Updated March 24 at 6:27pm

Making rum a 'dirty job' in Newport; local distiller featured on Discovery Channel


NEWPORT – Making alcohol is a dirty job but someone has got to do it.

If you were planning on hibernating Tuesday evening before the storm hits, you can learn about how rum is made at Newport Distilling Company, Rhode Island’s only distillery, on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” airing at 9 p.m.

“In the most-vague sense, what is alcohol made of?” Newport Distilling Company distiller Adam Truesdale asked presenter Mike Rowe in a “sneak peek” of the hour-long episode.

“Oh … dreams,” Rowe replied.

The “Dirty Jobs” television series, which has profiled everyone from a “roadkill collector” to a “catfish noodler,” headed to the Thomas Tew rum production facility to help turn molasses into rum.

“What we do in the show is take Mike Rowe through the process from the beginning – which is the fermentation of the molasses all the way through the distilling, the filtering, aging and bottling of Thomas Tew rum,” said Brent Ryan, one of the four original founders of the Newport Distilling Co. and the Coastal Extreme Brewing Co., which makes Newport Storm beer.

So … is it a dirty job?

“Absolutely. You’re dealing with molasses, yeast … you’re climbing over barrels, you’re constantly moving liquids from tank to tank, breaking hose connections, reconnecting hoses,” he said. “We kept [Rowe’s] T-shirt from the [filming] day and it was dirty.”

One of the messiest events at Thomas Tew rum – named after the 17th-century “Rhode Island pirate” – took place a few years ago when one the hoses came detached and let 250 gallons of molasses loose all over the brewery and distillery.

“We call it the ‘molass-trophe’ … it was a mess!” said Ryan. In 2007, the Newport Distilling Company was the first distilling company to be licensed in Rhode Island in 135 years.

“We’re trying to recreate this authentic rum that would have been made here 250 years ago when Newport, Rhode Island was the rum capital of the world. There were 22 distilleries operating inside the city limits and the ‘most-and-best’ rum was being made here,” said Ryan.

The local distiller caught the producer’s eye with its small size – only 10 employees – and the fact that it is made “by hand,” not by machines.

The “Dirty Jobs” episode, filmed in August, takes place at the company’s new location, 293 JT Connell Rd., where both Thomas Tew rum and Newport Storm are made. The beer accounts for about 90 percent of the business.

Nevertheless, the rum is a “growing” part, said Ryan, noting the company sold about 2,000 bottles of Thomas Tew rum in 2010.

“We expect in 2011 to grow significantly the rum portion of the business. We could easily sell twice as much [as 2010],” said Ryan.

“The show tonight will show people what we’re doing here and, I certainly hope it helps [publicize the rum],” he added.


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