An To, as he is frequently referred to on the networks, made a name for himself through his own muscular and daring bottlings, carving out a place in the hearts of rum lovers. With his collaboration with Joey Starr and the creation of brands, he began to reach a wider audience with rigor and expectation. Meeting with one of the agitators of rum and spirits in France.
Fabien Humbert: What is the source (sic) of your interest in rum?
Anthony Martins: Originally from the South-West, during my eleven years in the army, I was stationed in the North of France, with companions who, like me, did not necessarily have the possibility of returning home. Most of them were from the French overseas departments and territories… they introduced me to rums, mainly made from cane juice.
How did you decide to turn this interest into a profession?
The passion returned a second time, when I began to dig into the subject and became increasingly interested in rum. I was going to the wine shop, I wanted to learn, to discover new things, in a word to develop my knowledge. After my military experience, I wanted to find a way to combine my passion for sharing to make a living. So I decided to open “La Source”, my cellar dedicated to spirits at 10 Place Saint-Etienne in Toulouse.
And how did you become an independent bottler?
I traveled the world during my military career, so being suddenly sedentary was more difficult than expected. So I ended up adding a string to my bow by taking on a new challenge with Julien Leroux, my former brother in arms.
This is how “Old Brothers” was born, and it marks the start of a new adventure. I turned my passion into a job with “La Source,” and my job into a dream with “Old Brothers.”
And how were you received at the beginning?
Initially, the distilleries responded negatively to all of our emails. So we decided to take the bull by the horns and go directly to them. We had no funds at that time, so we slept on the beach to fit our budget.
We surveyed Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana and Marie-Galante like that! And finally it’s the Bielle distillery that trusted us and entrusted us with our first barrel. And little by little, other distilleries accepted to work with us.
It was the beginning of a beautiful adventure between Julien and me. Without forgetting all the people who have supported us since the beginning.
What is the interest for distilleries to work with independent bottlers?
I’d like to remind you that independent bottlers have made significant contributions to the development of the spirits market by bringing a breath of fresh air, breaking certain established codes, venturing off the beaten path, and, most importantly, innovating.
Above all, it is a collaboration based on the theme of sharing and product love. This collaboration frequently allows us to present a juice that exceeds the distillery’s usual criteria while adding our personal touch.
What kind of products do you select for Old Brothers?
We select juices that reflect our image, and especially our taste! We don’t want to please everyone and that’s how we’ve done it since the beginning. It is this philosophy that has led us to launch extreme spirits or spirits that are off the beaten track, our different vintages of white rums, either “brut d’alambic” or “brut de colonne”. But also our different “bruts de fût” are the proof.
We are interested in all spirits, we just have a more important network in the rum world. At first, we put forward the French know-how with our Bielle 2006, our 43 years old cognac from Paul Giraud, as well as the Bas-armagnac 1986 from our partner Jean Cavé. Then the terroirs of Fiji, Guyana and Martinique with the oldest J.M ever bottled, a 1999 “brut de fût” at 43.15% with my friend Alexandre Beudet from Excellence Rhum, followed by a St. Lucia 20 year old 100% Pot Still John Dore 1 at 65.1%… Then we went to Jamaica and chose a Hampden H> 2001, aged 18 years in the tropics, from which our blend, the LPCH, was born.
Is there still rum in the barrels?
(Laughs) Yes, but it took four barrels to get one in the end. You have to know that it is three times more expensive to age a rum in the tropics than in continental aging. A question of angel’s share!
What are the releases planned this year?
This year I am releasing a 2001 MLC from Clarendon, I am so proud of it! And for the 15th anniversary of my importer The Nectar in Belgium, I’m releasing a 2002 HJF at 53.6%, another ester bomb! Also, by the summer we will release a grogue from Cape Verde, I have fallen completely in love with this tradition which is nothing less than the ancestor of rum! (which remains to be proven, editor’s note).
There will also be a 65.6% white J.M. that I’m releasing with my friend Alexandre Kubiak from the “Grands Alambics” in Chambéry, as well as other partnerships and exclusive releases.
