This is a pre-Thanksgiving quiz. What American revolutionary war hero said, ” I have not yet begun to fight” and had a rum named after him. No, it’s not Hamilton.
We have Finnian Gill, co-founder and Master of Flavors, for… wait for it… for John Paul Jones Rum here to answer every question you might have on how the two, that is American revolutionary war hero john Paul Jones and rum came together. Plus, even more on the, not so secret, ingredient that makes their rum different from every rum out there.
By the way, if you can hear it already, I have bronchitis, which is still wreaking havoc on my voice. But it’s been two weeks without a single episode. So, bear with my voice, at least in the beginning and the end. I totally sound like me in the interview because I recorded that pre cold.
Our Cocktail of the Week: Espresso Martini, made the JPJ way!
- 50ml John Paul Jones Rum
- 40ml coffee liqueur
- 1 shot of premium espresso
- Pinch of sea salt
- Add all of the ingredients to a shaker
- Add ice
- Shake, shake, shake
- Double strain into a coupe glass
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 233Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 142mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 0gSugar: 15gProtein: 0g
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Finnian. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
Susan: I think I’m supposed to say, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Right?
Finn: Yes! Exactly.
Susan: We’re talking about John Paul Jones here. I have the right guy, right?
Finn: Yes, exactly. No, it was one of his most famous lines. And one of his most famous battles, but halfway through, he was asked from the opposition captain, “Do you surrender?” “You said surrender. I have not yet begun to fight!”
Susan: I mean, that’s what I was taught. Remember he is an American war hero, American
Revolutionary War hero, should I say? When I saw a rum that was called John Paul Jones rum, I was like, What the heck, why him? Why rum? Everything? And I just had to have you on the show to find all these things out. So, you have to start from the beginning.
Finn: Let’s start with John Paul Jones a far, far greater man than I. So, I’m Finn, I’m one of the three co-founders of John Paul Jones. We’re a small startup rum company, just started in March this year and I am the Master of Flavors. My job title is designing the rum itself and doing the recipe work. And yes, probably having one of the best jobs you can have.
Susan: Did you always want to do that? Tell me where John Paul Jones rum come from?
Finn: John Paul Jones Rum. It began very much around the table with my two friends. We started it because we’d all hit issues with our careers beforehand. None of us worked in the alcohol industry and we all sat down drinking rum and we’re all big fans of rum.
And we said, “look, why don’t we go and roll the dice a bit and go and see what we can do. We all had this crazy idea that rum could be improved in certain ways. And my business partner, Ollie was born a hundred meters away from where John Paul Jones was born himself up in Scotland.
Susan: You say you were drinking rum. Was rum always a love of yours? Was that that you always drank, you had to have rum?
Finn: Well, I started off with spirits, part and parcel of the teenage years where you drink anything that’s over 40%. I started off with whiskey and really, really found the love of whisky. And that took me towards dark spirits and the Scottish aging process, I always found really interesting, which is, I guess, where some of the influence on the rum is now.
But then I went to the Caribbean a couple of times. I had been to Barbados a few times and discovered Mount Gay and discovered all the other great distilleries out there and very much fell in love with the other way that a dark spirit can be. It’s obviously a bit sweeter and a bit smoother than the slightly spikier whiskies.
Susan: And then you just then keep drinking Mount Gay or did you try all different kinds of rum?
Finn: I don’t know very much, very much outside of the main Bajan and Jamaican distilleries, I say are my favorite. So, I love Appleton, and our base level white rum, as I’m sure I’ll explain later comes from Jamaica and that is due to some of my underlying passion and love for the rum making out there as well. It’s where rum was born and it’s absolutely sensational stuff.
Susan: So, when you say wanted to start a rum with two of your friends, where did you even think of beginning?
Finn: Yes, honestly, well none of us have any experience at all the industry, the first thing to start with. So, there’s a fine line between stupidity and bravery and all that.
Susan: Saying that, it can bring you the best things, right?
