You can bet your bottom dollar that every review or writeup about the cannily named Outlier Distilling Company will find some way to mention that it’s not in the Caribbean (see?) but somewhere strange off the beaten track – the Isle of Man in this case – and has a name that is completely appropriate to what it is. And without doubt, most will also note that the founders, Rick Dacey and Ian Warborn-Jones, set up shop in a small milking shed in a farm there, because, y’know, stuff like this just writes itself and it would be criminal to leave it out.
Outlier is another recently-established (and very tiny) British craft distillery, already making waves in the local rum world; it joins other new UK-based rum-making companies like Ninefold, Islay Rum Co, Sugar House, Retribution and J. Gow which are showing that good rum doesn’t have a nationality and can be well-made in places that don’t immediately spring to mind when considering the spirit. It was founded in November 2019: they boys set up shop in the aforementioned milking shed (one assumes the cows were long gone by this time, otherwise they might have redefined Manx terroire right there) with a small wood-fired 160-litre hybrid still, and established their credentials and their philosophy right away, by issuing an instantly-sold-out elderberry- and blackberry-based schnapps called “Hedge Fund” and a 55% rum they called “Pudtroleum” for the 2020 Christmas season (that they were able to do so in the middle of a global pandemic and lockdown is no mean feat).
By 2022 the still had been pretty much run in and the kinks worked out, and they released their next rum, the mild mannered 41% “Hoolie” – it’s a slang term meaning a high wind or a blustery day, as in “It’s blowing a hoolie,” which is something of a backhanded homage to their island, where such blows are constant. They ferment their molasses-based wash using local yeast for anything up to two weeks depending on the weather, then run it through their still twice, and reduce the resultant spirit down to a manageable strength.
41% was chosen so as to allow for easier acceptance and there’s no ageing here, it’s a white rum straight off the still. In the hands of a someone still using training wheels this could result in a hot mess of keck, but here what we get is quite an interesting, tasty little rumlet, which starts right off by channelling crisp aromas of flowers, cucumbers in sweet balsamic vinegar, soya sauce, brine, olives, figs and sugar water (and all that in the first thirty seconds). The fresh cleanliness of the smell hints pleasingly at a cane juice rum, and throughout it remains soft, presenting light fruity notes – apricots, grapes, overripe apples, and even a touch of candy floss.
To taste, also very easy drinking. It’s light and creamy, sweet, dusty and watery (which at first I regarded with some dismay, fearing a dilution of taste), but then it finds its legs as it opens up and more muscular aspects emerge (and that’s saying something, given it’s a relatively mild strength). White fruits, guavas, lychees, melons, papaya, a touch of citrus for bite and some fanta and sprite to smoothen that out. Marshmallows, slightly singed, and again, that candy floss element. The finish is short and breathy, mostly of cheesecake, marshmallows and citrus, and it’s gone too fast, which is a shame.
Naming this rum ‘Hoolie’ is an odd choice, I thought, given what it supposedly represents; and the rum is hardly a tempest, more a sprightly autumn blow that heralds the approach of colder weather, without actually being a wintry gale itself. Never mind, though: what I like about it is the integration of the various elements and how tasty they are: the rum samples like a cross between a beefed up Riesling and a mild unaged agricole, producing an off the wall love child that succeeds swimmingly by not trying to be too much to all people. The Hoolie makes a nice little daiquiri, and indeed, much of the company’s efforts surrounding its promotion have involved cocktail circuit demos and bar popups (it is a component in Trailer Happiness’s featured zombie blend, for example) – it is not made to be a premium sipper, and doesn’t pretend to be one.
Just as the Australians a world away are doing, the new crop of British distilling entrepreneurs who have sprung up in the last decade are eschewing mass-market sales and redefining small-scale quality rum in their own way, while never losing sight of the spirit’s basic DNA. What Outlier has done is rejig the pieces and the techniques they are using to make rum, just a bit, and here have succeeded in making quite an interesting and tasty rum that speaks well for their abilities. Better yet, the stuff that came after this rum is even better: for now, though, I’ll just leave you with my appreciation for the Hoolie’s succulent charms, and save other reviews from the brand’s expanding portfolio for the future.
- Neither of the two founders is actually from the Isle of Man: both now call it home
- The two heads on the label channelling Aeolus and blowing wind, are caricatures of Rich and Ian.
- Label design is, in a nice touch, actually credited for once: to Meg ‘Stedhead’ Hindley.