UK Rum - A few gems not to be missed!
Updated: Feb 16
The UK rum scene is positively flourishing. Unfortunately it's a minefield trying to pick out the quality spirits from the vast array of (let's be honest) sweetened, flavoured muck.
On one extreme we have companies buying bulk volume, neutral, industrial column stilled, base rum spirit. To which they add colour, sugar and often a smattering of flavours - all design to hide the poor quality rum - before fancy, or novelty, bottling and labelling as UK rum. It's not.
In the middle we have independent UK bottlers (IBs), these guys buy rum from abroad, potentially blend and/or further age it, and then bottle it. There are some fantastic IBs and in many cases they source & bottle high quality and interesting rum. There's also some rubbish. None of these are UK rum.
Finally, we have a cluster of genuine, artisan distillers with small pot stills producing, and often aging, their own rum. This is an expensive and time consuming process with predictably mixed results. The need to experiment & learn is exciting, and when it turns out well, the results can be really special.
All UK made rum is molasses based - our climate is clearly unsuitable for growing sugar cane, the fresh juice of which needs to be used within days of pressing. Cane juice (or agricole) rums will continue to be solely the preserve of warm cane growing regions.
A few names to look out in the hunt for high quality, genuine UK rum - Ninefold, J Gow, Greensand Ridge, Retribution, Devil's Point Cabby's & Sugar House. This list is not exhaustive and I plan to extend both the list and this article over time.
The gems. As promised, here's a review of three really special UK rums. Tasted in increasing abv order...
Retribution White Rum - 44% £36
Double copper pot distilled in Frome, Somerset and beautifully presented in a clear stubby ship-in-a-bottle. The charming Richard Lock has been distilling gin and rum in rural southwest England for just a few years - with impressive early results. His first aged rum is already laid down in ex-bourbon cask, expected to be ready in mid 2023 - exciting stuff!
Nose: A big, clean, creamy floral nose with plenty of buttery pastry and a dash of summer fruits. Almonds. Caramel. And honeyed sweetness. A little zest and some chewy varnish.
44% works well. [I was fortunate to also try this rum at still strength of 79%. At still strength the nose is rather closed. A few drops of water went a long way. Personally somewhere mid 50s abv was the sweet spot - although, as I said, 44% works really well. Brought down to 40% I found it a bit thin, and it lost a lot of flavour & depth]
Mouth: A really bright tasty rum. Not wildly complex or challenging. Clean fresh summer fruits. A little acidity keeps things in focus. Delivers the butteriness promised from the nose. I'll happily sip this neat, although I will also be trying it out in a few cocktails. Decent quality stuff [81pts]
J Gow 2yr - bottled by TBRC - 57.2%, £45, 220 btls (500ml)
Named after a famous Orkney pirate, J Gow distillery is located on a tiny island just off the coast of mainland Orkney. The flamboyant character behind J Gow is Collin van Schayk, distilling genius for rummy endeavours.
After long fermentation and distillation on a pot still this rum was aged in a combination of chestnut & virgin oak for 2 years. Only 220 bottles were produced - most of which were snapped up very quickly. [At the time of writing Harvey Nics still had a bottle or two on their website!]
Collin tells me that, although there is no more of this rum in the pipeline, some 3yr chestnut cask aged rum has now been moved to small sherry octaves for another couple of years :-) :-) And he's got a high ester, high abv rum in store for the spring. I can't wait!
I also recommend trying 'Revenge' (available from the J Gow site)
Nose: Whaaat!?!? [checks bottle for the words 'Jamaican Rum']. If "2 year aged Scottish rum" conjures up an impression of raw, rather dull, underdeveloped rum -forget it! This is complex, interesting and delightful.
Long fermentation combined with the pot still have produced a lovely deep sweet ester content that works beautifully with the clean crisp biscuit and summer berry flavours. In a blind tasting for 7 rum fans last night - all guesses put this as a mid-ester high quality Jamaican rum!
The combined impact of virgin oak and chestnut barrels is spectacular - 2 years has had a magical impact on the rum, adding balance and core of spice, orange zest and rich oak.
Mouth: All we were promised by the nose and more. This is super moorish stuff. Tropical fruit, caramel, pastry, a touch of vinegar and a splash of sweet ester all working in harmony. A touch of smoke.
57.2% is generous and enormously rewarding - offering a thick unctuous mouth feel and incredible depth & complexity. I am truly blown away by this rum. Up there with some great Jamaican & Fijian rums. The alcohol integration and completeness belie it's limited aging. Glad I have backups. [88pts]
Sugar House - overproof white rum - 62.6%, £44, 117btls
Now on to another Scottish distilling genius - Ross Bradley. Scotland has historically had close ties to the rum world, and obviously a proven heritage in distillation, so it's fantastic to see these new distilleries producing bold, interesting, stunning quality rums.
A very limited first release of just 117 bottles. This pot stilled monster was wild fermented for a massive 4 weeks before being bottled at a punchy 62.6% !!
Again, Ross has other excellent rums available under his Sugar House brand that are well worth exploring.
Nose: Yee haw! This is right up my street. Pineapple & guava sherbet custard! And some pastry. Loads of richness. Quite spicy. The heat is there from the high abv but it's controlled, it's inviting and not at all harsh. The 4 week fermentation was worth the wait - a beautiful, rich, complex nose with lashings of overripe summer fruit, acetone and furniture polish. Screams out that this is a well made cuddly beast of a rum.
Mouth: A wave of thick creamy, nutty rum coats your mouth. Very quickly followed by a wave of overripe fruit. A lovely oily texture. More nuts, sweet almonds I think. A little marzipan. Some acetone funkiness. A long tasty finish. Impressive stuff. [85pts]
It makes a bloody delicious Saturn too!
Unpretentious rums. Fun but complex. Made well, and made for enjoying. Buy a bottle and try for yourself. The future is bright for UK rum.
My reviews are impartial and I don't benefit from the links to sites/shops