Finn: I hope so. I’m not sure how we bumbled through those first few conversations about what we’d make and how we’d end up there. But somehow, we ended up at seaweed infused rum, aged in wood, that in my opinion, to most of my knowledge that no other rum uses.
I think that we really just set out to be different and to embrace the fact that we’re not part of the industry. And because we’re not part of the industry, we can approach things a bit differently and be real outsiders for that. And that was very much what John Paul Jones himself, I guess, that was a lot of what he was about was this idea of going against the grain, being individual and fighting back then, obviously the British, but it’s just the status quo and being against that. I guess we’ve always tried to be outlandish and be different.
Susan: Let’s go back for a sec. So, you’re all around. You hate your jobs. You say let’s start a rum and you just threw in seaweed. You throw in John Paul Jones. Talk me through your thinking at the beginning. Which came first – the John Paul Jones, the seaweed, the living near John Paul Jones, all of that stuff. How did you decide to incorporate it and the way it happened?
Finn: Yes. So, the chronology was that. So, my business partner Ollie lives up in Dumfries in Scotland. And as some people don’t know, John Paul Jones was born about a hundred meters away from him in Dumfries and learned to sail on the Solway Firth and his first adventure started off there, up in Scotland.
Ollie, my good friend and business partner, because he’s always lived so close to it, His old cottage is now a museum has always known the story of John Paul Jones, its’ very much a part of him. He always wanted to turn that into something. And so, he came up to me and said I want to make this and I think it should be a rum. When John Paul Jones died, his body was perfectly preserved in white spirit rum as well. So obviously rum was the spirit to do John Paul Jones. And he came up to me and said, look, “I’ve got the story. I’ve got everything else, but I’m not that clued up on spirit.”
My only experience was the other side of the bar to the one that you’d hope. But, yes, I really went and tried to take some of his story and put it into the rum which is, I guess, how we got to seaweed. Because obviously there’s a Naval hero, and you have this abundance of seaweed growing, washing up on the shores of Scotland.
It seems silly not to use what Mother Nature was providing for free. And there was this perfect accompaniment for rum, in terms of flavor profile because sweet and salty obviously go so well together. If you think of salted caramel and stuff like that. Everything just seemed to align that seaweed had to be in there somewhere.
Susan: Wait, we have to go back to the seaweed for a sec. Is it that Ollie was walking on the beach and he saw some seaweed, and said, “Hey, let’s throw this into rum?” I mean, were you thinking about flavors and what could be different and that you’d looked across and saw it?
Finn: How we got that, so to be honest, because we were born out of lockdown, a lot of our flavor experimenting went on my kitchen counter, we got a lot of things wrong. And, if I was trying to do something really conventional, say a conventional Spiced Rum, so I was playing with nutmeg, cinnamons, all those sorts of Christmas cake, conventional spices.
That went wrong hundreds of times and I tried some disgusting rums and said, I’m going to stop trying to replicate what other people do and do something different. And we always wanted to use some ingredient and that came from Scotland. Or some ingredient they came from the farm or from the estate that now is around where John Paul Jones was born.
Honestly, I just sat down with Ollie and said, “Look, can you just describe me? What is around? Because obviously we couldn’t go over lockdown. I’d be probably sat around a zoom like that since I’ve been up there before, but we ran through and said what’s around, what woods there, what grows on the shore? What do you have going on the estate, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?
And then when he said seaweed that all clicked together. That’s an ingredient from the sea. It provides that salinity and that flavor profile that matches. And also, I’d always thought that running alongside that that works brilliantly is that we add peppercorns as well.
We basically season our spirit. We add salt, we add seaweed that adds saltiness. and we add peppercorns, obviously add the pepper, which if you, in terms of anything with food, you’ll always season it. So that’s worked really well, being a big foodie as well. We could season that we could basically grind salt and pepper into our drinking without exactly doing that.
Susan: Without telling trade secrets, how did you get the seaweed into the rum? Did you put it in the casks and add the seaweed into it? Or, I mean, if you’re allowed to tell me, I don’t know, again, I don’t know if it’s a secret?