Isn’t it difficult to find a grogue that corresponds to the palate of Europeans?
I repeat, but in a very selfish way, we are looking first of all to please ourselves, Juju and me, not to find a smooth product that pleases everyone.
How do you select your barrels?
My dream is to be able to bottle every rum from every tradition and terroir with the permission to select the expression I like best from each barrel. I am willing to go and taste at every distillery in the world.
Julien and I have to like it, we don’t work on what the public expects but on what we like. For example, this year we will release an extremely austere Grand Arôme Blanc from Savanna…. I love it, but I have no idea if it will appeal to most people! The “Old Brothers” rums are aimed at a well-informed public, connoisseurs.
We don’t want to please everyone, that’s why we can allow ourselves to bring out some completely crazy stuff sometimes! These are small selections in terms of the number of bottles but big in terms of commitment.
You always make limited series, so you don’t look for regularity in the supplies or in the taste?
No, I would hate to make standard products, always the same. Each barrel is unique. And it’s harder to smooth out the products so that they have the same taste every year, as they do in the high-volume spirits industry. It’s not the same business.
Why did you become a distributor for other brands?
At the beginning, when I created “Old Brothers”, I did not find a distributor who could support my business model because I had little cash and I imported very small quantities of rum. I couldn’t afford to give 50 or 60% of my margin to a distributor, so I decided to do it myself by creating ‘La Source Distribution’.
Then my team grew and I looked for partnerships. We signed exclusivities on the national territory for like Montebello or Bielle (it was the first time that Bielle signed such an exclusivity). Then we created a range of raw, vintage and natural colored bas-armagnacs with Jean Cavé. They go from 1888 to 2016! Then we signed the independent bottlers Mistigma (gin, bas-armagnac…) in Toulouse.
Today, we cover the whole territory. I like friends and camaraderie, so as soon as I can, I release vintages with passionate buddies. Hence my partnerships with Ferroni, the 1802 hotel or Joey Starr.
By the way, what is your project with Joey Starr ?
We are planning to create a new bottling company, a new selection brand with Joey Starr, Ludovic his partner and probably a third. Our ambition will always be to offer quality rums, which I will select myself with my associates, but in slightly larger volumes than what Old Brothers does.
The rums will be complex enough for amateurs to want to taste them, but accessible enough in terms of price for less sophisticated people to venture out and buy them. I’ll say more when the project is more complete!
It’s still a step towards the general public, isn’t it?
It won’t be a mainstream brand, we won’t be putting out 40% bottles with added sugar. We will not be in supermarkets but rather in wine shops and restaurants. There will also be single casks, raw casks…
We plan to establish partnerships with starred chefs (including Gilles Goujon!), who are interested in our approach, which consists in highlighting the know-how of the world’s distilleries. For me, good spirits are part of gastronomy. We want to show the rum world that we can make accessible products without adding anything to them. We can make natural, quality, and also volume.
This brings us to your latest project (to date). Can you tell us about ‘World Esters’ ?
World Esters is first and foremost the creation of spirits for the on-trade and wine shops with an ethical and sustainable will. To establish a virtuous circle of trust with the different links in the chain (wine merchant, restaurant owner, bartender, consumer) based on transparency, passion and fair prices.
The idea is to complete the offer of the Source Distribution by bringing in a new brand with high quality standards, intensity, complexity but at a competitive price. We are three partners, Benjamin Galais, Quentin Pierre Antoine, and myself, with three distinct personalities but also three passionate and creative individuals.
We’ll be releasing three white products. Molasses rum, gin, and vodka Our primary goal is to support CHR, which explains why they chose this option because it represents the majority of the volumes they consume. The percentages will range between 41 and 43 percent.
And where is your ambition to acquire a distillery?
Obviously I have the ambition, I am working on the installation of a micro-distillery in the tropics. We are drawing up the plans, we had a first meeting with the still manufacturer… But the project is not yet advanced enough for me to talk more about it.