MIAMI — In front of a one-story building in Wynwood there is a large oak barrel, transported from a Jack Daniels distillery in Wisconsin. It is the sole indicator that a Miami-based distillery, Destilería Canéca, LLC. is crafting rum in that building as "the Spirit of Miami."
Inside the customer greeting lounge, pictures of mid-century pinup girls posing near Miami landmarks and art pieces donated by actress Bernadette Peters hang on the walls. A silver doorway leads to the back where Matt Malone makes his rum, an undertaking of science and sweat seven years in the making.
"During those seven years there has not been one person who doesn't get excited about this," wife Joan Rodriguez-Malone said.
In 2004 Malone, a Miami transplant from Minnesota, changed his career after a car accident left him with severe back pain. For 20 years, he had worked as a tile and marble agent, but he could no longer take the travel or heavy lifting.
Rodriguez-Malone is the fifth generation of a family of rummakers from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Malone did not want to see the Ron Canéca tradition become extinct after his wife's grandfather died in 2003. He was inspired to preserve the craft for his two children.
"I want to be a good steward of the tradition," Malone said.
Malone, who has been in Miami for 12 years, was first trained on a still in Puerto Rico and later took classes through Bavarian Brewery Technologies. He sought the expertise of other distillers and a lawyer who is an authority on alcohol and tobacco in Florida. He is using the best celebrity he knows in the city to market the brand — Miami itself.
"We're getting great traction considering the name hasn't yet been announced," he said.
Although Malone cannot sell the rum out of the distillery, he says 50 venues in Miami have made commitments to carry the first product. When production is in full swing, Malone said, he could be making up to 120,000 bottles a year. For now, Malone is the sole employee, but he said he hopes to hire two people in December and two more in January.
The 84-proof rum — known only by the letters MCR for now — is "infused with music." It's aged in stainless steel tanks lined with toasted oak. By hooking speakers up to the tank and playing samba music, Malone said he found that the wood inside gets pulsed by the beat and releases its tannins faster.
"We're going from years to months, and we're using 80 percent less natural resources," he said. "It is a classic Caribbean white rum. It is very mellow and smooth with subtle flavors of the oak, vanilla and caramel from the wood."
Malone prefers local resources. He uses molasses and sugarcane from Florida, and he purchased the bar that sits inside the Destilería Canéca at Give Good Works Thrift Store.
"We have a great tourist business here, great history here in Miami. And I think we're positioned to be Miami's hometown rum," Malone said.
Destilería Canéca will be releasing 12 cases as a collector's edition, complete with artistic bottles, and plans to share a portion of the proceeds with the Azuka Foundation, whose mission is to help children make informed decisions on issues such as health that will impact their lives.
Destilería Canéca will reveal the name of the rum at an unveiling event Dec. 27 at the Cardozo Hotel. Malone designed the label for his first bottles to be iconic of South Florida, an art deco hotel sprawled across the front and on the back a young woman leaping on the beach. MCR will be available in Miami-Dade County New Year's Day.
"At the end of the day it's sexy, fun, delicious Miami," Malone said.