Finn: No, no, I can tell you that. So, after the aging process, we withdraw the spirit from the wood and then we put it into a large, large container. And then at that point we do a steep. So, a lot of the way that we designed the recipe or as I did is based on the gin revolution and what they did well.
When we have this aged, already delicious rum. We then just gather a mechanical teabag and dip it into the spirit. And that is fresh ginger at food grade. So, no powder ginger, no essences, just straight, fresh ginger, black peppercorns again, non-crushed again, how you get them in the grinder.
And the Scottish seaweed that we’ve dried. And we literally just dip that in there for 24 hours and then withdraw it. And then that has infused it with all these lovely finishing flavors, which don’t dominate the palette. I don’t think, because of that light touch, they give just really add an extra, an extra dimension.
Susan: And how many times did you have to, or should I say, how long did it take you to find that exact 24 hours? Did you try, seven days first and then tried it and it was horrible? Or was it a one-shot lucky? Oh my God. 24 hours that’s it?
Finn: No, we, we tried everything a lot of times, suddenly lockdown came, lockdown came at a difficult time for us. Because it was just at the start of our process. So obviously delayed so many things, but the one benefit it gave us was time. And over that time, I spent hundreds and hundreds of evenings sat at the kitchen counter with about 10 different rums that I’d spend on the previous week brewing and just infusing and, as you say, doing a seven-day, steep doing twice as much seaweed for half as long, different amounts of ginger and pepper and all those different ways that you can do it.
It was honestly just a refining process and, and a lot of drinking. It’s just never actually about that other thing, especially when you’ve not got much to be out for the next day anyway.
Susan: I guess not. I would love to have been there to try like the seven day one where you like, oh my God, this is so salty, you could use this in cooking.
Finn: Yes, it became really viscous and the seaweed dissolved itself. And you ended up with a slight half seaweedy soup, while being really rich and quite, quite nice to have one sip of you had about three and suddenly you’re like, right. Okay. Need go lie down. It’s quite dense.
Susan: Or maybe the seven day one, you can turn into a mask, right.
Finn: I really use it to see we bought or something.
Susan: Exactly. not a bad bath.: rum and seaweed.
Finn: No, that’s all.
Susan: So, once you had your 24 hours, you think, this is going to be it. this is going to be your rum. what was your next step?
Finn: Yes. So, when we found that recipe, we all sat down and I’d done it myself. And I sent it over or brought it to Ollie and said, try it. Ollie and Jack try this. I think we’re there. And they tried and they’re like, yes, that’s, that’s absolutely. That’s just perfect.
We sat down, we thought, right. Okay. Now again, So the hard work. So, from there we sat down and we do the boring business things that you have to do. Apply for licenses, applied for our wholesale license, apply for your ability to sell, and do all the behind-the-scenes things that, honestly, when we thought we were going to sell rum we’d never have to do. Like produce a direct routes to market business plan and all those slightly more seriously businessy things. While we’re doing that, we were waiting for that recipe to them to be implemented and our first batch to be put together.
We had a nice, I think it was a couple of months, waiting for the rum to be done, because the white rum that we use is ship-to from Jamaica. So, we have to wait for that to be shipped over. Then, yes, and it is just very strange day when, so there’s a knock on the door of all the flat. Someone had dropped off a pallet of rum just on the side of the road. They said, this is yours now. It’s my world. This is very, very real. And that was amazing And then it went into the barrels.
Susan: How exciting it must have been, super exciting.
Finn: Yes, it was…the whole process. I mean, for us to don’t work in the industry, the whole process is so exciting because, so it’s something that I always felt so out of reach, I personally applied for just about every entry level job at Diageo for a couple of years. And I always got told I had no relevant experience. So just to be able to still live in the industry and, and to do the day-to-day I do is rarely lost on me. So yes, no, it’s been a roller coaster. We’ve got a lot of things wrong, but it’s a lot of fun.
Susan: Well, I’m looking at a bottle here behind me. You had John Paul Jones, you had your seaweed, you’re applying for the licenses. Did you have an idea of how you wanted the bottle to look?
