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The British rum scene and eight recommendations

Craft distillers in the UK are turning their enthusiastic attention to a spirit that’s usually associated with tropical climes. We explore the burgeoning British rum scene and recommend eight bottles to try.

The British Isles might not be the first place you think of when it comes to rum distillation. Blending, perhaps. The Royal Navy famously brought rum to England from various Caribbean nations to create the blend for the daily ration given to sailors, and to this day there’s no shortage of rum imported for blending, or being turned into spiced rum. But production of this spirit from scratch is usually associated with countries where rum’s raw material, sugar cane, is grown.

That isn’t stopping a growing number of British craft distillers who are distilling their own rum using imported molasses (the by-product of sugar production used to make most of the world’s rums) or other forms of sugar cane. There are now rum producers across the UK – as many as 70, by some counts. For British craft rum distillers, it’s worth going against the grain, so to speak, to have full control over the way their rum tastes.

‘I have complete freedom to adjust and tamper with every single variable that influences flavour development later in the process,’ says Doug Miller, founder and distiller of Scratch Spirits, based in Hertfordshire.

Lewis Hayes, founder and owner of dedicated rum distillery DropWorks, agrees. ‘We have full control over the quality of our production, and can ensure that every step of the production process, from raw material all the way through to the final spirit, is of the highest quality.’

Pride of place

Will Edge, Greensand Ridge

Will Edge, Greensand Ridge

Acknowledging the challenges in terms of difficulty and expense, Kentish distillery Greensand Ridge founder and distiller Will Edge says he wouldn’t make rum any other way. ‘For me it’s about provenance, pride and nerdiness,’ he says, adding that he’s also able to explore flavours that are distinct from those produced in the Caribbean.

Provenance is important to Paul Kerruish, too, co-founder and head distiller of The Fynoderee Distillery on the Isle of Man. ‘We wanted to produce a rum from scratch here to give the product a real sense of place and belonging, even if at this point, subject to global warming, we are unable to grow the sugar cane here on the island.’

Max Vaughan, co-founder of White Peak Distillery, feels the same. ‘We’ve always wanted to produce as much authentic spirit as we can from Derbyshire, which has meant making the spirit on site to the fullest extent we can,’ he says, adding that he was able to apply what he had learned from producing whisky at the distillery.

Similarly, pioneering Scottish brand Seawolf, from the Mothership team behind Edinburgh bars Bramble and Lucky Liquor Co, draws on the country’s spirits-producing heritage. ‘Applying the techniques and methods used in whisky is an obvious approach for us,’ says co-creator of the brand Jason Scott. ‘We’re purist in our approach, so don’t deviate too far from that.’

The team behind Seawolf also had their bars in mind when creating their rum. ‘As bar owners and cocktail bartenders, we designed our rum to create the best Daiquiri possible,’ he says.

Free to experiment

Scratch distillery

Scratch distillery

Georgi Radev, co-founder of London rum-specialist bar Laki Kane, values being able to use UK distillers. ‘There’s a benefit to working with brands produced locally, as you can maintain a good relationship with the distillers,’ he says, adding that the UK’s rums are bringing something individual to the table, too. ‘Distillers in the UK like to experiment, think outside the box and create unique flavours. They already have a variety of rum put into different barrels – I can’t wait to taste these after a few years.’

Radev is right about the extent of experimentation, starting with the raw material. For Kerruish, the best option is panela, a solid form of unrefined whole cane sugar. ‘It’s essentially the nearest thing we can get here on the island to using fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice,’ he says.

At White Peak, a blend of molasses and panela has proven to be the best option, while DropWorks in Nottingham makes use of both molasses and imported sugar cane honey. For others, such as Miller at Scratch Spirits, molasses is the way to go. ‘We use A-grade molasses, which is astonishingly expensive, but lends a far deeper, richer flavour profile for the yeast to get to work with, so it is worth it,’ he says.

