there’s a role for them in it: whether it’s in their country or internationally. The exploration of the rum world then continues with classifications of rum so they can understand the myriad of potential options when it comes to making a rum, with different congener levels or materials. We explore in-depth the world of aging, so that they understand the impact of using French Oak versus American Oak, and different char and toast levels. And also for white and aged rums, the equipment where its all stainless steel versus copper; and the different distillation apparatus on the styles that they offer.”

“The goal is that, for those who want to start in the rum business, they have all of the tools they need to feel comfortable doing so; and for those who are already in the rum business, the goal is for them to fine tune their skills so that they can maximize more out of their daily activities and be more efficient and also explore areas comfortably so that their company can have more offers in their portfolios.”

What’s the benefit of taking this course for people already in the rum industry or for those trying to break into rum, specifically?

“For those already in the rum industry, this course is important because it gives them a new perspective into their daily life. Big companies are known for having very regulated procedures, operating manuals, and ways of approaching the task at hand – because they have to. They have a large consumer base and have to make sure that they are consistent. That drive for consistency often ties the hands of people in production or research and does not allow of them to be aware of alternatives. Coming to the 5-Day Rum Course is an opportunity for those already in the industry to see how things are done elsewhere and take that knowledge back to their facilities and hopefully act as a breath of fresh air.”

“For those who are new to the industry, not coming would be like walking blindfolded in a mine field. The number of obstacles unfortunately very high and some of them are barriers by design set by established players through lobbying, others are simply bureaucratic. But the alcohol industry is a highly regulated, highly hazardous industry and not knowing how to use it would be akin to learn how to fly a plane while in mid-flight. Everybody should know how to take off and land before getting on that plane, and that’s what we’re doing with this course.”

What’s your favorite part about the 5-Day Rum Course?

“Seeing the transformation in people’s faces as they show up full of uncertainty and anxiety and not knowing sometimes that they have what it takes to do this, they just need to be guided properly. We take pride in teaching people that just through aroma itself, they can learn a lot about a rum. This industry is not about getting wasted on the job – that’s actually the wrong way to approach it. This industry has a lot of knowledge that hasn’t always been handed from one generation to the next, even at the same distillery. We are happy and proud of the fact that we’ve been exposed to some of those teachings and we want to share them with people so that they are safe and successful.”

What else should people know about the 5-Day Rum Course?

“Even though this course takes place in the US and is taught in English, the technical aspects of alcohol production that we cover apply to distilleries all over the world. Even if the regulations are different, they tend to be very similar in terms of hazardous materials, alcohol handling, and taxation, so regardless of what country you’re in, consider coming to the course. We will be covering different aspects of the industry that are going to be more impactful to your operation than not knowing about it.”

What does the future of rum look like?

“If we look at rum in terms of volume being sold, premiumization, and how consumer tastes are evolving towards higher congener, more aged products, than the future is nothing but bright. I think that there is a lot of potential profits and growth for companies who are able to aim for the right goals and position themselves to respond to trends as they develop or change.”

What advice do you have for new distillers who want to start making rum?

“Learn as much as you can about the aspects of the industry. You don’t necessarily need to master the subjects, just be aware that there is a pool of knowledge out there that someone on your team needs to be proficient at. Either hire consultants or employees who have demonstrated an ability to deal with those challenges before. Know that there are places like Moonshine University and The Rum University who are eager to share also.”

“At some point, once you have all of your regulatory compliance done, then practice on a small scale, learn as much as you can from your mistakes, and then go into larger productions and adjust. Always pay attention to how your market is changing, because if it changes then you are missing opportunities. Be good at what you do, and keep an eye on consumer preferences and regulatory changes as well.”

To register, visit this link. Enroll by January 27th to take advantage of our Early Bird special, which includes your stay at our contracted hotel. This course is only offered once a year, so reserve your spot now!

About Luis Ayala

Luis Ayala is quite possibly the rum industry’s most devoted ambassador of the modern era. He has relentlessly pursued the establishment – and adoption – of quality standards in the production and marketing of rum. His efforts to improve the quality and appreciation of rum have taken him from being a celebrated author and organizer/judge at international rum festivals to being one of the driving forces behind the creation of new rums and the improvement of many existing ones.

Luis Ayala is as comfortable sharing his rum curriculum in front of university students or corporate executives as he is working in laboratories and distilleries with chemists and rum engineers. He has been involved in the design, business planning and execution of some of the most successful and innovative rum companies in the world. As a consultant, Luis derives great pleasure from lending over two decades of rum expertise to his clients. “Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing how much more enjoyment consumers can get out of fine-tuned rums,” says Luis.

Luis has written for numerous international publications. He is also the recipient of the International Rum Festival’s Platinum Award for excellence in “Global education and promotion of rum,” and of the Congreso Internacional del Ron Award for “2011 World Rum Specialist.” He also worked closely with Georg Riedel (Riedel Crystal) in 2006 in the creation of the first ever Riedel Rum Glass.

Along with his wife Margaret, Luis is a founding member of Rum Runner Press, Inc. – the world’s leading broker for premium rums either in bulk or as custom-formulated private labels. He also serves as President of The Rum University and publisher of Got Rum? magazine, the only monthly publication in existence devoted 100% to rum. Luis Ayala is also a co-instructor of the 5-Day Rum Course at Moonshine University, made possible through a partnership with The Rum University.

About the 5-Day Rum Course

Moonshine University has joined forces with The Rum University to offer the most comprehensive rum training in the world. Designed for both existing and future rum distillers and brand owners, this 5-Day course combines theory and practice to provide attendees with a practical, hands-on education on all things rum. From the financial, marketing, and regulatory considerations to the distillation, aging, and blending processes, every student will leave this course with a nuanced understanding of rum production, the spirits business, and how rum fits into the global, economic landscape.

Of course, you won’t miss out on any of the fun stuff: you’ll get to explore the science of rum production while getting your hands dirty distilling at our on-campus facilities. We’ll also explore the history, category styles, and production methods for rum, as well as its mash bills, fermenting, distilling, and finishing processes. With rum tastings and sensory training sessions set up throughout the week, you’ll discover a variety of rum expressions and styles, and get a feel for the versatility of this delightful spirit.

Perks include a private tour of Kelvin Cooperage and a networking reception, scheduled throughout the week to further enrich your professional and learning experiences, and forge industry and personal connections to last a lifetime. To learn more and register, visit this link.

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