Renegade Rum - French inspiration, Scottish distillation, 100% Grenada
Founded by the visionary talent of Mark Reynier and his team, the young Grenada-based distillery is enjoying increasing success and arousing curiosity for its revolutionary approach to rum production. To find out more we talked to Jane Nurse, Marketing & Sustainability Communication, and Mark Newton, Head of Brand at Renegade.
Grenada is a very small island state located between Trinidad & Tobago and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines with a population of just 100,000 people. Unlike Jamaica, Barbados or Martinique, which are renowned for their unique rum style, with its small size Grenada has never exported much of its products.
The history of River Antoine, founded 230 years ago, is well known to all rum enthusiasts. The oldest distillery in Grenada, it's completely electricity-free and powered only by water, woodfire and human labor. The rum is made from pure sugar cane juice with a small addition of molasses. Clarke's distillery has been active under this name since 1937, but its origins are much older. It currently makes rum from molasses.
Historically, Grenada was a French and English colony, something that is reflected in the names of the places the Renegade bottlings are named after. "This is also reflected in our distillation culture, as we have a bit of everything without any one way prevailing over others. This allows us to take an innovative approach," continues Jane. "Yes, rum runs in our blood and our veins, it's part of our tradition. However, it’s only in recent years that Grenada has become known around the world as a rum producing country."
When Mark Reynier, former founder of the Irish distillery Waterford Whisky, arrived in Grenada in 2015, he had long been looking for a rum distillery worth buying - Fiji, Mauritius, Reunion, and most of the Caribbean. Every place, every building had a problem - or maybe things just didn't click. “Mark immediately fell in love with Grenada,” Jane says. “The first thing he noticed about this place is the incredibly diverse landscape. Here the terrain can be very steep and you can go from sea level to an altitude of 800 meters in the space of just five kilometers, spanning across different climatic areas."
The importance of terroir
"On Grenada we can access a spectacular range of altitudes, microclimates and soils," states Mark Newton. "From the black slopes of our farm at Plains, scattered with fruit trees, to the volcanic, grainy soils at Antoine; or the bowl of soils and cane varieties at New Bacolet to the rich alluvial soils at Hope. Each has a strong sense of place, a greatly individual set of conditions. Such diversity and extremes of terroirs – a word the great French winemakers use to describe where place, microclimate and soil come together to shape a plant’s development and flavors – is rare to find anywhere in the world."
Some of the farms are very close to the sea, exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and constantly swept by the sea breeze, while those further south are more inland and protected, with iron-rich soil. Renegade Rum Distillery has recently started leasing more land further north. Over the years they leased a total of 260 acres (over 105 hectares) and plan to reach 300 soon. Contracts with landowners last five years.
The challenge is to create a rum rich in intense aromas, and in Renegade Rum's vision it’s all about terroir.
The benefits for Grenada
Renegade Rum Distillery's development is also bringing tangible benefits to Grenada's economy and agriculture; however, things didn’t always go so smoothly.
Jane tells us about their initial difficulties:
Grenada is mainly known for its spices, so much so that nutmeg is even part of the national flag. There are also coconut and banana plantations, but after a devastating hurricane in 2004 it took almost ten years to repair the countless damages and restore a semblance of normalcy again.
The 5 pillars of rum
Renegade Rum Distillery's main goal is to create a rum that can stand on a par with the world's most celebrated single malts. Together with Nurse and Newton, we tried to analyze in detail the pillars that make a great rum: raw ingredients, fermentation, distillation, assembly and ageing.
As Jane and Mark strongly emphasize, raw ingredients are the real stars in the process. "Sugarcane is the natural source of rum's flavor," further explains Mark. "Molasses is a byproduct of sugar production, with little in the way of provenance as it’s not possible to know where the cane was grown. We choose cane for rum’s natural flavor, for real provenance, and equally as important to explore the diverse terroirs of Grenada."
Renegade Rum's approach to fermentation is very unusual compared to most rum producers, as it uses horizontal closed fermenters.
The fermentation thus obtained is different from the vertical kind. With the latter, the pressure usually increases and the yeasts tend to fall to the bottom, reactivating the processes generating aromatic components we want to avoid. “With horizontal fermentation we have a lower osmotic pressure, and this creates the optimal environment for yeasts,” Jane says.
Distillation and assembly
When Mark Reynier was faced with the issue of distillation, he was initially influenced by his background in whisky, and at first he only planned to use a traditional double retort copper pot still. “Mark went to Forsyths, Scotland, and commissioned a specially designed custom-built still with a capacity of 11,000 liters,” says Jane.
Distillery Manager Devon Date played a key role in the birth of the distillery and was directly involved in every process: installing the mill, setting the fermenters, installing and running the distillation and the stills. Devon also selected a very young team:
Once distilled, Renegade rum is usually cut between 78 and 85% ABV, then stored in IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) tanks for 2-6 months to produce unaged white rum, which is gradually brought to the bottling ABV.
This is where the rum intended for aging begins a separate journey.
As for tropical aging, the angel's share is around 6-8% every year. “Our original goal was to age our rum for at least 3 years,” recalls Jane.
The process was neither immediate nor simple, but right from the start it was set on a very specific course based on the importance of quality and the curiosity to see what each sugar cane from each terroir could bring – always using no sugar or dyes of any kind.
The construction of the distillery: a real adventure
Jane Nurse remembers with amusement the difficulties they faced for the construction of the distillery.
The buildings housing the fermentation facilities and the stills were built as the equipment came in. “When the fermentation plants arrived, no one had ever seen horizontal ones before,” remembers Jane. "They barely fit inside because they were just five centimeters shorter than the whole structure - a huge logistical challenge."
The distillery, Jane tells us, is like a real living organism, which breathes and evolves all the time. The process of learning and growing on the team is not always easy, but it's continuous and stimulating for everyone.
The CaneCode concept and the importance of traceability
In the world of rum, one of the age-old problems for producers has always been that consumers don't know enough about the rum they buy - they know nothing about how it's produced, where it comes from, the way it has been aged. “The thing is, traceability wasn't considered important in the past,” Jane explains. “Mark Reynier always says that if you really want to appreciate a product, you need to understand where it comes from and how it was produced. This is why we have implemented the CaneCode, which goes straight to the heart of production."
"In short, it's a way to help drinkers grow together with the brand so they can experience its evolution," chips in Jane.
The code found on each bottle can be entered here: https://renegaderum.com/canecode/
How to drink Renegade rum
To cap off our journey into Renegade Rum, Jane Nurse is particularly keen to show us the best way to enjoy these unique rums.