Rum and rye whiskey meet again for another Fortuitous Union

And here we have another installment of “happy accident turns into a damn fine spirit,” courtesy of the guys behind Rolling Fork Spirits.

In 2018, Louisville rum fanatics Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris joined forces to create a rum company in bourbon country. Of course they would utilize the plethora of bourbon and whiskey barrels we have here in Kentucky as finishing agents to their rum, which they source from Jamaica, Trinidad, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, etc.

During one of their finishing sessions, they accidentally poured their precious Trinidad rum into a vat full of rye whiskey, and thus was born Fortuitous Union, a blend of rum and rye that actually was quite delicious and nabbed much attention from whiskey drinkers near and far.

Fortuitous Union Batch 2
Say hello to FU2! | Courtesy

You can read the full story of that here.

Now, four years later, there are some new Fortuitous Unions on the market.

While the process of blending rum and rye whiskey was fully intentional this time, there was still a small hiccup of forgetting a barrel or two of rye whiskey in the finished product. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Let’s talk about the ingredients here.

FU Batch 2 consists of 4-year-old rum distilled in Barbados; 4-year-old rum distilled in Jamaica; 4-year-old rum distilled in the Dominican Republic; and 6-year-old rye whiskey distilled in Indiana (MGP).

The spirits mingled together for three days in a stainless steel tank, and then the rum-whiskey hybrid (aka distilled spirits specialty, or DSS) was put into highly sought-after, used bourbon and rye whiskey barrels.

The brands of those barrels weren’t named in the press release, but I was fortunate … or fortuitous? … to hang out with Wathen and Morris one Sunday afternoon in their barrel rick house, which happens to be at Starlight Distillery in Indiana. So I got to peek behind the curtain of this year’s FU and I took note of the brands.

One batch went into a used Weller barrel, one in a used Thomas H. Handy barrel, and one in a used Woodford Double Oak barrel. How about that charred oak real estate?

Turner Wathen
Turner Wathen is proud of his rum experiments, which will be revealed soon. | Photo by Sara Havens

The guys then created a small batch using the juice from all three finishes, as well as single barrels from each of the three.

So if you see this on the shelf, take a close look at the bottom of the label, and it will present you with a clue as to which one it is.

Wathen and Morris are doing some interesting things with rum finishes, especially in their Rolling Fork line, and as Wathen thieved barrel after barrel of experiments they have going on at Starlight, he was as giddy as a kid getting a pony for Christmas.

The FU sample I was most drawn to came from the Weller barrels, and it was bottled at 111.8 proof. It’s got some sweet tingles up front, followed by a little heat and spice from the rye, and then finishes long with a pleasant taste that reminds me of the frosting that goes on a cinnamon roll.

And the longer I let the sample sit out, the richer and more complex it got.

This would be great in a traditional daiquiri or even an old fashioned, but I’ll probably end up sipping most of it on its own. Wathen and Morris came up with their own cocktail, FU-Man-Daq, which merges a manhattan with a daiquiri, and I’ll post that recipe below.

I promised you earlier that there was a small snafu to this year’s FU, so here it is. When the FU brain trust was blending the rum and rye whiskey together, they forgot to add two barrels of the MGP rye. Thus the final product is about 85% rum and 15% rye.

But don’t fret: That rye really comes out on the palate, and the result is a perfect blend of two spirits that work well together. FU sells for about $55.

FU-Man-Daq Cocktail

  • 2 oz. Fortuitous Union
  • .75 oz. Antica vermouth
  • .75 oz. fresh lime
  • .75 oz. simple syrup

Shake with ice, strain and top with lime bitters.

Turner Wathen

Throwback Content: Fortuitous Union or happy accident? How a local spirits company turned an oops into an opportunity

Fortuitous Union bottle
Fortuitous Union came about by accident. | Courtesy of Fortuitous Union

Note: This story was originally published by Insider Louisville on June 21, 2018.

If you would have talked to Turner Wathen on the day it happened, it would have been a completely different story — a story that involved one giant accident and the demise of a business, a dream, a passion.

But hope springs eternal, and after a night’s rest, Wathen revisited the scene of the accident and discovered, lo and behold, that his mistake “was pretty fucking good.”

More on that in a bit.

Business partners and entrepreneurs Wathen and Jordan Morris had a solid plan for their startup company, Rolling Fork Spirits. After years of discussing, researching, brainstorming, scrapping ideas and starting new ones, the two decided they wanted to create rums that bourbon aficionados could get behind.

Wathen comes from a lineage of Kentucky bourbon-makers, and Morris has been a fan of whiskey long before it became cool. Wathen lives in Louisville and works in sales, while Morris lives in Portland, Oregon, and works as a lawyer.

