Posted on | May 27, 2014
Written by | Cara McIlwaine
Newfoundlanders proudly consume more rum per capita than any other Canadian province—or U.S. state or territory, and Screech is the go-to brand. Now the makers of Screech, Rock Spirits, have partnered with M.S. Walker, which is poised to expand distribution from eight to 22 states by year’s end. The portfolio also recently expanded with two new flavored offerings, Honey and Spiced.
Proud Maritime Past
Back in the 1790s, Newfoundland was part of a lucrative trade, sending salt cod down to Jamaica and receiving ships filled with cask-strength rum in return. Gary Shaw, VP, Director Control States at M.S. Walker, says, “These rums are true to their Caribbean origins and also pay homage to the seafaring trade between Newfoundland and the islands.”
Not surprisingly, the unique Screech name harbors a great back story. During World War II, many U.S. servicemen were stationed at the base at Pleasantville in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The commanding officer of the first detachment was offered a shot of the locals’ favorite tipple. Seeing his host take a shot in one gulp, the officer did the same. His loud howl could be heard far and wide, and brought curious locals to discover the source. Knowing it was the rum that caused such a screech, the name stuck.
Screech Rum is distilled and barrel-aged in Jamaica. By aging the rums in Jamaica, it allows for a richer, fuller flavor profile, maintaining the rum’s key marques and authenticity. Greg Kerr, Director of Operations at Rock Spirits, explains, “Rock Spirits is a bottler based in Newfoundland since the mid-20th century. We receive the rum that has been cask-aged in Jamaica, and then blend and filter it in small batches.” Rock Spirits makes about 20,000 cases a year of the 80 proof Newfoundland Screech Rum, with half going to the local market.
A proud brand tradition that Kerr says began in the 1970s is the Screech-In. The tradition was started by a local to make mainlanders into honorary Newfoundlanders: One must recite a creed, kiss a cod fish (an old fishing tradition for good luck) and take a shot of Screech.
Shaw says that Screech Rum has recently gone through a complete renaissance. “The entire line has just completed a visual brand refresh to upgrade and update our look,” says M.S. Walker’s Shaw. “The new packaging focuses on both Screech’s nautical heritage and its true craft nature.” M.S. Walker launched the new packaging in the U.S. in January. Recent recognition with a Double Gold from the San Francisco International Spirits Challenge and a 92 point “Excellent” rating from the 2014 Ultimate Spirits Challenge “have helped position Screech Rum as one of the finest rums on the market,” says Shaw.
This spring, Screech moved into the flavored rum category as well, releasing not only a Spiced variation, but also the market’s very first honey-flavored rum. “We knew honey as a flavor was gaining traction in brown spirits, so this felt very organic,” says Kerr. To make Screech Honey Rum, the brand’s same high-quality, oak-aged Jamaican rum base is infused with natural honey extract and natural vanilla, with no added sugar.
Screech Spiced Rum is a blend of 4 to 8 years aged Demerara (Guyana) Rums, as our base, according to Shaw, which is then infused with a select blend of natural spices and no added sugar. Both expressions are 70 proof and are intended to lend themselves well to cocktails. Shaw says, “Our plan is to emphasize the high quality and uniqueness of our Screech flavored Rums, and be active with tastings as well as mixology contests to promote all our Screech Rums.”