A rum fairy tale

As with all good fairy tales, this story starts with “once upon a time, in a land far, far away.” Well, not that far away to us South Africans.

The land is Mozambique, and the time is 2015. The heroes of this tale, relaxing and slightly intoxicated in a swimming pool in Mozambique.

As with all good holidays in Mozambique, a lot of good stories can be told, but never will be. You know, what happens in Mozambique, stays in Mozambique. Us, the three founders of Whistle African Style rum have told this Mozambique story many times. In a nutshell, the story goes like this:

  • We sat in a pool in Mozambique with below-average rum in our hands. We thought – “surely we can make better rum than this? How hard could it be?”
  • Later that year we bought a small distillation system and were making brilliant rum in my brother’s garage (we thought this at the time. We’ve recently tasted some of the rum we made back then… it wasn’t ANY good!)
  • We received official rum training in the USA at the Moonshine University (The place exists. Just Google it.)
  • We came back and built the largest rum distillery in South Africa and started producing African Style Rum.

This all sounds fantastic, right? However, it is missing something. No good fairy tale is only filled with good and happy. Shrek is an ogre, Sleeping Beauty had a massive snooze (although that doesn’t sound too bad), Cinderella had an awful family and Beauty had a Beast. The point is, to any happy ending, there is always a difficulty before “they lived happily ever after.”

Since our decision to change the world of rum, a tough journey followed. All three of us took a massive risk by leaving our top-paying, corporate jobs to open a distillery in the Free State. It’s a story that, we know, many people want to emulate if they had the chance. It’s a story that seems movie worthy.

But it has been tough. Let me tell you. Our friendships and family ties have been tested to breaking point. Over most of the past three years, we did not earn salaries. Thoughts of giving up were ever-present. But we always say that “it’s not about the barrel, it’s its content that matters”. So, we kept going.

You can’t, however, help wonder, is all the effort worth it? Do we have the right stuff? Is someone seeing what we are doing? Are they seeing this story as smoke and mirrors? Are they only seeing the barrel? Or are they seeing our hearts and soul? Are they seeing what we put inside those barrels?

Last week, these questions were answered.

Last week Shrek got the girl. Sleeping Beauty woke up. Cinderella got matching shoes. The Beast became a boykie and Whistler African Style Dark Rum was awarded the Old Mutual Rum of Show. Last week we became the BEST RUM IN SOUTH AFRICA!

Let’s add some context to this achievement – most locals wouldn’t think of South Africa as having a large rum offering. Keep in mind that the Old Mutual Trophy Spirits Show received over 200 entries overall and included five nationalities in the rum category. Included in this was, as far as we know, the oldest rum distillery in the world.

Furthermore, the competition was judged by specialists from around the world, not just a couple of chaps who know why there are two different spellings of Whisk(e)y and now consider themselves connoisseurs. The international line-up of judges included highly regarded experts David Boyd (Scotland), David T Smith (UK), Jerome Royer (France) and local specialists Simone Musgrave, Mare-Loe Prinsloo, Andy Watts, Kresan Naidu, Dave Gunns, Mark Backhouse, Marlene Bester, and Pieter de Bod.

Michael Fridjhon, show convener and chairman of the judges at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show described Whistler African Style Dark Rum as a “standout submission and a worthy first winner of the Show’s Rum Trophy.”

This trophy is legitimate. It is so much more than just a prize or award. It confirms that we are on the right track to change rum as South Africans know it.

It says keep going. “Happily, ever after” is in your story.