The two met at a party through an introduction by their wives, Wathen recalls, and ended up talking whiskey all night long. Both men had a desire to get into the spirits business, but neither had the deep pockets needed to open a distillery.

After researching and testing out a sorghum-based spirit, which did not end up being a commercially viable product, Wathen and Morris set their sights on rum.

“Our objective was to be rum evangelists out of Kentucky and do cool things to rum that we think bourbon- and whiskey-centric audiences would appreciate,” says Wathen.

Turner Wathen
Turner Wathen | Courtesy of Fortuitous Union

Since making their own rum would be too costly, the two began looking to source rum from places like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. They soon stumbled upon a batch of 12-year-old rum from Trinidad that contained no sugar, no color and no additives — ingredients sometimes added to mass-produced rums.

“There’s a lot of really good spirits out there that we can access through our contacts that we think are deserving of consumers’ appreciation,” Wathen explains. “We’re not the first to do it, we’re not the last to do it. We just try to be transparent about it.”

It ended up being some of the last Trinidad rum to be sold in the United States, so Wathen and Morris knew they had a solid base product. The plan was to release a high-proof, triple-finished spirit that had been aged in three different barrels — bourbon, port and then sherry. The plan was in place, a name was chosen and a label was even in the works. And then, that dreaded day in July of 2017 …

With Morris in Portland, Wathen was supervising the finishing process at an area distillery and warehouse they contracted for storage and services. The rum had sat about seven months in used bourbon barrels, so it was time to move it into the port barrels.

Jordan Morris
Jordan Morris | Courtesy of Fortuitous Union

In order to do that, Wathen says, all the barrels had to be emptied into a stainless steel dump tank, and then the rum would be pumped into the port barrels from there.

What could go wrong?

“Well, we pulled a dump tank we did not know had 90 gallons of rye whiskey in it,” he admits. “So we dumped our rum into this dump tank, and all of a sudden it scaled 1,000 pounds over what it should have been. I’m sitting there freaking out. My partner is on the West Coast, so he didn’t even know yet.”

Wathen recalls the sudden silence that fell over the room and the pale, frightened look on everyone’s faces. He figured he had just flushed his business down the toilet, so he told everyone to go home. The rum surely was ruined by the five-year-old rye whiskey.

After explaining the situation to Morris and his wife and anyone else who would listen, Wathen decided to go back into the distillery the next day and clean up the mess. Perhaps something could be salvaged, he thought.

And then, he tasted it. Color returned to his face as his taste buds savored the intricate, balanced and delightful flavors coming from the rum/rye whiskey hybrid. A big smile appeared when he realized his company was not doomed. Although it wasn’t what they planned, it still fit the mold.

Thus, Fortuitous Union was born.

“If it had been vodka, we would have had failure. If it had been a younger bourbon or a corn-heavy mash bill, it probably wouldn’t have tasted that good,” says Wathen. “Ninety percent of what we do are accidents. We’re just dumb enough to put money into our accidents.”

Wathen and Morris quickly readjusted the plan for this new, unexpected product. They also sought opinions from local spirits experts like Larry Rice, co-owner of The Silver Dollar and The Pearl and also an investor in the company, and author Fred Minnick. In fact, it was Rice who helped come up with the name — Fortuitous Union — which fittingly abbreviates to FU.

Local graphic designer Bill Green already was working on a label for the triple-finished rum, so he put that on hold and started from scratch on this one.

And as the label and bottling came together, Wathen and Morris worked on finding a supplier.

Fortuitous Union now is available in Louisville and Chicago — two markets the guys want to tackle first. You can find it by the pour at The Pearl or on the shelf at Old Town Wine & Spirits in the Highlands and eventually more liquor stores as distribution expands. It retails for $65.

FU is more rum than whiskey, but when sipped, it displays those familiar spicy notes common in rye whiskeys or high-rye bourbons. At 103 proof, the finish tingles with heat, which is definitely not a characteristic of most rums.

And while it can certainly fare well a fine cocktail, we preferred to sip it neat and let those flavors — sweet and spice — mingle in our mouth.

But don’t take our word for it — in April, it won a silver medal at the annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Wathen says there will most likely be other iterations of Fortuitous Union, but for now, they’re focusing on this product and also working on their original triple-finished concept, which they may call Rolling Fork Rum.

“We literally roll dice and hope it’s going to work, but also we spent a long time teaching ourselves how to partner with the right people — and we’ve gotten lucky,” he says. “It’s a lot of luck, a lot of risk, and there’s some vision in there between.”

This story was originally published by Insider Louisville on June 21, 2018.