Finn: So, it’s a really nice story, actually, the way the designer works. I think it turned out really well, but it was done by a school friend of Ollie’s. His name is Bobby, and it was his first ever proper freelance graphic design job. We very much sat down with him and we had a really, really good process. He’s obviously an incredibly talented designer.
We had a really good process and just coming up with ideas and throwing themes at him rather than designs. We always wanted it to be regal and to have that golden bit. It’s not formality because we’re trying to create a serious drink. We wanted to obviously incorporate the American Naval code because that’s what John Paul Jones wanted to create. And what he really carefully did is create this riff on the frills that come on the coat, which also is supposed to look like the seaweed and the sea.
He did a really, really good job of putting together all of the different parts of John Paul Jones, the seaweed, America, and obviously the link to the Americans and just the formality of the spirit itself and then link them altogether into this bottle which I think is pretty special. Yes. the guy’s going to do great things. We’re very lucky to get him first.
Susan: Yes, it’s a really, really nice-looking label. Now with John Paul Jones, did you have to get approval from his estate, if that even exists or can you use his name and it’s in the public domain?
Finn: He had no direct descendants. His estate in the UK and his legal binding isn’t the same as what it would be elsewhere. There’s no direct person that you’d go to and say, can we use the name. You have to do it for the legal application to make sure that, as with everything else, that if you wanted to start a company of any description, you just have to make sure that no one objected to you using it.
We filled that out as one of the first things we did actually, when we first started the idea as I said right before we get too excited as make sure that we’re not going to get sued or, Oh, there’s not someone out there who who’d have a problem with this. Because that’s obviously the last thing on the day.
We are actually quite excited as well, to currently have an application for our American trademark. Because then we’re going to look to expand over the pond and go to the John Paul Jones’s spiritual home and where everyone loves him.
Susan: For people who aren’t Americans or didn’t study this in. their American history class. Can you give just a teeny bit of history about John Paul Jones?
Finn: Yep. A hundred percent. John Paul Jones was born in the 1700’s in, as I said, the Arbigland estate in Scotland in Dumfries. He learns to sail, and he goes off to for the Merchant Navy, I think at the age of 13. And the first part of his career for the British Merchant Navy, he was transporting goods back to and from the Caribbean. One of the goods, obviously being rum and the other ones could well have been, black pepper and fresh ginger as well because they were growing nearby in Jamaica.
He started his career doing that. And then after a couple of years, the British Navy, at that point, it started moving towards the slave trade, which is obviously barbaric and awful.
John Paul Jones said, this is disgusting. I think he famously described it as an abominable trade and he said, I’m going to go and find a new world. And the new world at the time was America. He went there and found it was a band of a small, isolated militia rather than a central Navy or a central anything.
And the thing, it was very much at the start of the fledgling of American way of life. He then is credited with founding the American Navy, bringing a lot of order to it and then goes and fights the British, very famously as, a moment where he said that quote, “I’ve not yet begun to fight.”
And then after that, he has his time in America and then moves. He actually goes to Russia where he fights for Catherine the Great against the Ottoman empire. And then when he dies, he dies at the age of 46 in Paris. And when he dies, his body was perfectly perserved in white spirit rum. And then actually he was buried in an unmarked grave.
I think it was in 1905. The Americans said that we can’t allow this Naval hero and the legends of our past to be sitting God knows where. In the whole in Paris, they actually dug up about half of Paris to go and find him. They found him and obviously drained him and he’s currently in one of the memorial buildings in Washington.
I think it’s like a completely marble and bronze sarcophagus very much presented and displayed how he deserves to be. That is the A to Z of John Paul Jones’s life.
Susan: Are you sure he was preserved in rum or you’re just making that up?
Finn: No, no, no. It was widespread. It was a white spirit.
Susan: I’m kidding.
Finn: you scared me because I thought you about to bring out John Paul Jones’s diary then. I mean, it was a white spirit rum. It might not have been drinking rum, but it technically was, it was a distilled sugar kind of thing. We were clinging on to that.
