Updated: May 2
Equiano is a new rum brand that is labeled as the world's first African & Caribbean rum. It's a blend of rums from Mauritius (Grays Distillery) and Barbados (Foursquare Distillery), blended in Barbados by Richard Seale.
There are four business partners behind the brand, with the most well known one being Ian Burrell. Luckily, he was willing to sit down for an interview about himself, UK Rumfest and Equiano. Following the interview you can find my own thoughts about the rum.
Many people only know you as the Global Rum Ambassador, but you are a family man as well. How many kids do you have and how old are they?
I have two boys at home. The eldest is 6 years and youngest is 3 years.
Is it difficult to combine family life with such a globe trotting type of job?
It wasn't last year as there was not much travelling by anyone. (LOL) But usually there are times where it is difficult, but I made my bed, created my own position and determine when I do and don't work, so it's easier than if I had a boss telling where to be.
I'm pretty sure you didn't wake up one morning and decided to create the Global Rum Ambassador job and image for yourself. What did the road leading up to this look like? I vaguely remember a rap video.
LOL, well I was making cocktails behind bars while I was making music videos. While working behind the bar in the mid 1990's I was asked to represent J Wray & Nephew UK as the first UK Rum brand ambassador. While building a name for myself, a presenter of rum stories and history, I was given the opportunity to help launch Appleton Estate rums in New Zealand & Australia. The thought of being paid to travel the world and sample rum was an exciting one, but I also realised that there was no go to person for rum brands to use to tell their stories. So I decided it was going to be me.
You are founder and organizer of UK Rumfest, which was the first of its kind in the world. Many have followed. Did you ever think it would have as much of an impact as it's had?
100% no. I could never have imagined that the UK RumFest would go onto influence rum festivals around the world or help the industry to achieve its goal of getting as much "liquid on lips", thus helping the growth of the rum category. Consumers could learn about rum from ambassadors, blenders and distillers directly and then make informed opinions about the spirit. The biggest honour I receive is when brands personally thank me for what I have done or am doing for the rum category.
UK Rumfest is a massive operation. How much of your time is spent preparing and organizing it through the year?
It's pretty much an all year round project, but we (as in my event organiser & me) start to up the promotions and planning from April, which is about 6 months before the event. We are constantly trying to evolve as a show, and as the world's longest running rum festival, it is important to try to keep the event fresh for our loyal customers, but remembering that there are always new rum lovers that attend the show.
You've done work for a variety of brands, how do you decide who to work and not work with?
I ONLY work with brands I drink, and brands that do not expect me to say that their rum is the best in world.
Why did you want to start a rum brand and who else is involved in it?
I felt the timing was right, back in early 2019. I have been involved in the creation of many rum brands throughout my career, but as a consultant. After meeting my 3 other business partners , Amanda, Aaisha and Oliver I knew that we could potentially create a good rum brand. But I STILL represent the category of rum because rising tides floats ALL boats.
Where does the name Equiano come from and what's the story behind it?
Olaudah Equiano was an enslaved African who became an abolitionist, entrepreneur and freedom fighter in the 18th Century. In short, he was kidnapped at the age of 11 from West Africa, taken to Barbados and then the USA where he was sold and sent to the UK. There he learnt English, and then travelled back to the Caribbean where he witnessed the atrocities of Slavery. He was then given the opportunity to buy his own freedom, so he learnt to trade amongst other things, "Rum" to raise the money. Once free, he came back to the UK and was inspired to write about his life as a kidnapped African in the 1700's.
He published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), which depicted the horrors of slavery. It went through nine editions in his lifetime and helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade.
Also, how many RUM brands pay homage to a Black person? Our rum, which follows Equiano's path from Africa to the Caribbean, pays homage to the man by being the first African & Caribbean Rum blend created, and by donating £2 or $2 from every bottle sold via our website to Anti Slavery & Equality charities every year.
In most cases, when people want to create a rum blend, they ask for help from Scheer in Amsterdam. Why did you choose a different route?
Buying Rum's from Scheer is a great way to acquire good rum, and is who I recommend to 90% of my clients. It is not easy to buy rums direct from a distillery nor is it easy to blend rum consistently for a brand long term. And Scheer have been doing it for several years, and doing it well, BUT I have been promoting rum as a category for 25 years and have built up a few relationships along the way, so I am very fortunate that I can go direct to source to buy and have my rum blended, and bottled at a distillery in the Caribbean.
It was also important for my first rum that it should be bottled in the Caribbean as it keeps some of the money within the country. Saying that, our 2nd SKU Equiano Light, will be blended by Scheer, but using the same rums from the same two distilleries; Foursquare (Barbados) and Grays (Mauritius). This way we can ensure that the bulk part of the distillery business is supported too, as it was and is a lifeline for many rum companies.
How was the cooperation with Foursquare's Richard Seale established? Why him? Was he jumping for joy from the get go?
