In his column for ClubOenologique.com, Global Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell has talked of the importance of supporting Black-owned rum brands, as more and more of them emerge on the market. ‘Rums, historically, were made by enslaved Africans. It would be nice to see more brands or whole distilleries owned by Africans or the sons and daughters of Africans today,’ says Burrell. ‘There are already a few. But some of those brands are not really given or afforded equal status.’
Co-founding Equiano Rum in 2020, Burrell has helped spur on some important conversations about rum’s heritage by naming the brand after Olaudar Equiano, an enslaved man who bought his own freedom with the money he made selling rum, and who went on to play an important role in the abolition of slavery. Equiano is also the world’s first African-Caribbean rum, made by merging two rums from Mauritius and Barbados.
‘African Caribbean is my ethnicity here in the UK,’ says Burrell. ‘When I created the brand, and the idea of the liquid, I wanted it to be a world first. There’s a nod from the epicentre of the rum world, which is the Caribbean, and a nod to the history and heritage of African Caribbean people.’ Equiano has gone on to win a Gold medal at the IWSC.
Burrell says he is now excited to see more and more Africans, Caribbeans and people of colour setting up their own boutique rum brands or even establishing distilleries right here in the UK – looking to the drink’s history while forming an identity for their own liquid and label. ‘I love seeing that entrepreneurship where it’s like, “Right, we want to create our own brand, and really focus on part of our history and our heritage”.’
Here, Burrell recommends four rum brands based in the UK and under the ownership of Black entrepreneurs.
Four Black-owned rums from the UK
Husband-and-wife team Jacine and Paul Rutasikwa left London for Scotland to make Matugga: triple-distilled rum in ex-bourbon casks. Spiced rum fans might be curious about their ‘East African blend’, which includes black tea and cardamom.
Burrell says: ‘One of the first Black entrepreneurs I saw to actually own their own distillery is Matugga Rum. They were based in London, but the distillery is now up in Livingstone in Scotland. They’re a great little brand. They also have another rum called Liv Rum, as in “live life” and “Livingstone”.’
Produced in the railway arches of London’s Mile End, Moses Odong’s small-batch white rum was inspired by his family’s domestic spirit-making in Uganda and Jamaica, and developed with the backing of experienced UK distiller Abhishek Banik.
Burrell says: ‘This rum is made by a taxi driver, an African based in London. He set up a little distillery in a lock-up in east London after he went up to Scotland to learn more about distillation.’
Set up just over a year ago, Étän is a golden rum that the Sunday Brunch presenters called ‘terrifyingly delicious’ when Burrell showcased the drink on the TV show. Its West African spice blend – fevergrass (lemongrass), orange peel, cinnamon-like cassia, ginger, and vanilla – sets it apart.
Burrell says: ‘Étän was founded by five Cameroonian sisters. They make a spiced rum from rum they’ve bought in from the Caribbean, which they then spice up, bottle and sell.’
This slick London-based brand by Nic Akinnibosun and Rico Oyejobi emerged during lockdown and has since launched a bottle featuring artwork by South African artist Simphiwe Ndzube. Looks aside, it won IWSC Silver in blind tastings – judges praised it for its ‘super-ripe pineapple and melon singing on the nose, backed by sweet citrus’.
Burrell says: ‘This is a blend of rums from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados. The brand has been set up by two young West African guys, and it’s great seeing that because, as Caribbeans and Africans, we’ve always been associated with drinking brandy when we’re partying. It’s nice to see some younger guys now looking at rum as an alternative to brandy.’