Move over gin. Here’s why rum is sure to be your next drink of choice.
‘Why does South Africa, historically one of the top sugar-producing nations, not have a single shred of rum culture to boast of?’
This was the question in James Copeland’s mind after visiting a Mauritian rum distillery. He’s not the only one – most of our new batch of rum-makers looked at our rolling sugar-cane fields and said, ‘Why not?’ There are now at least 10 local craft rum brands to try.
Rum can be made in two ways: with freshly crushed sugar-cane juice (the Caribbean style, known as ‘rhum agricole’) or with molasses.
This spirit goes into some of the best cocktails, but our craft distillers say the way to enjoy a good rum is neat or with a dash of lime or ginger ale. Even Savanna has added a new variant to its range of ciders. Following their successful launch of the tequila-flavoured Savanna Loco last year, this year we’ve got Savanna Blackbeard, with a flavour profile of rum as well as hints of raisins, spices and fermented honey.
Look out for these rums
1. James, of Deep South Distillery in Kommetjie, which has just opened its doors (in November), had ‘the idea that rum could have terroir’ and looked into getting fresh cane juice down to the Cape without it spoiling. In the end, he had to go with molasses, but he’s seen ‘the magic potential of what can be unlocked from its deep dark depths. Such fine, noble flavours from what is essentially a by-product of the sugar industry!’
2. ‘Aged rum is inspiring mixologists to create cocktails that are more bitter, with coffee and savoury tastes,’ says Lorna Scott of Inverroche Distillery in Stilbaai, which releases 1500 bottles of its seven-year-old rum just twice a year. Inverroche’s rare 10-year-old rum came out in earlier this year. You can visit this distillery (it has a shop open Monday to Saturday) and tastings tours can be arranged by appointment.
3. Tapanga’s limited-edition ‘smokier, woodier’ dark rum. Greg Hill, a farmer near Gingindlovu, wanted to be ‘more creative than selling sugar cane to the mill’. His single-estate Tapanga Rum (everything is done on site) was the first ‘rhum agricole’ in SA, followed by Mpumalanga’s Mhoba Rum (see below).
4. Copeland Rum (white) is the newest local craft rum and already an award-winner. Also a spiced rum coming soon, based on fynbos. People can also visit the distillery if you book – it’s very popular for book-club nights out, bachelorette parties and so on.
5. Durbanville Distillery Rum. Built by father-and-son duo Robert and Eugene Kleyn, rum was the first spirit they made in ‘Eve’, the still they built themselves. It’s a unique vacuum still that does cold distillation, which saves on electricity. Their white rum was put in barrels and aged at Meerendal Wine Estate, to make the dark and spiced rums.
6. Zulu Rum. One of the early pioneers of the modern-day craft rum movement (2013), Zulu Rum is a regular award winner overseas too (it got a gold medal at the 2016 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards). We also love the interesting stories on what inspired the label on the bottle: one of the spoils of war captured by the Zulus after the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 was the British army’s rum rations!
7. Agua Zulu Cachaça. Distillery 031 is only making the Brazilian-style cachaça (also made from sugar cane), but will launch two long-awaited rums next year. The distillery is a great spot to visit and have a meal (bar and restaurant open Thursday to Sunday). The cachaça is included in tastings and used in cocktails at the rooftop bar. Tours (with tastings) happen on Saturdays over two time slots, but larger groups can book any time of the week.
8. Rhino Rum, launched last year, is made by Eugene Coertzen at Port Elizabeth’s first craft distillery, Brickmakers, using his grandfather’s old still. He has also launched a spiced rum. ‘South Africans have not truly experienced rum yet,’ he says. ‘It’s not just for sailors anymore!’
9. Mhoba Rum. Up north, this rum is made with cane grown on the farm in Mpumalanga’s Crocodile River Valley and is also a small-batch, single-estate rum. There’s a range of White Rum, Dark Aged Rum, plus new Select Agricole range (made for the recent UK RumFest 2017).
10. Time Anchor Rum. Co-owner Shanna-Rae Wilby makes rum as a homage to her roots – she grew up in Ballito, surrounded by sugar cane and there are plans for a limited-edition aged rum for next winter. Their distillery is open on Saturdays and Sundays for tours and tastings, but you need to book a slot in advance. They make normal White Rum plus flavoured rums, like Cocoa Rum (made with roasted cocoa beans) and Vanilla Rum (double distilled and bottled with Madagascan vanilla pods).
Yuppiechef also has a great selection that you can order online.
Visit these awesome rum bars around SA
1. Brian Lara Rum Eatery, Joburg
Contact: Find them on Facebook, or call 0763209739.
A tropical, summery escape this eatery is a popular lunch, dinner and drinks hangout. It’s got a good, short menu (you’ll find rum in the food here too – think a rum-basted rack of ribs and rum burger), and pina coladas are served straight from fat pineapples. Booking is essential.
2. Roxanne’s Rum Eatery, Joburg
Where? Pineslopes, Fourways.
Contact: Find them on Facebook, or call 0114670061
Detailed with unique wall art and alternative decor, this new Rum Eatery brings Tattoo Art and Neon to life in an edgy restaurant. There are loads of international rum options, plus R&R on tap and adult freakshakes.
3. Al Lado, Joburg
Where? Maboneng, next to Che Argentine Grill.
A tapas and cocktail bar, this new edition to the Maboneng Precinct is a warm and intimate candlelit bar in the heart of Johannesburg inner city. ‘Honest recipes, amazing flavors, open hearts and authenticity is what we stand for.’ Signature drinks created by Al Lado’s mixologists include the Erleichada, a sweet, sour and bitter mix of gin, sugar syrup, lime wedges, pineapple juice, basil leaves and pepper and the Brazilian caipirinha that combines cachaça with fresh strawberry juice, lime, Chambord, fresh basil and a grind of pepper. Find more info on Facebook.
4. Banana Jam Cafe, Cape Town
Contact: bananajamcafe.co.za, tel 0216740186.
There are no local rums on the menu yet, but their international offering is very impressive and claims ‘the best rum collection this side of Jamaica’ – there are more than 50, from Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mauritius, USA, France. There’s also a cocktail happy hour from 17:00 to 18:00 daily.
5. Sea Breeze Fish & Shell, Cape Town
Where? Bree Street
Contact: seabreezecapetown.co.za, tel 0747939349.
Sea Breeze Fish & Shell has CT’s first dedicated rum bar – a light, bright, quirky and fun spot that opens into a secret courtyard (it’s inspired by Wes Anderson’s movie The Life Aquatic, so there’s a nod to being onboard a boat). It has more than 20 local and international single-estate rums, hand-picked by the in-house ‘rummelier’, and eight signature cocktails.
6. Tobago’s Restaurant, Cape Town
Where? Waterfront, Radisson Blu Hotel, Granger Street, Beach Road
Contact: radissonblu.com, tel 0214413414
A new addition to Cape Town this Spring is a five course dinner, each paired with a rum-inspired cocktail. The Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront and Mauritian rum, New Grove will welcome a unique dining experience, overlooking the spectacular ocean views, from the 1 September 2018 for R495 per person.