Hopefully Richard doesn't read this as I don't want his head to swell, but as a Jamaican WE have the BEST Rum in the WORLD....But Richard is not only making some of the best rum, but the some of the best alcohol that I have ever tasted in my 30 years of bartending/Ambassadorial work/drinking, so when I decided who was going to make my first rum, he was the No.1 draft pick. And have you ever seen Richard "jump for joy"? Exactly. No. But he slowly, but surely warmed to the idea of helping to create a legacy.
Why was it blended in Barbados and not in Mauritius?
Simple. That's where Olaudah Equiano was brought to in the 1757. That's where the sugarcane spirit that we know as RUM got it's name from. That's home of Foursquare Rum.
How did you come to a style decision on which type of bottle to use and how to label it? The bottle screams premium, but that's not always seen as a good thing in rum enthusiast circles.
The bottle style and direction is one that the team all agreed on but driven by Aaisha, one of the founders, who has a great eye for small details such as bottle shape, bottle weight, fonts and even the color of the tamper seal. And in regards to the label 'African Caribbean' Rum, well in the UK that is my ethnicity and although it is bottled and blended in Barbados, it is not a Barbados rum. Yes we do "scream premium", but Equiano is a Rum for the many, and not just for the few. So any rum enthusiast that thinks that rum should not look or feel premium like other spirits such as Whiskey, Brandy or even Tequila, is probably stuck with that colonial mindset that Caribbeans and Premium is an oxymoron. So I really don't have any time for 'rum enthusiasts' who don't see the premiumisation of rum as a good or positive thing.
We all love details. How much can you tell us about the makeup of the blend?
I can tell you that both rums are distilled from Molasses.
I can tell you that the Foursquare rum selected by Richard Seale is a blend of Pot & Column still rums aged for a minimum of 8 tropical years.
I can tell you that the blend is predominantly Foursquare Rum which has been aged in once used Bourbon casks.
I can tell you that the Grays Distillery rum, is distilled traditionally in a single column, has been aged for a minimum of 10 years in French Oak that once held cognac from Martell.
I can tell you that there is no sugar or spices added to the blend.
I CAN'T tell you the ratios or the recipe of the rum, because that is a trade secret....Like my Grandma's Jerk Chicken recipe.
Is Equiano meant to be a mixer, a sipper, or do you not believe in those terms?
Any rum can be sipped or mixed. It's all about the drinker. Equiano is a DRINKING Rum. Best consumed with friends.
What's next for Equiano, more releases? If so, which direction will it go into? Always blends? Single casks? Different ages?
We are launching an Equiano Light later this year, which will be a mix of aged Molasses rum from Foursquare and unaged Sugarcane Juice Rum from Mauritius. And then we'll be looking at Vintages and possible single casks and different ages. All using rums from the Caribbean & The African continent.
Any final message for quality rum deprived Canadians?
Equiano Rum is currently available in parts of Canada such as Manitoba, Nova Scotia and very soon British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. And we are working on getting it everywhere soon. But in the mean time, there are some amazing other rums available on the shelves. So enjoy what you like, but know what you're drinking. Yeah Mahn.
Thank you Ian!
Before I go into my review of Equiano, I'd like to write a few short facts about Grays Distillery in Mauritius. It's been in existence since 1935 and is located on a 6000 hectares sugar estate that dates back to 1838. They use a locally grown yeast for a 30 hour fermentation and a column still for distillation. The rum comes off the still at 94%. For ageing they use French Limousin barrels, as well as old French oak and ex-Cognac barrels. The brand of their rum is New Grove, which has been in existence since 2003.
It's briney with some cardboard, coconut, caramel, candle wax, oak, nutmeg and light plastic.
It's very easy going and pleasant with light tobacco, oak, caramel, and sweet coconut. It's nutty and there is a hint of dark chocolate. It starts out with sweetness and is followed by a good amount of wood spice on the medium long finish.
The nice thing about this blend is that the characteristics of both distilleries are noticeable, without one dominating the other. That's an achievement, as rum from Grays Distillery (New Grove) is quite expressive and very different from Foursquare rum. Richard Seale has been able to melt these two together for a very pleasant experience.
For the more hardcore rum enthusiast, the Mauritian component might have been tamed too much. But, by taking this approach it has become a rum that can open doors to the rum universe for new rum explorers, as well as giving a "sit back and relax" sipping experience to the seasoned rum enthusiast. A premium gateway rum! I'm never completely sure what the word "premium" stands for, but for once it can be used without finding a boatload of additives in the product. Bravo!
Apart from sipping it neat, I've also tasted it in a rum & Coke and a daiquiri and can report that it works well in both, making it a rather versatile expression.
I'm impressed by this rum. Premium rum used to be synonymous with pretty bottles, debatable age statements and added sugar. Through that, many people think that those types of products are the crème de la crème of rum offerings. It's time for change and Equiano is part of that change. Pretty bottle...yes, good rum...yes, misleading age statements or added sugar....no. More of this please!
Equiano – 80
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