Have you tried this Norfolk-made rum yet?
- Credit: Contributed
They are flavours to make the mouth water: honey and vanilla spiced rum; smoother liqueurs with irresistible flavours of chocolate and coffee; and now a Christmassy caramel.
Distilled by Norfolk Rum, these are some of the distinct lines that you could say are helping the fledgling distillery get off the ground.
Such tantalising rum-based liqueurs sit alongside the traditional dark spiced and white rums that have seen the Norfolk Spirit Company – which makes Norfolk Rum – evolve from the uncertain pandemic lockdown days of spring 2020, into an emerging county drinks brand.
It was a time that commercial airline pilot Ben Crisp found himself furloughed as the aviation sector virtually closed down amid tight travel restrictions.
He had always been interested in spirits and had more recently developed a taste for rum and rum-based liqueurs.
Building on this, he explained: “I’d had this idea of starting something like this with some friends before lockdown, but because of the coronavirus, they decided to pull out and the idea stalled for a while.”
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Encouraged by his girlfriend Helen Seath, who is a full-time teacher, the idea was revived, given wings, and the Norfolk Spirit Company was born with Helen’s mother Theresa Robinson coming in as a business partner.
“I was furloughed, with nothing to do, and I realised that it was actually as good a time as any to do this because we were never going to have this amount of time off again,” added Ben.
“It also kept us busy during furlough, helped us all mentally, and gave us something to focus on, and as much as I love flying, I have always wanted to have my own business.
“I did consider doing a gin but everyone is doing gin at the moment. There are hundreds of nice gins, especially Norfolk gins, and whiskies too, but there did not seem to be many nice English-made rums, so we went along that route.”
Norfolk Rum was launched with the honey and vanilla spiced rum, followed by cherry and chocolate and a coffee liqueur. After six months, a dark spiced rum and a white rum were added to the range, with chocolate orange included later.
The newest addition to the range – a caramel rum liqueur – is being launched in time for Christmas and will be unveiled at the Festive Fair at The Forum, which runs from Thursday, November 25, to Sunday, November 28. Outdoor stalls – where you’ll find Norfolk Rum close to the main entrance – are trading on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We are very excited about the caramel rum liqueur,” added Ben. “It is a buttery caramel flavour and we think it will go down very well.”
He also hopes his take on a modern rum will change people’s perception of it as a drink.
“Many people have an opinion of rum as something you perhaps add cola too, but I wanted something really nice, that you could sip,” he explained.
“Using local products, I think we have achieved that with these rums. They are very different to what you would expect most rums to be.
“One of the most satisfying things is when people come up to us and say they don’t like rum, but when they try it, they find they actually do. It is nice converting people who say they don’t like it.”
Those important local ingredients include honey from Leigh’s Bees, the coffee from Black Cat Coffee and natural spring water from Norfolk Water.
“One of the first farmers’ markets we did was at Creake Abbey and we met people we have become friends with and use their ingredients,” he said.
The molasses, the critical ingredient, is sourced elsewhere and the distilling takes place at a premises in South Norfolk, although the longer-term plan is to move to a custom-designed premises with a shop outlet.
“At the moment, we are still a fledgling business, so all of that is a little further down the line,” said Ben, 39, who lives in Mulbarton with Helen and their sons Sebastian, 9, and Charlie, 2.
At present Norfolk Rum is available online and at 60-70 outlets and markets across the region, including Jarrolds in Norwich, Baker and Larners in Holt and St Giles Pantry. He has been supported in the distribution process by Dan Lacey at the Norfolk Hub.
Alongside Theresa, Ben’s parents Richard and Caroline are also involved, selling the rum at markets across the region while Ben continues to fly short-haul routes in Europe for a commercial operator.
The distilling is carried out by an expert colleague, and, as Ben adds: “While I like rum, you cannot go straight from flying planes to creating really nice rums so I have somebody to help and take us through the process. The recipes and flavourings were something that I came up with to create these rums with our distiller.
“I am learning to do it, but it is going to take a little while before I am fully-fledged as there is a lot more to it than you think.”
Annual production is currently about 6,000 bottles, with a full range of stock ready for the Christmas festivities.
“It is difficult to gauge,” he said. “The problem with lockdown was not being able to do any markets or be in many shops, so this year is when we will find out how the business is going. But because we are slightly different to gins and beers, we are starting to get a little bit more noticed.”
From an initial cottage industry feel, Norfolk Rum has recently been re-branded with a contemporary new look and website.
“With our designer, Rebecca Wright, we spent time discussing how we can have a premium feel but try to relate it to Norfolk,” said Ben, who was born and educated in King’s Lynn and studied business and finance at Sheffield Hallam University before moving to America to complete his flight training.
“Rums tend to be dark bottles with pirates and skulls, but we do not feel our rum is like that, it is a very different kind of rum, and we wanted to stand out. In Norfolk, there are big skies and beautiful beaches and we put clouds on our bottles and it looks phenomenal.”
The 70cl bottles are £40 and the 50cl liqueurs are £28. There is also an eco-friendly refill option too.
There are plans already in place for expansion in 2022, and hopes of extending outlets for Norfolk Rum beyond the county border. Perhaps, the sky’s the limit.