For a country that produces some 2.2 million tons of sugar per season, South Africa was slow in entering the rum game. Happily, its craft-rum revolution is now well under way, with micro distilleries fast multiplying.
Produced in Kommetjie since 2017, Copeland small-batch white rum is arguably South Africa’s finest. A musician turned distiller, James Copeland uses blackstrap molasses as his raw material, tropical yeast strains for fermentation and a wide-cut, double-distillation process.
The result is a pure, flavourful rum that initially hits you with spun sugar, caramel and liquorice before caressing you with waves of cacao and lingering with roasted pineapple, litchi and darker jammy fruit notes on the palate. Awards: Silver Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards 2017.
Inverroche in Stilbaai is most famous as being the county’s first craft-gin distillery, but the Scott family is an innovator of rum too, starting back in 2008. The 7YO African Blackstrap Rum, with its sweet citrusy-vanilla, dry smoky character and decadent butterscotch finish, is already in its final year of release.
Their stores having crossed the 10-year mark, from November 2018 Inverroche will be bottled as the 10YO Limestone Rum, a full-bodied sipping rum with a complex wood-and-spice profile. Inverroche is produced with blackstrap molasses, slow fermented in open wooden barrels and small-batch distilled in a wood-fired, 1,000-litre copper pot still.
With five small-batch, premium white and dark rums in its portfolio, Mhoba in Mpumalanga is not messing around. A mechanical engineer, founder Robert Greaves started designing and building small stills and cane presses on his sugarcane farm around 2013, with the idea of pioneering agricultural (and estate) rum in SA.
Greaves does his primary distillation in two identical 500-litre stripping pot stills; he then uses a spirit pot still to create the lighter rums. Greaves also distils Shipwreck Rum. Awards: Best Local Rum on Show, Rum Overture Festival 2017, for the Mhoba Pot Stilled Oak Aged Rum.
Down in Zululand, on another sugarcane farm, Greg Hill also decided to make agricultural rum around 2013. He commissioned a sugarcane crusher from a local engineering works, made his own still from an old copper geyser and some copper pipes he had lying around, and away he went.
After some tinkering, Hill teamed up with Grant McMurray to commercialise the venture with fancy new equipment. Tapanga produces two high-quality, single-estate agricultural rums (trading locally as rhum agricole): Tapanga White Rum, great for cocktails, and the barrel-aged sipping Tapanga Gold Rum. Awards: Silver Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards 2016 for both.
Whistler, in the Free State, has grown from a garage project to what might just be SA’s largest rum distillery. Brothers Trevor and Leon Bruns partnered with Stephan De Vos in 2015, bought a 50-litre still and got experimenting.
After a whirlwind visit to the US in 2016, where they soaked up all the rum knowledge they could, they opened their doors late 2017. They produce Whistler African Style Dark Rum (with deep notes of dark chocolate, toasted toffee and roasted ground nuts) and Whistler Spice Infused Rum (with mellower notes of cinnamon, vanilla and citrus).
25 Degrees South
2013 seems to have been a magic year for rum in SA, as this was also when the father-and-son De Wet duo, Johann senior and junior, started distilling. Both engineers, they began fiddling with wine and beer before fermenting molasses to make rum.
Like their fellow engineer at Mhoba, the De Wets also don’t muck about; not in making a wide range, but by producing one with a serious kick: the 57% ABV Gunpowder Rum (the first navy-strength rum in SA). Despite this eye-watering alcohol content, its French-oak aging gives it rich toffee, caramel and vanilla notes on the nose and a smooth mouthfeel.
Located in a former milk shed deep in the Free State, the De Vry Distillery has a down-to-earth farm feel – fitting, since the Du Plooy brothers are all about home-grown authenticity.
The Jamaica-style De Vry Die Warm Rasta Rum that Gerrit, Pasch and Albert produce is made with refined molasses, fermented with a blend of yeast and borehole and reverse osmosis water, and aged in the on-site maturation cellar in charred American-oak barrels. It’s also additive-free.
Andrew Rall founded Distillery 031 in KwaZulu-Natal in 2008, and quickly built up a reputation for producing fine craft spirits. He turned his attention to rum in 2014 with the continent’s first cachaça, Distillery 031 Agua Zulu Cachaça (in some markets labelled as Brazilian Style Rum).
It’s made with freshly pressed sugarcane juice and distilled in small batches in a copper pot still. Its initial grassy notes on the palate with citrus and earthy tones finish with warm butterscotch and vanilla flavours. Awards: Silver New York International Spirits Competition 2018 and Silver San Francisco International Spirits Competition 2018.
Founded in 2016, this is Port Elizabeth’s first craft distillery. Here distiller Eugene Coertzen makes rum using techniques, principles and recipes passed down from his grandfather.
Rhino Rum has rum and raison, honey, vanilla and toffee on the nose with after tastes of dried plum and banana, while Spiced Rhino has aromas of aniseed and cinnamon, opening up to flavours of liquorice, cinnamon, vanilla, clove, orange and a touch of ginger. Both are produced in a column still.
Robert and Eugene Kleyn of Durbanville are another father-and-son team. Like Greaves, they’re handy, and they built their vacuum still themselves. Eve is enormous, her column enclosing twice the surface area of traditional copper stills; indeed, the Kleyns believe her to be the largest liquor-producing vacuum-still in the world. (Luckily, the cold-distillation process she runs keeps their electricity bill down!) Their twice-distilled Durbanville Distillery Cold Distilled (white) Rum – made with blackstrap molasses – has light vanilla-caramel notes with a soft toffee character.
The production of Zulu Rum was yet another idea that sparked around 2013 – this time to Clinton Wyness, a photographer and aviation safety officer from KwaZulu-Natal.
After gathering resources with the help Wayne Oliver, he hired a distiller to produce his rums for him, namely the Zulu Rum (white), Zulu Impi Rum (dark) and Zulu Gold (amber) – all made from local molasses. Awards: Gold The Fifty Best Rums 2016 and Silver Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards 2016 for the white. Gold Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards 2016 for the dark.
Shanna-Rae Wilby’s Time Anchor Rum is currently getting a facelift, and will be out late 2019.
Distilled by John Hardie, Innocent Spirits Cold Brew Rum and Oak Aged Rum will be released early 2019.
The African Spirit Distillery is about to launch their African Spirit Classic Rum.
James Copeland is busy finalising a Copeland cachaça, to release end 2018, and he aims to release a Copeland fynbos-spiced rum early 2019.
Andrew Rall is on track to launch two Distillery 031 rums in 2019.
Eugene Coertzen is working on a blended rum to add to the Rhino Rum range, coming ‘very soon’.
Some Durbanville Distillery white rum is currently being barrel aged to create dark and spiced rums.