Thailand is one of the biggest sugar cane producers in the world, but until now few distilleries have exploited this green gold to produce a white rum for tasting. This is the idea that four friends have come up with. For the moment, it is impossible to find the rums in mainland France, but things could quickly accelerate.
Rule number one: if you want to be an entrepreneur and succeed in the ultra-competitive world of rum, it is highly recommended to surround yourself with the best. After having founded in 2009 with Frédéric Revol the first organic whisky distillery in the world, “Le domaine des Hautes Glaces” (Isère), Jérémy Bricka returned to his first passion: wine. With his eponymous estate located one hour from Grenoble, he is committed to promoting endemic grape varieties such as the douce noire or the persan.
In 2015, Yann Triffe, an engineer and son of a distiller, suggested that he join the Kosapan adventure, which advocates the same organic and ethical values that he proposed with his whiskies. Without hesitation, he decided to get involved 100% and put his valuable experience to good use. “Thanks to Jérémy’s expertise, we have gained 10 years,” says Yann, who has known the winemaker since childhood.
Today Kosapan, which takes its name from one of the first Siamese diplomats (from Siam, the former name of Thailand, editor’s note), has four founders. Among them is May Lunnalin, whom we managed to contact via zoom. The daughter of a laboratory technician in the automotive industry, she grew up among stills and petri dishes.
As a teenager, she developed an interest in the world of chemistry: “I was soon able to test and measure the quality of water,” recalls the young woman, who had all the scientific literature at her fingertips. As a Thai, she was able to help the other members of the adventure to find a local and to understand the legislation surrounding a spirit that is still a UFO in the eyes of the local population.
After solid studies in the world of finance in London, she decided to leave to join the Kosapan project in 2013. Brice Boivin, a discreet investor, also from the world of finance, fell in love with May’s sister and decided to move to Thailand. His role and that of May’s family will be decisive in the birth of the Kosapan distillery.
The Thai government prohibits foreigners from buying land in their own name. “To find the ideal location for our distillery, we needed a local partner,” says Yann Triffe, who ensures that the entire project is financed by his own funds.
One of 220 varieties of sugarcane
Located northwest of Bangkok in the heart of a rice field, the distillery consists of four rooms. The first one receives the raw material that will make up the range of rums: sugarcane juice or fresh fruit. The second room is where the fermentation process begins and all the temperature controls are carried out. The third room is reserved for the distillation of rums and fruit or plant spirits. The fourth room is reserved for labelling and preparing orders for shipment.
Kosapan’s strength is to highlight the richness of the Thai soil by distilling a wide variety of local fruits and plants, all in an organic way: “What we lack for the moment is the juniper berry that we import from Germany to make our gin”, Yann Triffe concedes.
Among the 220 varieties of sugar cane that grow in Thailand, only one (its name remains a secret) has been selected to compose their rum, which is therefore a mono-varietal: “We are the only ones in the country to produce a rum made from a single variety of sugar cane,” says May Lunnalin. This feat required years of research to arrive at a rum with the plant and floral notes that suit us. She goes on to describe the process of making this unique pure cane juice rum ”
We collect vesou only from small farmers who harvest the sugar cane by hand. Separated into small batches we carefully control the humidity and temperature. Fermentation takes place gently, and then we detail our rum in a copper pot still. For Kosapan, we only keep the hearts of the distillation where the concentration of ethanol and flavours is highest.”
Only white rums and no additives
Among the pitfalls that have plagued their entrepreneurial journey, legislation ranks first: “Distilling rum in Thailand is still something new, and the authorities remain suspicious, granting licences piecemeal. Today, at Kosapan, we are allowed to distil on one condition: only white spirits without additives,” says May, who has great ambitions for the distillery.
In the near future,” continues one of the founders, “we would like to limit our carbon footprint as much as possible with eco-responsible packaging. To be totally independent in the production and cultivation of our organic fruits and plants. We would also like to continue developing partnerships with hotels and other starred restaurants.
Let’s not forget that rum is a small part of Kosapan’s know-how. Driven by a thirst to popularise a region little known to Europeans, May Lunnalin and her partners carefully source all the raw materials.
The Pandanus, a tropical plant (with a savoury spread taste!) frequently used in Asian cuisine, is part of their range of eau de vie. Pineapple and jasmine are also distilled in this way with an alcohol content always equal to 40 degrees. To distribute all these spirits, the four partners have chosen to do without la Maison du Whisky “so as not to sell to the general public and to better target their customers”.
Aware that there is still a long way to go, Kosapan has already approached the Thai authorities so that in the future a protected designation of origin can be created. A salutary step, to be congratulated!