Today my local distillery, Portsmouth Distillery Co, launch their new rum, 1812, and believe me when I say it’s special.
Being a full time booze hound, I spend a lot of time in London, or travelling further afield, or talking to people around the world via zoom, to keep up to date with the latest and greatest things happening in the drinks industry. I am a champion of distilleries doing something different, and love providing support where I can. We are all in this together.
So, to have something this big in rum happening right here in my hometown is amazing. Today will be with me for a long time…and anyone from Portsmouth, this should be with you too. Today, history is being made.
1812 is the first rum to be distilled and aged for 3 years in England. So, this isn’t a blended rum. This isn’t someone who has purchased a section of rums of different ages and blended them, oh no. This is full belt and braces, start to finish rum making action. Right here by the sea, and in walking distance from my house.
Just for the record, there are some fantastic blended rums out there, and there’s certainly an art to making them…but making rum for scratch is a different thing, and that’s what Portsmouth do.
The UK rum industry has been coming on leaps and bounds in recent years. Distilleries are springing up in all sorts of places, distilling rum from scratch. In recent years many have been laying down barrels to age. Portsmouth Distillery Co, who has had a tendency to be ahead of the curve, is the first to reach that important 3 year aged milestone.
The distillery, located in the beautiful and historical surroundings of Fort Cumberland in Eastney, started up in 2018. And, the distillery already produces a decent range of spirits, Fort Gin, Tudor Gin (made with similar botanicals to that found on the Mary Rose), 1968 White Rum, Forum (one of the UKs first botanical rums), Cinnabar Rum and Fort 1 Apricot Brandy, which is made from their Fort Cyder, lovingly known amongst friends as ‘Pompey Champagne’.
Of course, I have written on these guys before. So, take a look here to find out more about the history of the distillery, and their previous creations. For this article, we’re focusing on the rum.
It’s easy for me to say it’s special, because I know why. I do think it is incredibly accessible, meaning it just tastes good. If you had no idea how rum was made, you’d still really enjoy it. I mean, it’s delicious. But there are so many reasons why it tastes delicious, and I want to share them with you, so you can enjoy it just that bit more.
The first thing is the base rum. Some of you may be familiar with their 1968 White Rum. Certainly, as a local, I’ve seen it in a few bars around Portsmouth. The thing is, 1968 is a special rum in itself because of how it’s made. Head Distiller and keen rum enthusiast Vince Noyce wanted to make a rum and he wanted to create something different, not always easy in the rum world, which is full of categories and those that take them as gospel. Most rums are a molasses base (molasses is a by-product of sugar product and is dark, sticky, and sweet). Vince wanted to go the way of sugar cane juice. Sugar cane juice brings a very different character to the table, fresh, grassy and vegetal (this style is often made on French Islands and known as Agricole, though there are variants around the world). However, this is difficult in the UK, as keeping cane juice fresh and of good quality during transportation is problematic, so Vince had set himself a challenge.
So, he decided to do things slightly differently. He takes dehydrated juice from Costa Rica, rehydrates it and boils it down into a syrup, though not quite enough to lose all of those vegetal, grassy notes that come from cane juice. He then ferments this over a two-week period before the first distillation. Whereas some distilleries making this style would use a column pot still (which rectifies, removing elements to make the rum super smooth but sometimes at the cost of flavour), Vince uses a pot still to keep that heavier, bolder flavour. Everything in the design of this rum is deliberate and the result is a white rum that’s very full, heavy in body, with a sweet, round start and a touch of those amazing grassy Agricole type notes on the finish. It’s not your standard white rum, and Vince is very proud of his baby.
“We’ve got to be young, before we can be old”, he says, matter-of-factly, and he’s right. Despite the miracles barrel aging can achieve, starting with a good base rum ensures a fantastic aged product. And there is increasing focus on the starting point of a product across the distilling industry right now, using particular ingredients like heritage grains, or particular yeasts, and creating something that’s sippable neat before it gets anywhere near a barrel.
The rum is barrelled at 68%abv. Ex-bourbon barrels are used as an ode to tradition, and the first barrel was laid down 3 years ago, and have been laying them since, with a careful organisation so they can take some out at 3 years, leave some to age 5 and leave some for 10, although as Vince says, they are an organically grown business so depending on sales there may be a pause before the next one is ready. They certainly aren’t going to bottle it before it hits that all important 3-year mark. They are slowly building their collection of barrels, and the aging room in an old casemate of the fort is a beautiful sight to behold. “It’s a nice quiet marriage” says Vince, commenting on the spirit and the barrel, “they fall in love together for the years they’re in the cask”.
The rum is then bottled at 43%abv, which was the “sweet spot” of the tested range of 41-45abv%. Despite this, it is incredibly soft and round and full of flavour. It is stunning. The smooth, rich base of the 1968 creates a most marvellous full, luscious mouth feel, and what starts off sweet and gentle, with notes of maple syrup and demerara sugar, becomes delicately complex and continues to grow richer, blooming with wonderful notes of toffee, banana, nutmeg and cinnamon. it has an incredible amount of body compared to some aged rums, which can be thin and punchy, and a delightful and intriguing profile that is begging to be explored. It is a beautiful spirit, I wouldn’t mix this for toffee, but you drink it how you want.
Colour wise, it’s a very light, golden rum. “You know my standpoint on colour”, says Vince. I certainly do! No colour is added, no sugar. Nothing actually, other than water to dilute it down to the abv. It’s 100% organic.
Cost wise, it’s reasonable for a premium spirit, that the distillery has been sat of for 3 years. Retailing for £48 (more for a founder’s release), the distillery has been careful the pricing of all their products to not charge extra for the sake of it. This is something I really admire in Portsmouth. There are examples out there of distilleries pricing spirits at what they can, because of others out there, around £120 in some instances. So, I really appreciate Portsmouth’s pricing. Whilst I do understand you can buy a bottle of something cheap at the supermarket. This is a premium product, and it’s worth every penny.
The distillery, on English Heritage property, is now open for visits to the bar, distillery tours (booked in advance) and they throw all sorts of live events throughout the year, including regular comedy nights. The launch party is tonight, and I cannot wait to raise a glass with the team.
Do check out the website, and get involved! Be it picking up a bottle, booking a tour, or just popping over for a drink in the sun in a great location, it feels pretty good to support local. Considering the island’s maritime history, and our love of a shant, Portsmouth is the perfect place for a distillery. Well, we have one…and it’s a good one…and, as far as the spirits world is concerned, they’ve just done us mighty proud.
Photos by Bernadette Pamplin