2016 was dubbed ‘the year of gin’ – a 16% rise in UK sales (to over £1bn) outstripped the growth across both beer and wine. But, now, there’s chatter that 2018 might well turn out to the ‘the year of rum’. Sales are expected to top £1bn for the first time in history, following the overall success story of the alcoholic drinks industry over the recent years. However, unlike gin which can be produced relatively quickly and inexpensively, rum is both time-consuming to produce and likewise costly (yields tend to be low). But, there’s still the promise for producers and distributers of riding the wave of growth – and one new brand is poised to grab their surfboard and do just that – That Boutique-y Rum Company.
Formally launched last night in London, That Boutique-y Rum Company (owned by Atom Brands) follows in the footsteps of sister imprints Boutique-y Whisky and Boutique-y Gin. The company has been a long time gestating – MD Ben Ellefsen opened the event by highlighting that good ideas don’t happen overnight and indeed, in the case of Boutique-y Rum, they often take years longer than expectations – having distributors and brand infrastructure in place doesn’t happen instantly. But, following a year of sourcing liquid the company has now launched its product line-up.
The brand is attempting to take a strong stance on the classification of rum – which often seems based around colour alone (white, gold, dark). Recognising that colour is not a flavour – and that is can be (and often is) adulterated through the use of E150 caramel, Boutique-y Rum have decided to guide consumers via the method of production rather than the hue. I applaud this approach – it should offer much greater transparency and consumer information – however, I suspect it will be far from easy – rum regulations are varied across countries and there’s always going to be a challenge to provide both a normalisation, and likewise for this classification to be understood and appreciated. There’s probably a lot of educational outreach around this yet to come.
The launch line up from Boutique-y Rum features nine bottlings from six different countries and from two of the company’s production-based classifications – Traditional Column Rum and Pot Still Rum. The labels are 100% Boutique-y – colourful and clever with plenty of subtle references and industry ‘in-jokes’. This time around they’ve been created by Jim’ll Paint It (quite the coup for Atom Brands) – the popular Bristol-based speed painter who only uses Microsoft Paint to produce a selection of humorous and often surreal artworks. The style works perfectly for Boutique-y, feeling part of their overall cartoony brand, but with just a little bit more day-glo and vibrancy of colour.
Last night’s tasting presented attendees with all nine of the launch bottlings – Pete Holland (Floating Rum Stack) providing only a scant introduction to each – letting the rums speak for themselves. And speak they did – the company’s first bottlings are diverse, fascinating and frankly compelling.
The Dramble is, pretty much exclusively, a whisky-based website, and I don’t have nearly enough rum tasting experience to be pitching myself as any type of expert in this category - so I won’t be formally reviewing nor scoring these new Boutique-y rums. But, I will provide you with some very brief tasting notes and wider musings:
Monymusk 13 year old, Jamaica, 55.4%
Sweet and savoury on the nose – pineapple, cotton candy and cookie mix alongside notes of mezcal, white wine and salt water crust pastry. The palate is sweeter and more vegetal, with some pot still pungency still in play. It opens with sunflower oil, pink wafer biscuits and a touch of salinity, before developing into earthy tropicalness – pineapple chunks, orange peels, damp leaves and moss.
O Reizinho Unaged, Madeira, 49.7%
Woah! What is this sorcery? Olives - salt brined and with some acidity (so green olives then). Bakewell tart and steamed pudding for just a touch of sweetness – then intensely vegetal – unripe (green) tropical fruits, crispy kale and grassiness. The palate delivers more of the same, but with an interesting salinity that borders on minerality – salty, but also a touch rocky – coastal limestone cliffs.
Bellevue 19 year old, Guadeloupe, 54.2%
Quite heavily wooded – tropical fruits (banana, mango) and touches of milky coffee sitting alongside teak furniture, balsawood and sawdust. The arrival is powerful stuff – plenty of cask spicing (mainly ginger, but with a good twist of pepperiness also), reduced sugars and tropical juices leading to a finish that’s quite long, chocolatey and full of deep oaky charred flavour.