Susan: I think Hamilton was also preserved in rum as well
Finn: Yes, well, Nelson was Brandy. Wasn’t it?
Susan: Oh, totally. Nelson. It was Nelson. Yes. Sorry. I’m not up on my British Naval history.
Finn: That’s a good way to go.
Susan: It’s new to market. Relatively because of lock down. It’s pretty new. You are not only the founder, but the brand ambassador for it. When you’re introducing the liquid to someone who doesn’t know anything about it, how do you describe it? What would be the first thing that they should take away the taste, the aroma, the finish, how would you describe it to someone who’s never had it?
Finn: What I find that entices people the most is to say that, and it is completely true, compared to other rum, rum has never been before, because to the most of my knowledge, no one has aged rum in charred America Oak as we do, which obviously takes in a completely different direction. Most rum producers add buckets of sugar post-production to give it that artificial sugary taste, which we don’t do any of.
All spiced and flavored rums, generally, don’t add the botanicals that we do and not many people even age and flavor rum at the same time. There’s also that very, very little of our feedback, hasn’t included the fact that it is different than It is unique. And that would always be my way of doing is, I’d echo the quote that John Paul Jones, the second quote that John Paul Jones said, which is, “those who will not risk, cannot win.” And put that forward and say prepare to try something completely different. But if you don’t try something, you won’t know if you like.
Susan: And do you think of it as a sipping rum or a rum to be used in cocktails or both?
Finn: Working backwards to the way that we planned to make, I think it shows how we want people to drink it, which is that is delicious neat and it’s nice neat, but we’re not precious about it. We’re not a 60-year-old whisky who says, now, if you drank this with anything other than a drop of water, then you’re going straight to hell.
It’s lovely spirit and it deserves to be drunk however you want to drink it. But we do think that if you enjoy it neat, then it will improve every other rum mix or rum cocktail that you make with that. It’s a good start. Like if you don’t like it neat, then you’re only hiding those flavors with whatever you’re putting it with.
Susan: Well, I have it neat in front of me. And I’m not the best, to be honest, the best taster and or are very good at describing what I taste. Usually I’m like, it’s rum, it’s great. Usually, I say that about her. Oh, it’s great. And whatever it is, and it does have, the caramelly smell. what would you want me to try and get out of it?
Finn: The first thing I try and do is try and see if you can notice the saltiness doesn’t come through as saltiness per se but adds a stickiness around the tongue which makes it a bit viscous and a bit I wouldn’t even say syrupy because it’s not syrupy, but a bit thicker, and a bit more luxurious than the mouth.
On top of that, you’ll obviously get all the classic sweetness and then I’d probably say the lightness and the way that, for a dark rum that has been aged in the way that it has with the aggressiveness of wood that’s used, it’s really light and it’s quite delicate. That allows us to use it in tonics. We use mojitos and the places where white rums normally are used. And the other thing I’d say is that to notice the fact it’s quite dry again for rums, that even though it has that butterscotch feeling, it’s not overly sugary. And again, that’s because of the wood and also because of the lack of sugar that we add.
Those are probably the bits that I was, I’d say the most characterizing and maybe actually a lot of people can either pick up one of the ginger or the pepper on the finish. After you’ve had a sip, your throat will remain warm. And that I like to think it’s that warming ginger, which always reminds me of those teas your mom would make, if you’re ever ill, ginger and honey and stuff like that, you get that nice warming effect down the throat.
Susan: I definitely have that. I feel that now. So, the home bartender or someone who’s just trying to start making cocktails at home, they get a bottle. What would you think would be the first cocktail that they should try it with after they’ve had it neat?
Finn: I think the best place to go with that. There’s two ways you could go with that. And I think, I think both are brilliant and both improve, obviously, depending on what spirit you’re replacing. The first idea is an Old Fashioned because you’re moving that next step away from neat. You’re then saying, okay, we’re going to add a little bit to it, and all I’d do is add half as much sugar as you normally would because obviously rum is sweeter than, than bourbon.
