Wales has a long history of spirit distillation, originating to the 4th century AD off its north coast. But the Scots claim rum as their own, says Kevin Pilley.
In west Wales they use seaweed to flavour their rum.
Barti Rum was launched in 2018 by Jonathan Williams, seaweed fanatic and founder of The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company. The spirit is blend of Caribbean rum infused with laver seaweed hand-picked from the Pembrokeshire coast.
Williams says: “Often misrepresented as salty, laver seaweed carries a beautifully delicate, savoury flavour profile, which does wonderful things to the spices and the rum itself.
“Laver seaweed was once one of the most popular food items in South Wales. Pembrokeshire once had a thriving cottage laver-collecting industry. It was sent to Swansea to be made into laver bread.
Barti is short for ‘Barti Ddu’ (pronounced Barti thee). Barti Ddu is the Welsh name for a pirate, John Roberts known in English as Black Bart.
Williams collects seaweed from Freshwater Bay. “For every 500 bottles, we use two kilos of seaweed. We have a licence to pick seaweed and recently invested in a PhD study to investigate the sustainability of laver seaweed harvesting with Swansea University. The seaweed is washed carefully, dehydrated and toasted for hours.”
Pembroke Distillery, also based at Pembroke Dock, produces Wrecker’s Rum and Rocket Rum made with Mexican and Colombian coffee beans. It’s run by the Griffiths family – Scott, Duncan, Lucas and Ian. The still is named after grandfather, Grenville.
Ian says: “The process is triple distilled. Initially we used 100 per cent of our own product, but to get more production we decided to blend ours with another rum from the Caribbean. This gave us double the output and it seems to have stabilised the flavour. We currently hand label 1,000 bottles per week.” The Coles family, based at the White Hart Thatched Inn at Llanddarog, Carmarthen makes Welsh Superior Rum, Scowerer White Rum and Toddy Rum (infused with gold rum and honey marmalade) as well as strawberry moonshine, nettle ale, beer and cider.
Cain and brother Marcus studied distilling in Chicago before Cain built a 300l still capable of producing 5,000 bottles of spirits a week.
They are the first Welsh distillery to use molasses to make pure homemade rum from scratch. All their rums are named after Welsh pirates and their ships – John James Merchant, Sir Henry Morgan Satisfaction and John Evans Scowerer.
Our rum is solidly Welsh. Through and through
Marcus says: “Our award-winning rum is the only true Welsh rum, 100 per cent Welsh-aged in oak barrels. The water comes from a spring under the distillery. The molasses comes from Tate & Lyle!
“We first heat the molasses to help it flow. Then add to our mixing tank and mix our well water that comes from 300 feet below the distillery. Next we add a mixture of nutrients. Then the yeast which ferments over seven days, letting some esters from bacteria give the rum its banana, pineapple notes.
If we want a light rum we use one of the columns. For a heavier rum we only use the pot. This leaves heavy oils to come over into the spirit. The whole process takes about 10 days but the dark rums sit in the barrels for at least three years.
“We put in effort to make our spirits from the raw ingredients to the finished product. Ourrum is solidly Welsh. Through and through.”
Like the other Celtic nations, Wales has a long history of spirit distillation. It may have even started in the 4th century AD, when a man known as Reaullt Hir started distilling on Bardsey Island off the north Wales coast.
But the Scots claim rum as their own. Initially distilled by European colonists and African slaves in the Caribbean in the early 17th century, it was popularised by returning sailors and sugar refineries. Rum punches – Glasgow Sherbert were popular drinks. With the decline of the tobacco trade with Virginia following the American War of Independence in 1783 rum, sugar and cotton became the major imports. Rum became the preferred tipple of the merchant classes.
Sugar House Spiced Rum is named after the original producers of Scottish rum. Madagascan vanilla, Ceylon cinnamon, lime zest and cacao beans are used. Founded by Glaswegian school friends and rum lovers Zander MacGregor and Andrew Nairn, Wester Spirits Co. is named after the Wester Sugar House Company, founded in Candleriggs, Glasgow in 1667.
Former golf course builder, bus driver and shooting instructor Andrew Emmerson runs the small batch Solway Spirits in Cummertrees in Dumfries & Galloway. He makes Banoffee Rum blended with banana.
Father and son, Billy and 22-year-old Jory Duncan’s Carnoustie Distillery produces rum liqueurs from a bijou garden shed. As well as watermelon and white chocolate vodka, their speciality is toffee apple rum liqueur.
Glasgow Distillery has just launched its Banditti Rum, named after a gang of 19th century brigands. It’s made from Madeiran sugar cane.
Co-founder of the Glasgow Distillery Company, Mike Hayward, says: “Glasgow has a strong historical connection with rum. We believe now is a perfect time to join the growing number of rums in the market, as consumers seek to further explore and discover new drinking experiences.
“Banditti Club offers a premium, all-natural product with no added sugars or colourings, which we believe stands up strongly alongside the best spiced rums currently available.”
Aberdeenshire’s Dark Matter was the first modern purpose-built rum distillery. It is run by brothers, Jim and John Ewen.
Liam Pennycook, the chief distiller at Strathearn Distillery, Bachilton Farm Steading, Methven in Perthshire, came up with Scotland’s first golden rum, Dunedin. The 2013 distillery also produces a dark rum. Bottles feature Muireadhach, a sea warrior.
Says founder Tony Reeman-Clark: “Rum seemed the obvious next product and allows us to make our Scotch in rum casks and vice-versa!”
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