Sugar House, along with Ninefold, J. Gow, Islay Rum Co and other distilleries now opening in the UK, may represent the Brit’s answer to the diminution of the merchant bottling trade, or perhaps the growing expense of getting the best casks out of the brokerages by an ever-increasing number of independents. It speaks to the desire of a new crop of aggressive young Turks to not be beholden to third parties for barrels of rum or blending skills, but to let loose and harness their own creative impulses to the max, and go out there and break some sh*t, to see what comes out the other end, frothing and hissing and dissolving glasses, taste buds and noses in equal measure.
While excitement attends the opening of any new craft micro-distillery launched by some enthusiastic young bravos, visionary lone founders or a husband and wife team that subsist on pizzazz and chutzpah and high hopes more than cold cash, they tend to be found most often in the Caribbean, Asia or Africa, with a smattering elsewhere. One does not immediately think of Scotland as rum country, know what I mean? Yet slowly but surely, small, exciting, well branded and cannily-marketed little startups are beginning to make a dent in the rumiverse over there, and Sugar House is surely one of them.
Founded in 2017 by owner and distiller Ross Bradley, it is not located in some rolling peat-smelling Scottish highland glen with fog, heather and deer in all directions, but in the down-to-earth, less than romantic industrial area just north west of the small town of Dumbarton, itself to the NW of Glasgow. Initially he used the Strathleven Distillery to pot distil the rum (and called it the Spirit of Glasgow) but as of 2018, their own equipment probably arrived and Mr. Bradley set up shop in the Vale of Leven Industrial Estate. There, welding a hybrid 1400-litre pot still (with a 12 plate rectifying column bolted on) to imported high grade molasses (Wes noted in 2018 that it was from Guyana) and a week-long fermentation time, Sugar House produces a 90% ABV spirit. Some of that goes to age, some of gets released as an unaged white, still more goes into the spiced and infused rums they also sell, and some just gets tinkered with in one fashion or another and released as an experimental, limited edition.
For the moment, none of these are under the microscope except the white, which in this case is from the 2022 batch on display at the first TWE Rumshow, and not the same as the blue labelled one Wes reviewed five years ago. He liked it a lot, and batch variation or no, new recipe or not, this Scottish rum packed quite a wallop for me as well. Consider: the nose was light and fruity, felt solid and clean, and smelled fruity, a bit malty and even beer-like, with a nice play of hops lurking in the background. There was cardboard, light watery fruit, cherries, a fine touch of funkiness (not much), some green peas and melted butter, papaya and salt, and say what you will but I thought it was different and good (though I tried manfully to keep my face impassive at the booth that day and mumbled something doofus-like, like “Hmm” and “”ok” and “interesting” which probably made the guys wonder why they were wasting time talking to me).
For 43% the palate really was surprisingly robust as well. Not sharp, just punchy – it channelled a sort of earthiness of dark wet loam, damp sea wind, and again, beer, mustiness, and some ashes (all this, in an unaged white rum?). It progressed sweetly and naturally to a sort of peppery, fruity, tart series of tastes – unsweetened yoghurt, pineapple and cordite mixed with sharp unripe fruits is the best I can explain it, though later some of the depth started fade as I stuck with it. It was remarkably pleasant by itself ( I was told it was even better in a mojito) and while the finish brought nothing new to the table — it mostly summed up the preceding experience — it was as sweetly and lightly loving as a wife’s kiss in the morning, and a nice summation of the drink as a whole.
It’s too early to tell the kind of impact a small craft distillery will have on the global rumisphere in years to come, but for now Sugar House is certainly making a splash locally and in Europe, where the desire of the tippling public for something new and interesting will certainly garner them plaudits and (hopefully) increase sales. Sales that I hope expand to other parts of the world, where stuff like this is in short supply as the race to premiumise gathers force and steam and relegates whites to the unfairly dismissed margins. But you know, I enjoyed and liked this standard proof unaged white rum a lot — the tastes were a mix of old and new, familiar and different, oddly unique and comfortingly the same…and it was a fun drink on top of it all. That sort of combination is rare, is welcome when it’s experienced, and to have it on display with products made so early in the lifecycle of a new company speaks well for their future endeavours. I think it’s something of an undiscovered gem.