Paul Rutasikwa, co-founder and head distiller of Scotland’s Matugga Distillers, agrees. ‘Molasses is naturally rich, and you get a wide palette of flavours, from light grassy notes to deep caramelised sugar and vanilla.’ For Greensand Ridge’s Edge, this is the most sustainable option, too. ‘I only use locally sourced surplus produce to make spirits, so I use out-of-date molasses from UK cane sugar refining – if I didn’t have that local surplus supply of the raw material, I wouldn’t make rum,’ he says.

Question of style

Tiffany & Paul Kerruish, Fynoderee

Tiffany & Paul Kerruish, Fynoderee

It’s early days for British rum, so when it comes to creating a defining style, there’s everything to play for. ‘I create a distillate that will be perfectly at home in a wide range of casks – from sweet wine casks from the south of France, to peated whisky from Islay,’ says Miller. ‘There is a huge opportunity to make the most of our fantastic inclement climate and our close proximity to a range of other excellent producers to create rums that rival some of the best in the world. British rum shouldn’t attempt to mirror what rums from other regions do so well.’

Drawing further on its Scottish heritage, the Seawolf team are making use of Scotch casks to age their rums. ‘We’re also an independent Scottish whisky bottler, so we recently filled a Sherry cask that had held a peated Glenglassaugh whisky,’ says Scott. ‘By ageing in Scotch whisky casks we reinforce our connection to Scotland, not to mention the benefits it has on the flavour of the liquid.’

Time will tell whether a general style, or multiple styles, of UK rum will emerge. As Rutasikwa puts it: ‘It will be exciting to see how rum aged on the south coast of England compares with the spirit aged in the Midlands, or with rum aged in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands.’


Eight rums of the British Isles to try


Anglesey Rum Co South Stack Golden Rum

Wales

From the Isle of Anglesey off the coast of Wales, at Llanfairpwll Distillery, comes this quite classic, robust golden rum, with distinct molasses notes accompanied by lime juice and vanilla. Also in the range are white, spiced and dark rums. Alcohol 40%


DropWorks Dark Drop Rum

England

Offering a new take on a traditional style, dedicated rum distillery DropWorks’ dark rum, made with pot-still rum blended with sugarcane molasses, is tangy and sweet, with dark berry fruit and ginger spice – a versatile, mixing rum. Alc 40%


Glashtyn Silver Manx Rum

Isle of Man

The Fynoderee Distillery on the Isle of Man produces a pair of rums alongside its vodka and an array of gins – and there’s whisky on the way, too. This unaged rum is delicate, with flaked coconut and stone fruit plus a creamy texture, and a hint of green pepper on the finish. Alc 43%


Mapmakers Coastal Spiced Rum

Scotland

While Dunnet Bay’s from-scratch rums mature, the team there is adding some extra character by blending with five-year-old Caribbean rum, and adding locally grown and foraged botanicals such as scurvy grass and sea kelp. Spiced rum, but not as you know it. Alc 40%


Matugga Masala Chai Spiced Rum

Scotland

A pioneer in Scotland’s rum-producing scene, Matugga brings its ties to East Africa to bear when producing its range of rums. This spiced expression is made with a masala chai blend, adding compelling notes of black tea and warming spice to its spirit, brought together by the addition of Scottish honey. Alc 42%


Scratch Single Cask

Winter 2023 Release

England

This single cask pot-still rum is matured for three years in a former Muscat cask, creating an indulgent spirit with dried apricot, stewed plums and vanilla fudge notes, plus a touch of spice. This one’s for sipping on cold English nights. Alc 47.2%


Seawolf White Rum

Scotland

From the crew behind Edinburgh bars such as Bramble, Seawolf was created with cocktails in mind, Daiquiris in particular. This unaged rum is wonderfully characterful, with white chocolate, vanilla and banana in abundance, and a savoury hint, too, with a lifted citrus-peel note to finish. Alc 41%


White Peak Cask Aged Rum

England

Derbyshire’s White Peak might be a whisky distillery at heart, but it’s beginning to release remarkable rums, too. This one is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and virgin oak, resulting in rich honeycomb and toffee aromas, with a rounded mouth feel. Alc 45%


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