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Scratch Spirits expands and signs rum deal with Berry Bros & Rudd

Scratch Spirits has expanded its Hertfordshire distillery along with a new filling contract with Berry Bros & Rudd for its British-made rum.

Speaking exclusively to the drinks business, Scratch Spirits owner Doug Miller described the nature of his rum journey and explained “I have always loved rum. What I love about rum is the versatility – there are so many different rum styles that go into so many different drinks, whether it’s kind of a long drink, or short drink, or a sour. Secondly, rum has a lot of flexibility in the process so you can determine how your final product ends up.”

Miller disclosed to db how “the reason we’re called Scratch is because we make it from scratch” and described how he has set out designing the distillery so that it is adaptable for the future and noted: “I’ve designed it so that it essentially allows me to scale up, but keeping small fermenters enables me to have more flexibility on each batch.”

Scratch Spirits, which uses British-refined molasses and a range of yeasts unique to a UK climate, has created the rum at an historic stable building attached to the Benington Park Estate in rural Hertfordshire where Miller ferments, matures, ages and blends his rums. The uniqueness of the location, particularly for rum, does not go unchecked.

He explained: “In the UK, we have a uniquely special climate and even within the seasons we have huge swings in temperature, particularly day and night, which has obviously helped the whisky industry, particularly in Scotland, to develop some really excellent products. The environment that we have and really lends itself to flavour-development in cask”. But, he added: “You’ve also got to bear in mind that on the fermentation side, particularly if you do what I do where you have a controlled fermentation to start with and then you have a natural fermentation afterwards, that the time of year and the outside ambient temperature that will always impact the flavour of the product.”

According to Miller, water plays a vital role in the flavours it conjures in the rum too and said: “We have our own well on site, which means we have our own very mineral-rich water, which is great for the fermentation as it lends a lot of properties which help flavour development, but obviously it’s a bit challenging on the dilution side, but from that sense, it has a really good flavour to it.”

Over the past six months, Scratch – still with its small-batch, craft-led philosophy – has extended the distillery from a 5,000-bottle capacity to 20,000 bottles, with dedicated rooms for molasses conditioning, fermentation, distillation and cellaring in a modular system. It also means that Scratch now has the capacity to produce a range of unique single casks each year.

Berry Bros & Rudd – already selling the Scratch range – has recognised the potential for premium British rum in cask and has since signed a three-year contract, the first of its kind for British rum, for Miller to deliver a number of 200 litre ‘fresh fill’ casks of Scratch Rum per year.

Speaking about the deal, Miller revealed to db: “Berry Bros & Rudd has been really supportive. They have really loved it. We shifted towards casks and the relationship has grown from there, they put a lot of trust in us which is great. I’ve got complete autonomy and flexibility, so I’m really trying to create a number of different single cask rums for them. The contact gives me cash flow now which is great because it enables me, essentially, to put more rum into more casks. Back in June, we saw rum sales in the UK had overtaken whisky and a lot of that growth is in flavours, but also a big portion – and a growing portion – is on the premium side.”

These will be filled at varying strengths, and in new and previously-used barrels including a rare ex- Caroni (1994) cask from Trinidad, and an Ironroot cask from Texas that held a robust pot-stilled Bourbon. The casks will be matured for several years on the Benington Park Estate, and then bottled for Berry Bros & Rudd’s award-winning limited-edition collection.

Miller said: ‘I definitely believe showcasing individuality through limited edition casks is the future for premium British rum – just as it has been for many whisky categories around the world. The opportunities, as more fine spirits collectors come on board, are very exciting. Our new distillery, with its increased capacity, allows us to make up to 50 of these single casks a year, and also continue to produce our already-established range of bottled British rums for the on and off-trade’.

Jonny McMillan, of Berry Bros & Rudd explained: “Doug is one of the most exciting distillers in the UK, it really is rare for a producer to pay such meticulous attention to every aspect of production from fermentation to maturation. Scratch’s fastidious approach to rum production has yielded a British rum of frankly jaw dropping character, and I believe the expansion in capacity will put Scratch in a position to claim a place at the centre of the global rum conversation. We’re counting the days until our casks reach maturity.”

Rob Whitehead, of Berry Bros & Rudd added: “Doug Miller is a rum distilling pioneer, the likes of whom one comes across only a handful of times in a career. It is a thrill to work with him and other similarly authentic producers to share the world’s greatest wines and spirits.”

As Miller has said, there is an excitement to creating a British rum sector and the experimental side of what that entails is one of the things that is most enticing. He explained: “I love Caribbean rums and we are not about trying to replace them, but I think with Caribbean rums, they’ve got very little incentive to change to try new things to explore, because they’ve got such a fantastic product. But when you are building an industry from scratch or a British rum industry from the ground up, I think you start to see a little bit more innovation and experimentation going on. That’s a mindset that I’ve tried to foster and adopt – one where you have got a blank slate so you can use different types of yeasts that wouldn’t normally be associated with rum. We use different bacterial strains that wouldn’t be associated with it and so give different profiles, use different casks.”

He also pointed out that, if you use certain yeasts at some temperatures, “you get leather spice” and “woodiness,” but if you ferment it at a different temperature you get “ a tropical fruit nose – pineapples, apricot and mangoes” and indicated that, nowadays, people were looking for high calibre drinks that delivered excitement and intrigue along with premium quality and craft at their heart. He concluded: “Consumers, as they drink less, are obviously looking to drink higher-quality products” and hinted that Scratch would be creating some excellent rums that should meet their needs.

Back in March, db revealed how unregulated the current rum industry truly is in the UK in an earlier exclsuive interview with Miller detailing his journey in creating a British rum and his dedication to making his products premium.

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