Four friends from Scotland are set to become the first people to make rum from a Hebridean island that bears the same name as the popular sugar cane spirit - the Isle of Rùm.
Fergus McGowan, Josh Kerr, Craig Grozier and Ali Gray know each other from regularly sailing around the west coast of Scotland together and sharing an avid interest in rum.
It was during one of these trips the idea for making a rum on the island that shares the spirit’s name was born.
Using skills from their varying professions, including chemistry, botany and engineering, the drink-enthusiasts grouped together to make a unique spirit using flavours from the island itself.
The product is made from five-year-old imported Caribbean rums blended with wild plants, including kelp, spruce and meadowsweet.
All the production takes place in an old byre on the island which the friends are renting and have been renovating for the last three weeks.
‘We are making rum from Rùm’
“For years, people have questioned why a rum has never been created on Rùm,” co-founder Fergus said.
"With a growing market, the rum ‘boom’ is imminent, and where better to ignite the fuse than an island with the same name as the drink.
"With incredible natural resources on the island, from the volcanic water of the mountains to the delicate flowers of the meadowsweet, a story was calling out to be written and a drink created to celebrate it.
"The idea is simple – we are making rum from Rùm.”
The 24-year-old, originally from Oban, said he and his friends came up with the idea in August last year and have used the restrictions of lockdown to their advantage by spending time working on a detailed business plan and harvesting ingredients.
"We are aiming to make a first batch of 2,000 bottles by mid-October or early November this year, but this will depend on coronavirus restrictions changing,” Fergus said.
"It’s a small batch to start off with, to see what people make of it.
“So far the interest has been really positive, particularly from people all over Scotland.”
Flavours from the island
Scottish chef and co-founder Craig said the new product, called Askival - named after the highest peak on the island - takes inspiration from the surrounding flora and fauna.
Kelp, which was farmed in the 1800s for building artillery during the Napoleonic wars, is smoked and blended with the spirit to develop a richer taste.
“The kelp brings out a chocolatyness in the rum and a deeper flavour,” said Craig, 42.
Spruce is infused to add a hint of “zesty flavours” while meadowsweet, both found on the island, brings stronger “flavours of vanilla and honey”, according to the chef, who has been primarily working on the flavour profiles for Askival.
“We haven’t played with the rum too much,” he added, “we have just enhanced the flavours using the local wild botanicals that we have found.”
The rum, which is 45 per cent, is designed to be drunk on its own, but can also make a good ingredient for cocktails or served mixed with ginger beer, according to its founders.
Askival has been made possible thanks to a crowdfunder set up by its founders to help them fund their first batch.
To reach their £20,000 target, they have various ‘rewards’ for customers to buy, including a bottle of Askival for £45 (postage and packaging to UK included), £500 for an Isle of Rùm weekend experience for one plus two bottles of Askival or £900 for a weekend experience on the island for two people plus four bottles of Askival.
The trips include fine dining over an open fire and accommodation, and will take place in spring 2021 to maximise the chances of good weather and limit the effects of Covid-19.
Customers can also pay £20 to have their name displayed in the byre used for production on the island.
In just 24 hours 50 per cent of the target was already raised, which now stands at about £16,5000.
"It was really encouraging to see so much support and interest in this project from the word go,” Fergus added.
"It shows us that there are people who are keen on the idea as much as we are."
The four friends currently live in Glasgow where it would be easier, according to Fergus, to set up a distillery for financial and production reasons.
But developing a sense of community on the Hebridean island is also at the forefront of Askival’s message, and the friends hope to bring more than just a delicious beverage to people in the area.
“What we are making isn’t just about a good drink, it's also a project to help develop the community where we are making it and to help put the Isle of Rùm on the map,” Fergus added.
Despite being the tallest peak on the Isle of Rùm, reaching about 2,664ft, the meaning behind its name can be lost. Neither English nor Gaelic, the mountain was named in a time before the islands were Scottish and were subject to Viking rule.
Named by Norse settlers its meaning is believed to be "Ash Tree Mountain" from when the island was covered in a deep forest. Although through several centuries the trees which once covered the island have disappeared like the Norse and later Gaelic languages which named landmarks across the Isle.
The island is a nature reserve and it stretches about 105km2. It has been reported the population currently stands at 32.
To support Askival and to find out more information on the project visit the crowdfunder page here.