BIRA! South Pacific 12yrs - Rum Review & Interview

When someone starts their own brand to bottle and sell rum independently, you might see that as a cool thing, but not as something truly special, as there are plenty of them in the world. In this case though, it is special! It’s happening in Canada!

Canada is the desert of rum, or as a well known distiller once said, the North Korea of rum. Decades behind the civilized world with their government liquor monopolies, rules and regulations, taxes and protection measures. The ones mainly benefiting from this system are the taxman and a few large liquor companies. The result for the consumer is having no variety and high prices. Thing is, if a liquor monopoly only exists to collect tax for the government, they are perfectly happy with selling millions of bottles of Captain Morgan. Why care about variety?! Why bother? There is no incentive.

It’s very hard for a smaller rum producer to get product on the shelves here or to sell a special release. What I hear from them mostly is that taxes are so high, it makes no sense to sell in Canada, or that they don’t want to deal with the liquor monopolies because it’s too much hassle and they’d rather develop other markets where it’s a much easier process. Add the fact that every province has different rules and it makes for a rather unfriendly market to smaller producers.

You might think to yourself:”why don’t Canadians just order great rum from Europe?”. That makes total sense! However, there are two reasons why that doesn’t happen much. It’s illegal or it’s very expensive. Think in the realm of 144% of duties/taxes.

A local independent bottler would be an outcome. But, who’s crazy enough to deal with all this red tape and has the belief and the stamina to push through and create the dream of many Canadian rum enthusiasts? A fine gentleman who goes by the name of Karl Mudzamba.

Karl Mudzamba at Worthy Park

Can you introduce yourself please?

My name is Karl Mberikwazvo Tichatonga Mudzamba. I am Zimbabwean and I have had the good fortune of having lived in a few places around the world, thanks to rugby union. I call Canada home for now. My children were all born here so I have an unbreakable connection to Canada.

Where does your love of rum come from?

If I look back, I have always been drawn to cane spirits. At home, we used to have a cane spirit called Mainstay, which we used to drink with coke. Fast forward a few years, when I lived in New Zealand during my rugby union days, a good friend of mine, Nelson Gapare, who travelled a lot for work, brought me a bottle of El Dorado 15yr. I was blown away and kept asking questions, trying as many rums as possible, it's been a wonderful journey since.

Canada is a big rum drinking nation, but higher quality rum is still hard to find here. Do you think the perception of rum in Canada has changed in the past years? If so, how did this happen?

It certainly has and it's been an interesting journey to observe. When I first came to Canada in 2011 we hardly had much outside of the big brands in my province of British Columbia. I learnt later that Alberta was the place to go hunting. Alberta has been well ahead of the rest of Canada in this regard, and for many years. We think that you have played a huge role in raising awareness of this segment of rum in Canada. Your Rum Club Canada on Facebook has helped spread the gospel of rum. Canada is off the beaten path of rum so it has been pleasing to see these conversations grow with people