Inspired by a yachting trip while taking part in West Highland Yachting Week last year, three keen sailors and a chef will bring the Isle of Rùm’s first drinks product to the market.
When Fergus McGowan and his two friends set sail on their yachting trip last August around the West coast of Scotland, never did they think they would come up with the idea of starting their own rum business.
Establishing Eos Distillers Ltd a year ago, Fergus, Josh Kerr and Ali Gray have teamed up with leading Scottish chef Craig Grozier to bring the product to the market in October/November this year.
With a goal in place to provide full-time employment on the island as
one of their community-focused objectives, the four Scots who hail from Oban, Largs, Edinburgh and the Highlands, are based around Glasgow.
Each bringing their own diverse experience to the brand including a chemistry degree, engineering background, global economics and Michelin-starred food and expertise, the opportunity to bring a unique product to the market and be the first drinks company based on the island was one they couldn’t pass up.
Lockdown recipe development
Developing the product throughout lockdown, Craig, who runs a private dining company Fallachan Dining, was tasked with creating the rum’s recipe without being able to visit the island.
Scheduled to take a trip over in March, the national lockdown meant Craig had to turn to research and his own dried botanicals collection to create the botanical rum which features a range of ingredients sourced from Rùm.
Fergus said: “We had the idea in August last year and we only got our property on the island in March – exactly when the pandemic really kicked in. We couldn’t get onto the island to have a look at the botanicals to see what we could use, but there’s a nature reserve which lists all the flowers and fauna on the island so we took inspiration from that.
“Craig has made the recipe from what we knew with dried botanicals from the island he already had. It has been made without stepping foot onto the island, which is really interesting. He is a forager and had dried samples of everything having worked for The Botanist, so experimented with them all.
“The botanicals are all foraged sustainably and all of the power supplied to The Byre, where we’re based is renewably sourced from the local community hydro scheme. Our packaging is biodegradable and environmentally friendly, too so we’re trying to ensure we’re looking after the island and its community.”
Working towards own distillation
Importing five-year-old rum from the Caribbean to make the botanical product initially while the business grows to finance its own distillery where it can produce the product from scratch, Fergus is looking forward to making a product steeped in heritage down the line.
He added: “We’re only compounding the product right now as we don’t have the structure or capital in place to properly distil, so we’re importing Caribbean rum and flavouring it with botanicals from the island.
“We want to do everything from scratch. This is our first batch and is really testing the concept and ourselves. As soon as we have the infrastructure and capital in place to invest in the distillation process, we’ll definitely do that. We want to make it as local as possible and we want to be as Scottish as possible and have real heritage. We’re very transparent about our process and want to be a pure Scottish rum.
“It boasts meadowsweet, roasted kelp and spruce which really bring out the flavours and signify with the island itself. The meadowsweet was used by Vikings one thousand years ago to make mead, the roasted kelp is significant with the 19th Century as the whole island was a kelp farm before the wars, and the spruce brings back the woodland past where it was all woodland before it was cleared by the Macleans. It all ties in with the island’s history.”
Inspired by nature
Inspired by Askival, Rùm’s highest peak at more than 800 metres, the island has around 32 people living on it and Fergus says the business is not just an opportunity to showcase what Rùm has to offer, but is a chance to further develop opportunity for the local community.
“It would have been a lot easier for us to do this in Glasgow where we’re all based, but we want to try and benefit local economies as much as possible. Take Isle of Harris Distillers for example, they have done great things for the local community from starting up a gin and whisky distillery. We’ll be able to help the community much more I hope,” he said.
“There’s only around 32 people living on Rùm and our five-year plan is to try and create jobs where we can. Obviously nothing is set in stone, but one of the things we want to do is benefit the community and tourism is also a big part of that, too.
“We’re the only drinks firm on the island and there’s a brewery on Eigg. The islands are part of the small isles Scottish Inner Hebrides which includes Muck and Canna, too.”
Bottling and packaging the product on Rùm brings its own challenges in getting it to the mainland, but Fergus and the team plan on keeping reserves off of the island, too, ensuring customers will continuously be able to get it, even when logistical challenges crop up.
He said: “We infuse the product, bottle it and package it on the island and the plan is to sell it back on the mainland.
“In the winter the ferries sometimes get cancelled but there’s four ferries a week from the Isle of Rùm. The challenges are generally the weather so that will be the one thing we’ll have to consider for delivery. We’re trying to put in place ways around that to ensure we have reserves off the island to combat that.”
Creating an online community via Crowdfunding
Already hitting more than £23,000 in their first Crowdfunding campaign, supporters will be able to get their hands on rewards including a bottle from the first batch, rum-themed weekend stays on the island and more.
Fergus added: “Our original goal was to raise £20K in the 28 days and we managed to do it within seven. We wanted to raise awareness of the brand and prove there was a demand for this sort of product. That money will be able to buy a lot of the assets for the business. We know we’ve secured a set number of orders via the Crowdfunder so it will de-risk investing in the brand and product.
“We want to support the people who have supported us by getting the product to them as soon as possible. The timeframe is Covid dependent, but we’re looking at the end of October/start of November.
“The first batch will be 2,000 bottles. It is bigger than what some would call small batch, but that’s what we are doing.”
With the rum scene exploding in Scotland throughout the past few years, Fergus is excited to be part of the growing industry which continues to make its mark.
“I think people are a bit fatigued of gin, and there’s whisky drinkers looking for something a little different. There’s a lot of chat around it being the next big product. With the Scottish drinks industry, the knowledge and infrastructure is there, so it is a great place to start a drinks business,” said Fergus.
“We’ve been in contact with other rum companies in Scotland and they have been super supportive – it is such a nice community to be involved in.
“This was a project pre-Covid, but because of it, we’ve seen the opportunity and the way some of the drink industry has thrived and innovated throughout it, and we really want to be a part of it.”