Every now and then you have to broaden your perspective. While I have definitely visited a fair share of whisky tastings, I can unfortunately not say the same about events focussing on other types of spirits. So when Chris Rickert of Hansemalt asked me if I wanted to attend a rum tasting he was organizing, I gladly accepted the invitation. Okay, okay. As I already had quite a bit of whisky that week, I was a tad reluctant at first. But ultimately curiosity killed the cat, so my friends and I decided to spend the evening in Chris’s incredibly well-provided “Liquid Education Room”. A neat decision!
As this was conceived as a slightly different kind of rum tasting, the drinks we were served and the companies behind them were also rather out-of-the-ordinary. Whisper Rum from Antigua (founded in 2013), Matugga Rum from Uganda (founded in 2015) and Ron Maja from El Salvador (founded in 2014) are three young enterprises from parts of the world that are popular for many things – albeit not (yet) for their rum making. However, the driven entrepreneurs running these up-and-coming spirit brands are determined to change this permanently. In recent years, their products have won many medals at international drinks conventions and their global distribution networks have grown significantly. For this tasting, each company was represented either by one of their co-founders or by their brand ambassador; and the trio was complemented by Antony McCallum-Caron from their importer Dugas, who has a long history in the whisky industry including a 16-year stint in various sales and marketing capacities at Ian Macleod Distillers.
First up was Anne-Francois Houzel of Whisper Rum, a company he founded with a friend of his when they both were just 19 to 20 years old. A rather dry and easily accessible British-styled rum of high quality, their Gold Rum is primarily directed at two target audiences: First, there are newbies to the world of rum eager to get their hands on a top-notch product for an affordable price. And second, there are bartenders looking for a punchy ingredient for their long drink and cocktail creations. As a fun fact, Anne-Francois also revealed to us that he and his partner not only chose their company’s name because it is brief, catchy and somewhat mysterious, but also because it is phonetically close to the word “whisky”. Thus, the young founders reasoned, drinkers of high-percentage spirits would subliminally feel some kind of a connection to their rum before they even got around to try it.
Paul Rutasikwa, who launched Matugga Rum with his wife Jacine, was next in line. A civil engineer by profession, he grew up in Uganda and emigrated to the UK at the age of 20. There, he learned about the beauty and variety of single malt whisky. While he had already developed a liking for the water of life via East Africa’s most readily available Scotch brand Johnnie Walker, this opened up a whole new universe to him. Rum, on the other hand, he only discovered at a later point thanks to his wife, who is of Jamaican heritage. During visits to Uganda, she often asked her husband about utilisation of the high-quality sugarcane that was cultivated across the country. When he could not find a proper answer to her question, she suggested that the molasses – the by-product of the sweet grass – was perfectly suited for rum making. Today, Paul and Jacine import premium ingredients from Uganda to the UK, where they turn these raw materials into their full-flavoured Golden Rum and exotic Spiced Rum. Just like Paul himself, who spent the first half of his life in East Africa and the subsequent half in Great Britain, the spirit of Matugga is a product of two completely different worlds. It is “British Rum with an African Soul”.
Last but certainly not least, Ron Maja’s brand ambassador Karem Armstrong introduced us to the 8yo and 12yo expressions of the first rum company from El Salvador. Although both of these pours were matured in oak casks that formerly contained bourbon, Ron Maja does not simply present us with the same distillate bottled at a different age. Instead, the formulas for the 8yo and 12yo (both of which were created with the help of legendary Cuban master blender Francisco Fernández AKA Don Pancho) are entirely different. While the younger of the two is a sweet, well-balanced rum that is easy to drink and share, the older has a more complex and woody flavor profile. To illustrate the differences in character, Karem said that the former might better appeal to casual cocktail drinkers whereas the latter could also win over experienced whisky drinkers. As a member of the last-mentioned group, I can fully relate to that allegory. I would like to point out, however, that not only the fifth rum of the evening, but all five sips, left a huge impression on me. I have a feeling the occasionally glass of rum will appear amidst my weekly drams a lot more often from now on.
Whisper Gold Rum (British Style / Molasses Rum / Antigua/ 40% / 25 Euro)
Matugga Gold Rum (British Style / Molasses Rum / Uganda/ 42% / 38 Euro)
Matugga Spiced Rum (British Style / Molasses Rum / Uganda/ 42% / 38 Euro)
Ron Maja 8 Years (Spanish Style / Molasses Rum / El Salvador/ 40% / 35 Euro)
Ron Maja 12 Years (Spanish Style / Molasses Rum / El Salvador/ 40% / 40 Euro)
Whisper Rum @ Web: http://www.whisper-rum.com/ (Rum from Antigua)
Matugga Rum @ Web: https://www.matuggarum.com/ (Rum from Uganda)
Ron Maja @ Web: http://ronmajaelsalvador.com/ (Rum from El Salvador)
Dugas @ Web: http://www.dugas.fr/ (Importer of spirits)
Hansemalt @ Web: http://www.hansemalt.de/ (Tastings & more)
*** I was kindly invited to the event by Hansemalt. ***