Why British rum’s the real deal
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Scotland is famous for its whisky – but during the sugar boom of the late 17th and early 18th centuries it had a thriving rum industry, too. Several of the sugar refineries that sprang up around Glasgow during this period had distilleries to make rum from leftover molasses. That legacy, and its links with the slave trade, rightly sat uneasy with Scots for a long time. But now, a new generation of craft distillers is bringing rum distilling back to Scotland – and the results are increasingly impressive. Collin Van Schayk runs J Gow, a tiny distillery on the Orkney island of Lamb Holm. “I moved back in 2013 to help with the family business, Orkney Wine Company,” he says, “but I’ve always loved rum and I saw a golden opportunity to use some of the space to start rum production.” Distilling since 2017, J Gow recently released J Gow Revenge, a three-year-old pure pot still rum with sassy tropical-fruit and ginger-cake notes.
Ninefold in Dumfries & Galloway is also one to watch – the grassy Pure Single Rum is great daiquiri material. Ninefold’s first line of aged rums, out next year, is also showing lovely smoky toffee and ginger cake characters. Meanwhile, the founders of the Matugga rum distillery in Livingston have drawn on their east African heritage to create a recipe flavoured with a masala chai mix of black tea, ginger, cloves and vanilla. Even Islay will soon have its own rum: the Islay Rum Distillery is set to commence distilling at the end of this year.
An increasing number of distilleries are opening in England, too. Scratch, in Hertfordshire makes a white rum, Faithful, with a minty/thyme freshness that would appeal to gin drinkers. Scratch Golden Rum has a long finish, full of apple, honey and anise.
For obvious reasons, all these British distillers source their molasses from overseas. Which you may feel does not add up from a provenance point of view. In reality, though, a lot of spirits are a hybrid of different countries: many big-volume Caribbean rum producers bolster their molasses supplies with imports from Brazil and India. Scotch whiskies are aged in oak from America and Europe. And the majority of gins are flavoured with botanicals from all over the world.
It does prompt the question, however: is there anything uniquely “British” about these rums? Spirits certainly age slower in the cool climes of the UK than they do in the warm Caribbean – which could potentially produce rums with greater finesse. But what is really interesting about these rums isn’t terroir but technique – the ways they’re distilled and what they’re aged in are what will really make them different.
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