Travellers 10 year old, Belize, 56.1%
This could easily pass for a grain whisky – Boutique-y Invergordon anyone? Plenty of polished wood and polystyrene cement but with some rich and opulent sugariness – reduced jammy tropical fruits, toffee sauce, molasses and burnt toast. The palate is packed full of buttered popcorn, stewed bananas and white pepper spicing. I’m so going to smuggle this one into a whisky tasting and see if anyone notices!
Secret Distillery #1 9 year old, Jamaica, 58%
Several options for this, but my guess would be Worthy Park and it seems that this was my favourite of the younger rums in the Boutique-y launch selection. Seriously intense ripe fruits, piles of gummy bear, jelly snakes and anything remotely chewy from the local sweetshop. In the background more than a hint of heavy distillate (yum!) – engine oils and burnt soils. The palate continues in a similar vein – it’s pure Um Bongo juice!
Diamond Distillery (Versailles Still) 13 year old, Guyana, 56.1%
The most ‘standard’ of the launch offerings – but in the best possible way. Whereas the other launch rums show incredibly diversity of spirit profile, the Diamond bottling is just pure and straight-forward tasty pot still rum – plenty of tropical fruits, cotton candy, rich tea biscuits and nuttiness on the nose, followed by a bold and impactful palate full of pineapple, chocolate, raisins and espresso. This has been made with one of the most unique stills in the world – a wooden construction used for single distillation and the only one of its kind in the world.
Enmore Distillery (Versailles Still) 27 year old, Guyana, 51.2%
Closed in 1993 when the Guyana government privatised the country’s cane production - the unique Versailles still was hived off to Diamond. Sadly now demolished, so Enmore rum is a limited and desirable liquid. Plenty of expected fruitiness, but alongside quite intense herbalness – sage and bouquet-garni with cactus. The palate is exceptionally dry with plenty of well-integrated oakiness alongside chocolate and a touch of minty minerality.
Uitvlugt Distillery (Port Mourant Still) 26 year old, Guyana, 43.2%
The largely unpronounceable (i-flut?!) Dutch owned distillery was another victim of Guyanese privatisation, closing in 2000. Another unique still – the world’s only operational wooden double pot – now also located at Diamond (who seem to have a thing for collecting exclusive old wooden things). The nose delivers dusty pineapple juice, gummy sweets and green coconuts alongside vanilla pods. The palate is exceptionally characterful with plenty of banana fruitiness, tart lime, very dark chocolate and spiced chai tea.
Caroni Distillery, 20 year old, Trinidad, 53.7%
Caroni needs little introduction in the rum world – closed in 2002 and once a principal supplier to the British Navy, it’s heavy style distillate is now extremely sought after by spirit enthusiasts. This Boutique-y Rum launch expression is at the lighter end of the Caroni spectrum, delivering tons of chocolate and tobacco on the nose but still with the characterful heavy, engine oil and polish notes synonymous with older Trinidadian rums. The palate is rich, thick and with a ton of natural weight – coffee beans, molasses and pungent oiliness alongside tart cases, charred wood and lime-drizzled pineapple chunks. A pretty perfect spirit if ever there was one.
Boutique-y Rum might have been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it. The launch bottlings demonstrate an incredible diversity of spirit character which, when taken as a whole, highlight the versatility and impressive breadth that the rum category has to offer. There’s virtually nothing here that’s ordinary, samey or safe, and whilst the packaging is distinctively ‘Boutique-y’ in its cheeky outlook, the liquid quality is more serious stuff – carefully sourced, distinctive and impactful and presented as naturally as possible.
Perhaps 2018 will turn out to be the year of rum – on the strength of this opening salvo from Boutique-y Rum there’s no reason to believe otherwise.