Here’s the thing, I love rum. Love it. Not the thick as treacle, mixed with coke, cheap as chips stuff. No, I love the ones which promise hints of sunnier climes, with spices and fruits which excite the taste buds. So when I spotted an intriguing stall at Horsham Market, promising a locally created Sussex rum, I’ll admit it, even at 10 am, it got me interested. When I got to the stall itself, bedecked in black, with the beautiful bottles reminiscent of high-end perfumes displayed tantalisingly, I was already sold. And then came the biggie. This was the Custom Spirit Company. Not only could I buy local rum – I could decide what went into it.
It didn’t take much convincing for me to snap up one of the sample packs featuring the four ‘house blends’ of the company, and, after a fun evening trying them all out, I can attest they are good. Very, very good. Plus, only natural ingredients are used and, they’re all vegan.
Rum, tum, tum
The Custom Spirit Co. was set up by two friends, Callum Giblett and Jason Hall. The two, who met at university (possibly over a joint love of rum, I’d wager), have spent this past year in a whirlwind of recipes, rum, ingredients, rum, tastings, rum and more rum. So why then, if they already have some good products, does this start-up want to go through the hassle of people creating their own Sussex rum?
Callum, the brand’s technical director is buzzing with enthusiasm for the products and their offer. He explains, “We wanted customers to get a chance to express themselves. It’s a unique experience and it’s not what you get elsewhere. We give people the opportunity to find their unique taste.
When we began making our blends we tried loads of different variations and wrote between 50 and 100 rum recipes – and we knew they all tasted good. We decided we could either choose one good blend, be generic and sell just that – or we could be brave and go for the option to custom blend.”
The process begins with two base blends the friends have settled on that they believe take on the different flavours well – created with a mix of rums from sun-filled countries like Jamaica and Venezuela – to create White Rum No.1 and The Golden One. After that, things get really fun.
“We’ve picked out 15 flavours that make up our palette which all the rums can be built around and, rather than the processes used by bigger distillers where you have to do a run of 500-1000 bottles at a time, we’ve worked out a way which means we can make a single bottle at a time, relatively easily. It is a little more labour intensive, but a lot of love goes into every bottle.”
Whilst many of us are aware of the gin making process, the Sussex rum industry is on the horizon as the Big New Thing so, for those of you, like myself, who don’t actually know how rum is made, Callum explains, “Rum starts life as sugar cane, or molasses, then it’s distilled and is a clear liquid but as it matures it goes lighter or darker. For it to be a spiced rum, it means it’s infused with different flavours. People think of spiced rums as vanillas, Tonka beans, etc. because that’s what they’ve bought in the supermarket, but “spiced” is more of a term which means that fruits and spices, or any flavouring has been added to the rum.”
If the process of choosing your own ingredients sounds daunting, don’t be put off. Customers can ask for feedback if they visit the market stall at Horsham market every Saturday, or if they decide to do some online shopping there’s a variety of ways of mixing your own with a little help. There’s even an option (for a small charge), for the master mixers to balance the flavours exactly – to make sure your custom blend is the best it can be.
Bursting onto the local alcohol scene, seemingly from nowhere with a killer product is the stuff of “overnight success” stories we all enjoy hearing about. But behind any overnight success is a lot of hard work.
Callum explains, “The idea formed early 2020. I used to be a chemical engineer and Jason was a gin distiller, we both liked drinking, we both liked rum and we thought we might like to do that. The gin market is saturated with huge companies pouring money into it and we knew we couldn’t get into the market as we wouldn’t be able to find our niche. We wanted to do rum because everyone says it’s the next big thing and we thought, “let’s get ahead of it”. We know where we fit into this, and know what we can do.
We went to university together and lived together ever since. We always knew we wanted to start something but didn’t know it would be this soon. However, we were on furlough, stuck at home, and it really gave us the push, which was a small silver lining from last year.”
He adds, “We’ve come along quite quickly. Being up and running a year after a product is made in this industry is almost unheard of. But we’ve really tried to get it ready as quick as we could, as we wanted to have things out straight away after lockdown – there’s always a job to do though, we have bottles all around us. I spent last night labelling 100 of them.”
One to watch
With so much in the pipeline for this burgeoning business, including a new white label series, looking for bigger premises, securing placement in restaurants, shops and bars around the South East as well as plans to expand into the vodka and gin markets, we get the feeling Jason and Callum will be labelling hundreds of bottles every night if they don’t add “find more staff” to the to-do list quickly.
The Custom Spirit Company is at Horsham Market every Saturday.
If you like this post about Sussex rum, you may also like:
Contributed by Lisa Brace