Tasteless Tastings bottles

Tasteless Tastings: Summer 2020, The Quarantine Edition

Welcome to another edition of Tasteless Tastings, which is exactly what it sounds like: tasting notes from the riffraff. If you follow the liquor industry to any capacity, you probably have come across snooty tasting notes from classy people who make the new spirit sound more like a science experiment than something you consume for fun. I want to shoot gayly forward from the hip and tell you how it really tastes. So each time the nice mailman brings me a sample to try, I’ll gather up some friends and we’ll have a candid, lively and unpolitically correct discussion about said sample.

This month’s gathering was rather limited, since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and all. But rest assured, we all stayed 6 feet apart, except when they wanted seconds, and then it was more like 12 feet. Let’s get to it …

Tasteless Tastings bottles

The fearsome fivesome. | Photo by Sara Havens

What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Rolling Fork Rum

 

What the hell is it?:

After an unfortunate (but delicious) mistake, the Louisville guys behind Rolling Fork Spirits have finally come out with the product they envisioned for their brand: Rolling Fork Rum. This small batch release features 11-year-old rum from El Salvador that has been finished in four different casks: bourbon, rye whiskey, port and sherry.

After spending about two years hanging out in these barrels in Kentucky, Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris mingled them together to create this flavorful, whiskey-tinged rum.

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

110 proof, 11-year-old El Salvador rum finished in used bourbon, rye, port and sherry barrels. Retails for about $85-$95.

 

What do we think?:

Rolling Fork Rum bottleBritany: It smells like high school, when we used to drink Bacardi 151.

Miriam: There goes my nose hairs.

Tracy: Starts out smooth and then … whoosh!

Britany: It’s got sort of a tropical note flavor on the tongue.

Bar Belle: I’m getting banana and vanilla. It’s quite smooth and goes down easy.

Kelly: It’s hot and it burns all the way down.

Bar Belle: That’s because you’re a lightweight.

Katie: My throat is numb! But it’s good. I don’t have thoughts. It’s good.

Tracy: Tastes like a snickerdoodle. It’s cinnamon, or maybe that’s the explosion in the back.

Tasters add ice to samples …

Britany: Now that the ice is in it, it’s buttery. I want it in pudding!

Tracy: Like a good butterscotch. It’s porch-sippin’ rum.

Britany: It’s like you still had bourbon in the bottom in your glass and someone poured rum in.

Miriam: It’s still punching me in the nose.

Kelly: I’d put it with ginger ale. Or Coke.

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Tracy: Yes! I would definitely quarantine with this.

Britany: It would definitely brighten my mood. I wouldn’t use it for disinfectant.

Bar BelleThis is a bourbon drinker’s rum. Of course I’d quarantine with it! I bet it does dirty things in a cocktail. Bring on the pineapple!

Miriam: Yes, I like it. Maybe with ginger ale?

Kelly: Sure. To be fair, though, I’d quarantine with anything.

Katie: I would for sure. I like the bottle, too.

______________________________________________________________

 

What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Buzzard’s Roost Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

 

What the hell is it?:

Buzzard’s Roost is owned and operated by my buddy Jason Brauner, who also owns Bourbon’s Bistro in Louisville. Jason has been a bourbon connoisseur long before bourbon was hip, and I truly believe he was one of the driving forces behind the big bourbon boom of today, especially in Kentucky.

Jason loves bourbon so much, he decided to release his own brand last year, and it has garnered great reviews and accolades — including recently winning a gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for this Single Barrel Rye Whiskey.

Basically, Jason purchases fully mature bourbon from various brokers (Kentucky and Indiana juice), and then he works his magic in the finishing process, adding that bourbon to new, sometimes toasted barrels.

(I did not tell the tasters that I personally know Jason because, you know, ethics.)

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

105 proof, 3 years old. Retails for about $80.

 

What do we think?:

Buzzard's Roost bottleBritany: Oooh, it’s spicy. My tongue is tingly.

Bar Belle: I’m getting a lot of black pepper. Wow! It kinda reminds me of a morning muffin that is still warm from being in the oven, and the butter just melts right on top. 

Tracy: This is quite nice. It’s fire — in a good way.

Miriam: There goes my nose hairs again!

Kelly: Mmmm, now this doesn’t suck.

Katie: This makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, like a liquid Snuggie.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: The ice mellows it out a bit, but it’s still spicy. This would make a great winter drink, sitting by the fire, curled up with a book.

Britany: Curled up with your kitties!

Tracy: Even better.

Bar Belle: I don’t understand you cat people.

Miriam: A-chew!

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Tracy: I would quarankeep it!

Britany: I like this. Yes!

Bar Belle: Yes, it’s so smooth and sweet, yet packs a punch. I need a good punch during quarantine.

Miriam: Absolutely!

Kelly: It’s peppery and hot, so yes, definitely!

Katie: Sure, rye not?

