How An Ultra-Premium Rum From Key West Is Helping Save The Reefs

Food & Drink

Ernest Hemingway’s escapades in the Caribbean are well-known and documented, including his love for rum and the daiquiri that bears his name, created at El Floridita bar in Old Havana. Now, his family has partnered with a spirits industry veteran to honor Hemingway’s loves – rum and the sea.

Helmed by founder and CEO Steve Groth, Papa’s Pilar Rum strives to support causes that carry on Hemingway’s legacy and work as a conservationist, donating most of its rum proceeds to support organizations working to protect and restore oceans and coastal environments in many of the locations where Hemingway once lived, including Key West and the Caribbean.

Groth is a serial entrepreneur with a long successful career in entertainment, consumer branding and the early stages of the startup world. As his first entry into craft spirits, he was one of the original founders of Angel’s Envy Bourbon, along with Lincoln Henderson and world-famous creative Alex Bogusky. Groth assembled the management team, and the rest is history.

The Hemingway Legacy

Seeing the success of Angel’s Envy, the Hemingway family (through a mutual friend), asked Groth and his team if they would collaborate to build an iconic brand worthy of the Hemingway name, that could serve as a vehicle to support their conservation and literacy based philanthropic efforts. Since Groth and his partners had been deeply involved in conservation, social causes and philanthropy for decades, the relationship was an instant fit.

The brand pays homage to Hemingway’s nickname, Papa, and to Pilar, his beloved boat, in which he spent countless hours fishing and enjoying life. The chance to bring this story to life, along with advancing conservation efforts, was a dream project for Groth and team. They spent a year researching both rum and Hemingway to determine an authentic, engaging and ownable space where the two Caribbean icons intersected.

The result was a 200-page brand book, produced from thousands of hours of research, which generated an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from Patrick Hemingway – Ernest’s only living son – and the Hemingway family.

Our Oceans in Distress

Groth spent most of his youth as an avid diver and fisherman in the Florida Keys and much of South Florida, where he has spent most of his life. In the early 80’s, it became apparent that the reef was showing signs of significant distress. However, in the last 10 years, the reef has been severely stressed from several fronts, including stony coral tissue loss disease, which devastated over 90% of the Florida Keys and South Florida reef system.

Coral reef ecosystems are vastly important, they are the foundation of healthy and thriving oceans. In addition, they play a huge role in global oxygen production and carbon sequestering. Locally they support tens of thousands of jobs and provide for billions of dollars of value to the economy.

Beginning with the Florida Keys, where nearly 98% of the live corals have died off due to rising temperatures and disease, Papa’s Pilar is working closely with scientists and researchers from various environmental organizations to support a plan that grows, deploys and outplants fast growing, heat and disease resistant corals, with over 100 yards of reef restored to date.

A Unique Job for a Unique Brand

Papa’s Pilar is the only rum brand with a Chief Communities & Conservation Officer. Mike Myatt is responsible for leading the brand’s conservation efforts, including partnerships and outreach, to support organizations that embody Hemingway’s commitment to conservation.

An avid outdoorsman and fisherman, Myatt joined Hemingway Rum Company after spending 18 years with the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), one of the world’s leading authorities on fisheries/habitat management, and ocean conservation efforts. He was the IGFA Director of Corporate Relations and Chief Operating Officer in 2013 when Patrick and John Hemingway presented the IGFA with the first Papa’s Pilar proceeds donation, honoring Ernest Hemingway’s deep involvement with the association.

“Bringing in a Chief Communities and Conservation Officer was a pivotal piece of our strategy to allow the brand to support truly thoughtful and impactful efforts, using current and informed intel and relationships to get the job done,” says Groth.

Helping lead the brand’s conservation efforts is Shawn Martin, Key West Distillery Manager, who is also a Marine Biologist. He is passionate about ocean conservation and in his spare time is the Chair of the Florida Keys Chapter of the Surf Rider Foundation and a dive instructor at The College of the Florida Keys.

Saving the Reefs

“The “aha!” moment that sparked the acceleration of our efforts came when groups like MOTE Marine, ICare, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the Coral Restoration Foundation and others, a collective if you will, began spawning and replanting heat and disease resistant corals in the wild, and it worked!” says Groth.

“While not the only weapon in the rebuilding arsenal, think about being able to replant acres and acres of reef that can be enjoyed by generations to come. It would be a travesty for a brand like ours, named after one the most prolific outdoorsmen, not to get involved.”

“Our partnership with this collective has an overall mission to support an “end to end” rebuilding model that starts with good science and research, and ends with “fins in the water” to plant and maintain a growing and healthy reef and become a model that can be transplanted to reef systems around the world. We are just one small passionate and committed part of one of the most optimistic conservation efforts ever put into action.”

Papa’s Pilar and their partners support a restoration approach that falls into these basic categories:

  • Research and spawning corals from existing coral fragments. By accident, it was found that replanting fragments, rather than larger corals, can dramatically reduce growth time. What used to take decades, 25-75 years, can now happen in just 2-3 years.
  • Permitting – Getting permits to grow in designated areas.
  • Outplanting – Building and deploying trained diver/outplanters to plant and monitor the planting fields.
  • Awareness – Tell everyone what’s going on, how immediately impactful it is and how they can help.

The Rum

And the best way to reach the public at large is by producing a line of rums of outstanding quality. Master distiller Ron Call is a seventh generation distilling veteran, with over 45 years in the spirits business and a distilling lineage dating back to the 1780s.

Papa’s Pilar expressions – Blonde, Dark, and Sherry Cask-Aged – are created from multi-sourced rums, hand selected by Call from different points of origin for their unique taste and age profiles. Sources include Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Venezuela and Florida. Call carefully blends and finishes each expression to showcase the rum’s best qualities.

They work perfectly in classic and modern cocktails, and are lovely sipped on their own, as well. Visit the Papa’s Pilar distillery and enjoy one of their cocktail creations, and feel good since they donate $1 per cocktail sold at the distillery to support reef restoration and rehabilitation efforts.

Since the inception of the brand, the Hemingway family and Papa’s Pilar Rum have collectively contributed millions of dollars to causes that advance literacy, water conservation, reef restoration and other worthy initiatives that would make Hemingway proud.

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