Renegade Rum - French inspiration, Scottish distillation, 100% Grenada

25 ottobre 2023


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.

why grenada

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.

“There are only three distilleries on the island,” Jane Nurse reminds us. "In addition to Renegade Rum, which stands out for its more recent and modern equipment, there are River Antoine and Clarke's. There are also a few smaller distilleries, but most of the production has always been local with very low exports."

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."

"Grenada is an exciting terroir mosaic, with a diverse array of locations on which to grow cane," emphasizes Mark Newton. "It was also a blank canvas for cane - there was not much grown here, so we had to begin farming it ourselves, how we wanted to, in the places we wanted."

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."

"Sometimes people ask us, how can you have so many terroirs in such a small country?" smiles Jane. "Each farm can have two to six different terroirs, and each in turn can have several fields, from one to five, depending on the size. We are not the only producers of agricultural rum, and we are definitely not the first to emphasize the importance of terroir. What's really unusual about us is that we have 14 different farms spread along the entire coast. The sugar cane on each of these farms is grown and harvested by us, all in a single distillery.  It's a gradual process where we keep learning as we continue to grow and produce our own things.” 

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.

"Terroir is the 3D influence of soil, climate and place on the growth of a plant," goes on Mark. "Cane is a plant, and like any other plant it is influenced by where and how it is grown. It’s the same for grapes and wine, even cognac where terroir is enshrined in law; it has been scientifically proven for barley and single malt whisky. Why not for cane and rum? Why should this plant be any different?"

The challenge is to create a rum rich in intense aromas, and in Renegade Rum's vision it’s all about terroir. 

"We want to explore the different and diverse flavors of cane, terroir by terroir, field by field – precision of place – distilled as a distinct unit from cane to cask," states Mark. "That’s one Renegade Rum building block. But what happens when we bring those individual blocks together, to layer each terroir over another, spirits expressed in different distillation types - double pot and retort; and small batch column still - to create beguiling expressions of rum, the ultimate in complexity? This is precisely the same methodology as the world’s greatest winemakers."

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: 

“When we started out, our idea was to do things as we had for our ‘sister’ distillery Waterford Whisky, that is, find local growers who we would provide with the specific cane varieties that we had imported from Barbados, so as to ensure we would have pure hybrids and know exactly where they came from. I hadn't yet joined Renegade Rum at the time, but we understood very early on that it would be difficult to find people willing to grow sugar cane again. Production had begun to decline in the 1980s, with many sugar factories shutting down. The only one left producing on a slightly wider scale was River Antoine.”

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.

“When we started, people around us were definitely a little skeptical,” continues Jane. "They wondered, who are these crazy people trying to bring back sugar cane? Also, consider that this crop has historically been associated to slavery and the slave trade, so it's a topic with powerful emotional implications. Today, 5 or 6 years later, people have changed their minds and are seeing a real structural impact on the economy. We can say that 95-99% of the team is made up of people from Grenada. Today Renegade is not just the largest distillery in the country, it’s also one of the main employers together with River Antoine in the North of the island."

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.

Raw ingredients

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." 

“Harvest is manual,” joins in Jane. "We make sure that all raw ingredients are processed within 24 hours of harvest, because cane juice ferments quickly and we need fresh cane to achieve the best quality. We only use pure cane juice. We don't boil it or make syrup from it. This allows us to bring out all of its nuances and its freshness."



Renegade Rum's approach to fermentation is very unusual compared to most rum producers, as it uses horizontal closed fermenters. 

"Every school of thought has its own approach, whether it's natural or wild fermentation," Jane tells us. "For us it's important to ensure our process is highly hygienic and clean, so as to keep the terroirs separated. We don't want any contamination between different fields, farms or cane varieties, so we use 6 different fermentation plants, each filled separately and cleaned after use. This ensures the next process starts in a clean environment. This is how we make sure each nuance of each terroir is represented - with production in separate batches. Personally, I've never seen this level of detail and precision - it's quite a revolutionary process in the industry.”

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. 

"The juice is constantly stirred so that the yeast remains suspended at a temperature of around 46°, stabilizing and becoming inactive. We take yeast samples every 3 or 4 hours to make sure it's always inactive, so as to avoid unwanted aromatic components.”