______________________________________________________________

 

What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Larceny Barrel Proof B520

 

What the hell is it?:

This is the second release in the Barrel Proof line for this wheated bourbon made by Heaven Hill.

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

122.2 proof, 6-8 years old, non-chill filtered. Retails for around $50.

 

What do we think?:

Larceny Barrel Proof bottleBritany: Ouch! It hurts! Right up the nose!

Kelly: It does hit the nose.

Tracy: It started off smooth and then — BLAM!

Miriam: I’m not even going to dip my toes in the pool.

Bar Belle: It’s not bad for being 122 proof. I can still taste the nuances in this wheated bourbon. This is 100% wheat heat!

Katie: I’d do it if I had to, but I don’t want to keep drinking it.

Britany: I like it better when it’s completely out of my mouth.

Tracy: That’s what she said!

Katie: It smelled like it was going to be sweet, and it wasn’t. Tricky little shit.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: Even with the ice, it’s more harsh than the other two. Now for a disinfectant, this could be it!

Britany: Better with ice for sure. Compared to the others, it was drastically different with water.

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Britany: As a disinfectant, yes. It is not even better than Bud Light.

Kelly: If it was my only option, I’d drink it.

Tracy: As disiectant, too. You’re gonna kill all the germs with this.

Katie: If I had to. Not by choice. But I’m not going to quarantine without a drink.

Bar Belle: Yes, I think it’s quite tasty. I might save it for the bad days to instantly lift my mood.

Britany: They should change the name Larceny to Arsony. 

______________________________________________________________

 

What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B520

 

What the hell is it?:

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is an uncut small batch of 12-year-old bourbon bottled straight from the barrel. This season’s release comes in at a stout 127.2 proof.

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

127.2 proof, 12 years old, non-chill filtered. Retails for around $70.

 

What do we think?:

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bottleKatie: That’s much smoother. But there’s an afterburn.

Britany: There’s definitely an afterburn, a front burn, a side burn …

Kelly: This is way better than the last one!

Bar Belle: Even though it’s a higher proof?

Kelly: Yes, for some reason. Maybe I’m weird.

Tracy: It smelled really good, smooth, but also has that explosion of flavor.

Bar Belle: A lot more flavor than the Larceny.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: This is more complex with the ice.

Britany: It has grown on me with the ice.

Miriam: It’s much better with ice.

Bar Belle: Screw the ice! Ice sunk the Titanic, you know? It’s not to be trusted — or added to bourbon. 

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Britany: As long as I had ice cubes, yes.

Bar Belle: 100% yes! I might put this guy under my pillow.

Tracy: Yes! To quarantine, not under your pillow.

Katie: Yes. 

Kelly: Yes. Even a lightweight would.

Miriam: Do chickens have lips?

Bar Belle: Huh?

______________________________________________________________

 

What Are We Drinking Today?: 

Old Forester Single Barrel Barrel Strength

 

What the hell is it?:

This is a new expression of Old Forester, which will only be available at the distillery and/or as a store pick. In fact, the very first release of this just went up on the Old Fo website last week, and it sold out in a matter of minutes. You’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled for this one, because they’ll go quick!

So what’s different about it? It’s Old Forester bottled at barrel strength, which has never really been done before other than some of the President’s Choice offerings. Also, some of the Birthday Bourbons are higher in proof as well, but not 120 high!

Giving us barrel-strength Old Fo a great way to celebrate the company’s 150th birthday, that’s for sure!

 

Give me the nerdy numbers:

125-135 proof, various ages. Retails for $79.99.

 

What do we think?:

Old Forester Barrel Strength bottleBritany: You could get drunk just by sniffing it.

Kelly: It hurts!

Tracy: It hurts!

Bar Belle: Oh my … this is something to behold. It’s amazingly tasty! And smooth. There’s a party in my mouth, and someone just tapped another keg. 

Kelly: Maybe if you want to burn a house down! I feel like it tastes good, but it’s hot.

Britany: This is the ghost pepper of bourbon.

Tasters add ice …

Tracy: Ice calms it down for sure.

Britany: It’s nice with ice. And you can taste it now. Like when coffee is too hot and you let it cool down and you can finally taste it.

Tracy: I can sip this now, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Miriam: Pairs well with Pringles, but it hits you like a freight train.

Britany: I’m picking this over the (Buzzard’s Roost) rye, and that never happens. Once you add an ice cube, it’s liquid gold.

Bar Belle: Gold Forester never disappoints.

 

Would you quarantine with this spirit?

Bar Belle: Yes, and I’m not sharing it with anyone!

Tracy: It’s another quarankeeper.

Britany: Oh yes. It’d almost be better quarantining with this one, because no one else can have it.

Kelly: Yes. If there are ice cubes readily available, and don’t give me that Titanic bullshit.

Katie: Yes, please.

Miriam: Yes!