Is this East Anglia's next big drinks trend?

Distiller Gary Wilkinson and his wife Melanie. The two run Suffolk Distillery

Distiller Gary Wilkinson and his wife Melanie. The two run Suffolk Distillery - Credit: Suffolk Distillery

hand making three cocktails on the bar

Could rum overtake gin in popularity in 2021? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

For a long time now, gin has been the tipple of choice for many - but is another spirit about to take its place in the top spot? There’s certainly potential, according to some of the region’s top drinks experts. 

“Lately, rum has been really popular, with a lot of people opting for flavoured rums instead of gin,” explains Hadleigh-based drinks connoisseur Rory Faiers.  

Rory runs The Gin Lord, a blog dedicated to exploring and uncovering the latest drinks trends. Prior to lockdown, he also ran tasting events across East Anglia, and worked closely with bars doing product consultation work.  

“Dark and spiced rums are certainly going to be big news in the new year. You can add flavour to them, and they’re a lot more accessible than a lot of other spirits,” he adds. 

And the number don’t lie. Data from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association found that between April and June 2020, 38% more rum was sold in the UK than in that same period in 2019. 

Small liquor production based on maple syrup. Multitude of pure alcohol bottles
not labeled. Bottle

A number of independent rum distilleries have sprung up across the country - with a handful right here in East Anglia - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

But where has Britain’s sudden love of rum come from? For some, it may be down to wanting a sense of escapism, according to Gary Wilkinson, owner of Suffolk Distillery.  

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“It’s a fun drink – it's something you have during the summer, or when you’re in the Balearics or the Caribbean. But it does sell very well in the winter too, as it reminds people of the sunshine, the good times ahead and getting away from it all. It’s an all-year round drink, but probably most associated with a sunny day.” 

Established in 2016, Glemsford-based Suffolk Distillery first began specialising in gin – but has since released its own spiced rum, getting ahead of the trend for 2021.  

“I did a bit of sailing in my younger days, and what you do when you arrive at your port is have a tot of rum, which was very nice, especially when the sun was out. I’ve always thought how much I’d love to make my own spiced rum - so that’s what I did.” 

Rum, which usually comes in the form of white, dark or spiced, can range anywhere between 20% and 75.5% ABV. 

“The French make rum from the actual sugar cane, but in the Caribbean it’s made from molasses, which is a by-product from making sugar. Rum which comes from the sugar cane is quite sweet as it’s derived from sugar, so it tastes smoother going down,” adds Gary.  

With that in mind, and a background in applied chemistry, Gary extracted his favourite flavours to help create his very own Suffolk spiced rum. “I used Bolivian chocolate nibs, Brazilian coffee, and a spice blend which contains Madagascan vanilla beans, blood orange, lime and cinnamon.  

Bottle of Suffolk rum next to a glass of rum and coke

Spiced rum can be created using a number of flavours, including coffee, chocolate and vanilla - Credit: Suffolk Distillery

“We brought our rum out just before lockdown, but it’s still done very well considering. I expect it to go from strength-to-strength next year and beyond.” 

Rum, which can take anywhere between three months and 18 years to make, can be blended with a number of flavours, giving it a broad appeal to a variety of tastes. 

“I think that’s why it’s becoming so popular lately – there’s just so many flavours you can put in it, and there’s definitely something out there for everybody. The longer you leave it, the more flavour it will develop, but unlike whiskey, there’s no legal definition for how long it has to age, meaning it can be made quicker,” says Rory.  

Bottle of Norfolk rum on a tree stump in a forest

With more East Anglian producers dabbling in the world of rum distillation - could 2021 be the year rum takes over gin? - Credit: Norfolk Spirit Company

“Rum is something I’d recommend everybody try, even if you think you don’t like it,” adds Norfolk distiller Ben Crisp. 

“I think most people, myself included, had bad experiences with cheap rum when we were younger. A little while ago, I said I didn’t like rum, but then I had a really nice one, and all of a sudden it clicked.” 

Following his sudden love of the spirit, Ben then set up his own distillery while on furlough, Norfolk Spirit Company.

“It’s quite a new venture for me – I'm actually a pilot, but I’ve wanted to set up my own business for a while now. We’ve been in business since July, and it’s going quite well.” 

With three rums and three liqueurs under his belt, Ben hopes more people take to the spirit this year, and appreciate how versatile it really is.  

“Gin was very popular, and there’s some nice ones out there, but I think it’s the tonic water that can make a gin. You wouldn’t really sip gin, although some people do. Whereas with a rum, you can have it on its own, or you can make some fantastic cocktails with it."

With more local distillers trying their hand at making their own, the future of rum looks promising here in the region. 

“Rum is something a lot people don’t know much about, as we tend not to make it in this country - but the fact people are starting to make and blend their own rums now is really exciting,” adds Rory.  

But what is the best way to drink it, according to the experts? 

“A lot of people have rum with coke, as it’s very sweet, or they round it off with pineapple juice, but to be honest, a good rum doesn’t need anything at all. It works perfectly well by itself, or with ice,” says Gary.  

“You can also make an Old Fashioned with rum, using bitters, orange and a sugar cube,” adds Ben.  

For anyone really excited about rum and looking to go that extra step further, Rory suggests pairing it with food for a truly indulgent experience.  

“Rum is something to have towards the end of the evening rather than the beginning. Darker rums especially go really well with desserts that have brown sugar in them, such as a sticky toffee pudding - those two together are a real treat.”