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. 

"When they also offered him a column still, at first he declined because he associated it with industrial processes, then luckily he reconsidered. Since we process our rum by separating each field, each terroir and each farm, we were able to efficiently use the column still as well. This allowed us to have greater diversity. Because true, terroir is essential, but the ultimate goal is complexity in cuvée and assemblage. The more diverse the ingredients, so to speak, the more complexity and richness we can create in the long term, and having both a pot still and a column still has allowed us to bring even more diversity into our production."

"Rather than it being continuous distillation for volume, we use it as we do the pot still, terroir by terroir," emphasizes Mark Newton. "Each gives us different weights of spirit - the flavors are still the same, they are simply expressed differently – one heavier, the bass; the other lighter, the treble. We can run the same terroir of dog through both a pot still and a column still - a remarkable experiment!

Each is enjoyable in its own right, as a singular component. But when Distillery Manager Devon begins to bring these different rums together - different terrors and different distillation types, matured in the best French and American oak - it creates profound rums of great complexity and harmony." 

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: 


“I think over half the people employed at Renegade Rum are under 35,” Jane points out. "In short, it's a very young distillery. We also employ many women, not because of gender quotas but simply because they were the best candidates. Mark gave us the opportunity to experiment, and Devon offered these young distillers the chance to learn all about both stills from scratch. These people were hired as early as the construction of the distillery, so I feel they all share a very close bond, both with one another and with the place. None of them had any previous hands-on experience in distillation, so Devon encouraged them to develop their creativity and personal work philosophy. It's amazing to see how much has been achieved in just two years, by giving such a young team the opportunity to grow."



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. 

"We use American oak from Tennessee or Kentucky," specifies Jane, "including different kinds of fine barrels that have contained French red wine, for example Château Lafitte and Château Latour barrels, as Mark Reynier used to work as a wine importer and winemaker. We also use American and Andean virgin oak barrels. For us, quality is a key pillar and investment in barrels is probably our highest cost."

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. 

"I'm glad we had the opportunity to start our brand with white rums and pre casks, because the coming together of terroirs provides greater complexity and a more vegetable aroma. We ourselves were amazed with the results obtained. They require some explaining, but once mixologists, chefs and experts understand, it's a real epiphany.”

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. 

"We will need to wait a few years, when our rum is more mature, to be able to say with any certainty what the Renegade Rum DNA is," says Jane. "We have been distilling for almost 3 years now, and we are starting to collect the first data, but it will take at least the same amount of time, if not 10 years, to see if a given farm really has that kind of aroma or not. Seasonal differences between harvesting in the dry or wet season can also affect the expression of sugarcane. We're really just getting started.”

The construction of the distillery: a real adventure

Jane Nurse remembers with amusement the difficulties they faced for the construction of the distillery. 

“Bringing everything to Grenada was incredibly hard!” she recalls. "Mark Reynier arrived in 2015. Work on the farms began the following year and work in the distillery between 2018 and 2019, the year I arrived. We brought in mills from Brazil, stills from Scotland, the material for the electrical system from South Africa, and everything had to be transported on narrow roads in the north of the island. It was really crazy - once we blocked an entire city to get through.”

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."

“Yes, every bottle of Renegade Rum features its own pioneering CaneCode to verify the origin and values behind it,” explains Mark. "Once entered it brings Grenada to the drinker via a host of unprecedented content specific to the bottling. Using rich photography, and drawing upon our unrivalled digital logistics system that collects thousands of data points, drinkers may browse maps, see harvest information, view distillation details and find out about the very terroir upon which the cane was grown. Drinkers can even listen to the sounds from the farm itself. We do all of this not merely to delight the most curious rum fan, but to offer full transparency and demonstrate what we mean by real provenance." 

"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:

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. 

"Rum needs to breathe like wine," she says, "so the best way is to open the bottle and pour a glass, then let it breathe for a couple of minutes to perceive its real aromas, from vegetable to truffle to salty. We also like to treat rum like whiskey, so you can add a drop of water into your glass to make it smoother in the mouth, as some people aren't used to cask strength.”