Sweet talk - The rise of rum in the Northern Rivers
An emerging clutch of distilleries in the Northern Rivers sees a local rum renaissance, one where the focus is on a spirit of creativity with fresh sophistication.
Rum’s renaissance is about more than the perceived superiority of the spirit. It reveals an appreciation of the Northern Rivers’ terroir – traditionally a French winemaking term that describes the distinctive environmental factors that influence a drink’s character, such as climate and soil. The region’s luscious coastal landscape lends itself well to growing sugarcane and, therefore, rum. In Wollumbin Mount Warning we have the source of rich volcanic soils, and 250 days of sunshine a year not only draws visitors, but those sun rays sweet-talk sugar cane from the earth with whopping speed.
The newest distillery to raise the rum bar is Cabarita Spirits and their flagship brand, Soltera Rum. Founder Keri Algar says subtropical and sunny Cabarita Beach is the perfect place to handcraft these quality spirits.
“It’s idyllic. The Pacific Ocean and a cool sea breeze on one side and on the other, fields and fields of sugar cane. Where sugarcane grows, rum flows,” says Keri. “Here in the Tweed Shire most of the local cane is processed at the Condong Sugar Mill, just outside of Murwillumbah, and this is where our molasses comes from.”
A by-product of the sugar-making process, molasses is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and selenium. Mixed with water and yeast, it ferments. This fermentation creates a ‘wine’ or ‘beer’ which is then distilled to make rum. Not all rum is made from molasses. Rhum Agricole is a style produced from fermented sugar cane juice and is what distillers at Winding Road Distillery and Husk Distillers use.
“For Soltera, molasses was the obvious choice; it’s a by-product of the local industry and is readily available. Once fermented, it’s distilled twice in our copper pot still – I named the still ‘Felix’ after my grandfather who worked as a chemist in a sugar factory in Spain; it’s one of those weird twists of fate I guess!”
Released at the end of 2020, Soltera Rum’s debut spirit is called Blanco. It’s a lightly spiced cane spirit and in Australia can’t legally be called a “rum” thanks to an antiquated Australian law that requires a spirit to be aged in wood for two years. “Rum is a remarkably diverse spirit, there is so much to appreciate,” says Keri. “It can be rich and complex or light and easy, aged for decades or served fresh off the still. Blanco is a very approachable spirit, elegant and non-intimidating. There are barrel-aged products in the pipeline for Soltera Rum, but for now, Blanco makes an excellent daiquiri!”
Artisanal rum is now afforded the same respect as a fine wine or single malt scotch. This is apparent in beverage menus across the region, which reflect an increasing maturity and curiosity in consumer tastes.
“Our local bars and restaurants are doing a terrific job at shining the light on craft beverages. Their cocktails range from the classics done well to the inventive and the downright ingenious. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the rise of rum.”