An Englishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman were sitting in London’s Leman Street Tavern moaning about their boring, grey, routine-bound lives. They decided to do something different, starting by ordering rum instead of their customary gin. This became the origin story for their own commercially produced rum made in Carmarthen using Welsh fruit loaf and Welsh tea.
Nick Dobie is English, Gregor Shaw is Scottish and Robin Bowen is Welsh. Having decided to make a Welsh rum in Wales, they couldn’t make up their minds how to make it Welsh. What would the signature Welsh ingredient be? Coal, lamb and leek were not options. They decided on traditional Welsh Bara Brith speckled tea bread, with Glengettie black tea and Shirgar Carmenthenshire butter coming later.
The name of the Welsh rum, Devil’s Bridge, comes from a Cambrian mountain waterfall. “I remember a school teacher telling us the story of the Devil’s Bridge Falls over the river Mynach near Aberystwyth. The Devil happens across a maiden stranded on one side of the falls needing to cross. The devil offered to conjure a bridge in return for the first soul to cross it. The bridge was conjured and the maiden sent her dog racing across by throwing a stick for it to run after. The devil was never seen again. In our case the name stands for the pluck and courage of the founders, Welsh tradition, and bridges to new ventures.”
In west Wales, meanwhile, they use seaweed to flavour their rum. Barti Rum is infused with laver seaweed hand-picked from the Pembrokeshire coast. Laver seaweed was once one of the most popular food items in South Wales and Pembrokeshire had a thriving cottage laver-collecting industry; much of it was sent to Swansea to be made into laverbread.
Barti is short for “Barti Ddu” (pronounced Barti thee). Barti Ddu is the Welsh name for the pirate John Roberts, also known as Black Bart.
The Coles family, based at the White Hart Thatched Inn at Llanddarog, Carmarthen makes Welsh Superior Rum, Scowerer White Rum and Toddy Rum, the latter infused with gold rum and honey marmalade. Cain Coles and brother Marcus studied distilling in Chicago before Cain built a 300 litre still capable of producing 5,000 bottles a week.
They are the first Welsh distillery to use molasses to make pure homemade rum from scratch. All their rums are named after Welsh pirates and their ships – John James Merchant, Sir Henry Morgan Satisfaction and John Evans Scowerer.
“Our rum is Welsh aged in oak barrels,” says Marcus. “The water comes from a spring under the distillery and the molasses comes from Tate & Lyle.”
Newport in south east Wales is home to the Spirit of Wales distillery where Daniel Dyer and James Gibbons make Dragon’s Breath oak aged spiced rum. They also make Steeltown gin and vodka filtered through Ammanford anthracite.
So it seems Welsh rum is going strong: grab yourself a bottle, pour a glass and don’t forget to say “lloniannau” as you take your first sip.