And yes, just really enjoy that rum with it because the seaweed and those savory elements to the rum, make it really interesting and really, really different to a normal old fashioned while still hitting those notes you’d expect.
And the other one I do is I would. And it’s slightly controversial one. I would make an Espresso Martini, apart from replacing a vodka with this rum, because again the ginger and the saltiness work with the coffee so well. If you think about it salt and coffee have always worked. It’s absolutely delicious and I promise you, you won’t go back. Rum should be used in an Espresso Martini anyway; it makes far more sense.
Susan: I love that. It sounds great. It sounds fantastic. Now, are there any other fun facts you found along the way making this? Anything that surprised you about making a rum that you didn’t think or getting into the business this way that you thought would never happen?
Finn: I mean, probably so many things, but now you ask they all disappear. The whole thing has been a surprise. It’s been hundreds of blind sidings and hundreds of things that I never thought that you would end up doing, but it’s nice to do it with friends and look around sometimes.
And when we were packing up after we did Taste of London’s massive food event in Regent’s Park, and afterwards, and we had to fulfill the orders because we could only take direct orders and we sat there and just packaged boxes of rum for I think, four or five hours straight.
I remember just looking around my friends, just laughing that what are we doing? How have we ended up six months down the line? It was a great place to be because it’s great to sell bottles and stuff. That look of how would I have to be ended up here? Brilliant though.
Susan: Well, that’s fantastic. At least someone ordered, right. People liked it.
Finn: We sold out in two days at Taste of London. It was our first consumer event, the first time anyone other than friends and family ever tried it. And we assumed that we’d sell five, 10 bottles a session or a day. Within two days we’d sold nearly 80 bottles. We sold out, we do some custom glasses as well, and we sold out of them.
We had to do pre-orders for the last eight or nine days. just because everyone liked it so much, which was absolutely amazing. And as I said, something that was born on my kitchen counter in lockdown, there’s a real pinch me moment. And yes, it was pretty special
Susan: Well, it’s so nice to hear a happy lockdown story. Let me tell you, and especially one involving a spirit and especially one involving rum.
Finn: Completely. No, without a shadow of a doubt.
Susan: Yes, absolutely. Well, I can’t wait to get starting to make that espresso martini. They sound amazing.
Finn: It’s actually, we have it on our Instagram at the moment. John Paul Jones dot rum is the handle.
Susan: I always end with asking two questions because it seems you’re a drinker. do you have. tips for the home bartender. It doesn’t have to be specifically about rum or it can be about.
Finn: I’d say, I think, I’m not sure if it’s not an obvious tip or not, I’d always say to be comfortable with drinking every spirit neat, because that is where you’ll understand it and that’s where you’ll know. And it seems simple, but it’s something I never did until I got into whisky and that’s where my interest and my love for spirits came from is the fact that, I only ever drank it with a mixer and that meant I didn’t understand it. Captain Morgan’s tastes like rum and Coke rather than I didn’t know what it actually tastes like alone.
I just I’d always say just never be scared to try something neat if you take a small sip of something, it’s not going to burn your throat out and it’s not scary, just, try it neat and then you’ll learn a lot more about what you’re drinking.
Susan: I totally agree, especially, yes, because rum is so specific when you hide it in a Coke or something, you just don’t really, you can’t really taste it the taste of it. it just becomes a sugary drink.
Finn: No, it’s so easy to lose the flavor.
Susan: Absolutely. And they’re also specific to where they’re from.
Also, last but not least. if you could have a drink anywhere right now, what would it be and where would it be?
Finn: I’d very much like to follow our rum back home and go to Jamaica. You sit there with a Pina Colada on the beach on the sun lounger. I’d be very, very happy there rather than rainy and dreary London.
Susan: Oh, please. Me too. I totally agree. All right. Well, I will see you there and thank you so much for joining me on the show. I really appreciate.
Finn: Then obviously it ties to thanks so much for having me.
Susan: Thanks so much to Finn for being on the program.
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