The making of Fortress™ Rum

Posted Jan 13, 2015

The Magazin du Roi a building that siezed a new life.

Back in the 1700s, rum accounted for two thirds of the alcohol consumed in New France. It was a major traded good between the Caribbean and the New World – the fish went south and the rum came north.

When rum arrived at the Fortress of Louisbourg, it was brought ashore in large oak casks through the majestic Frédéric Gate and rolled into the Magazin du Roi (the “King’s Store”).  There it sat, waiting, until it was distributed locally or found its way to other parts of New France and New England.

The Magazin du Roi known as the storehouse at the Fortress of Louisbourg storing barrels, carts and wood, until we got the idea to give it a new purpose. What better place to age our rum than in an historic storehouse behind massive stone walls and other fortifications, right at the spot where rum was traded some 300 years ago?

The Fortress of Louisbourg is committed to giving its visitors a truly authentic experience, and so their team loved the idea of bringing rum back into the Magazin du Roi. It would be a new way, they declared, to help bring history to life.

It was one thing to have the idea and another to actually put it into action. Transporting rum from the Caribbean to a National Historic Site in eastern Canada wasn’t going to be easy. However, we like a challenge!  It was quite amazing how everything came together to make it happen. We worked with the Canadian Revenue Agency and the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation every step of the way to ensure that we met all of the regulations. And, most importantly, we collaborated closely with Parks Canada to be sure what we were doing enhanced the visitor experience and was sensitive to and respectful of this national treasure.

On September 16, 2014, the first shipment of rum in over 300 years arrived at the Fortress of Louisbourg.  It came in by sea container and was carefully weighed and off-loaded into oak barrels.

Our founder, Glynn Williams, says he felt goose-bumps as he drove the forklift with the first barrel into the Magazin and put it carefully into position. It took two full days to bring it all inside and secure it.  Then the waiting game began.

Today, when you walk by the warehouse, you immediately notice a lovely, rich, sweet odor – which is the rum evaporating through the walls of our oak barrels. Distillers know they will lose a certain percentage of their batch each year as it migrates through the wood – this is “the angels’ share.” Visitors can close their eyes, breathe deeply and imagine they’re standing in 18th-century Louisbourg.

Although the very first batches have been released, other batches will remain tucked away in the Magazin du Roi for many years.  No one knows exactly how the rum will taste after 10 years – or even 20 years – of being carefully aged within the Fortress – we can’t wait to find out.

Glynn laughs about how the Fortress is “a pretty wild and woolly place,” and expects its unique climate will give the rum a distinctive character.  “The Fortress, at the edge of Cape Breton Island, projects into the wild North Atlantic and is subjected to weather extremes with lots of variability.  One moment the place can be shrouded in a cool fog, the next, the sun breaks through and its hot.  It can be frigid in the winter and steamy in the summer.,” explains Glynn. “Those extremes will drive the spirit in and out of the oak in its own unique way imparting a unique taste to our rum.”

After the rum has matured further, it will be transported to the Authentic Seacoast Distilling Company’s distillery in Guysborough, where the rum will be packaged and shipped to customers all over the world – giving them an authentic taste of Nova Scotia.

Parks Canada is preparing for an influx of visitors, as Fortress™ Rum fans clamour to see the very spot where it was made and to learn first hand what Fortress life was like in the 18th century.  Parks Canada and Fortress of Louisbourg Association has a rum-tasting program with knowledgeable experts, scheduled throughout the season.

“ We’ve made some great friends in this journey with Parks Canada and Fortress of Louisbourg Association, who share the passion and commitment to create authentic experiences that build upon our Canadian heritage.” says Glynn. “We are honoured to have the opportunity to be part of this important story that is Worth Protecting.”