In our latest interview, we find out that Lymington-based Matt England marches to the beat of his own rum…
When it comes to summer spirits, rum is often thought of as the go-to drink for many people. Matt England, creator of Sun Rum, has created a unique blend that veers away from the whole pirates and sailors rhetoric with which we so often associate rum, and moved to appeal to a different kind of demographic. Sun Rum has appeared in popular magazine Vogue and GQ and has even made an appearance on popular daytime TV show Sunday Brunch. Meanwhile, Bournemouth restaurant NEO was one of the brand’s first stockists.
I spoke with Matt about how the idea was conceived, why he wanted to venture into this sector and just what makes his blend of rum so unique.
WHAT’S YOUR HISTORY WITHIN THE INDUSTRY, AND WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE SUN RUM?
I’ve worked in the food & beverage sector for almost 20 years now – I left education at the end of 2002 and after a brief move to the home counties, settled in Bristol to take up my first assistant bar manager position.
After that for a year or so I embarked on a year in Australia and back packing around Europe, often plying a skill in bar and catering jobs. When i came back to the UK I ended up moving to Reading and then London to work for another pub company and kind of just progressed from there really, i’ve always enjoyed working in the hospitality industry.
WHAT TEMPTED YOU TO GET INTO THE SPIRITS SIDE OF THINGS?
The spirits thing started not long after i moved back down south from London. I now live in Lymington, near The New Forest.
Around 2015, a friend and I were inspired by a local gin tasting evening and that led us down a path of putting some ideas together. I helped him formulate a plan with my knowledge of the hospitality sector, having worked with drinks brands for so long. After that, he took the reign’s there however I had a taste for something exciting.
Having dipped my toe in this sector, I looked for new inspiration outside of the gin market. This in my opinion was saturated to the point of bursting. I found it hard to imagine a USP however studying data, market research and keeping my ear to ground, rum was a category I found affinity with and saw opportunity.
WHAT MADE RUM SO APPEALING?
It really felt right to me. Not only based on what people were saying – bartenders and other people within the industry – but also the data I found and the growth within the rum category.
I see myself as quite outgoing, energetic and positive, and rum has always had quite a visceral feeling about it worldwide. It’s known for being positive, fun, energetic and colourful. I felt I understood the vibe of rum and where it came from, and I had the data to back it up.
I always want to challenge the status quo and I didn’t want to just slide onto something that was already quite high. I’d rather be first in line for the potential next big thing and always be one step ahead of the game!
WHAT MAKES SUN RUM SO DIFFERENT FROM OTHER BRANDS?
The two words that came up a lot when speaking to people about rum were ‘pirates’ and ‘sailors’. It’s got a very historic and naval feel to it. After looking at that i felt there was an opportunity here and if i can execute it in the right way at the right time, i could create a new feeling brand within the same category. Something with a more 21st century image.
I wanted it to appeal to a new demographic of customer and i felt that no one was occupying that space. There were no barriers and no one standing in the way in terms of competition.
I was keen to design a different look and feel for Sun Rum – It’s very modern, the design of the bottle is resembles a torso, with the wide shoulders going in at the waist.
Food and drink is like art, it’s subjective and i think that’s the beauty of it. I went for the polar opposite of current brands, like the dark brown rums and historic connotations associated with them. So far, the fresh, eye catching appearance has gone down well.
WHAT IS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE LABELLING?
For the branding I looked at other huge logos around the world and studied the similarities between them. Some of the largest ones are very simple and use one, two or three colours. It’s simple and therefore easy to translate around different cultures. This also challenges the status quo regarding most rum branding which tends to be quite traditional and cluttered.
So, the ‘S’ for sun and having that one sweeping line fit in with everything i wanted to stand for. With the name itself i wanted to go with one syllable if possible, something that translated easily into any language.
When you hear the word ‘sun’ you associate it with the sun in the sky, you imagine blue skies and happiness and those are all positive vibes that are often associated with spirit drinks.
HOW IS SUN RUM MADE, AND FROM WHERE ARE THE INGREDIENTS SOURCED?
I had some experience in creating spirits and i understood the basics of how rum was made. I then carried out about a years worth of research and looked at various styles of rum and where they came from.
Naturally, the ingredients that go to make rum come from tropical parts of the world where the sugar cane grows. Places like the Caribbean and parts of North Australia, Mauritius and Latin America. I looked at various options including importing the raw ingredients to the UK and distilling the liquid here. I finally decided to find a way of working with the various distilleries in the source countries and have a great partnership with an importer who also blends the spirit to my recipe.
I’ve created a blend of three and a five-year aged from Cuba, a five-year aged from Barbados and an un-aged Dominican Republic rum. That was the final combination after hundreds of various tests, samplings and surveys sent out, all of which was a lot of fun!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE RUM-BASED TIPPLE?
I would always advise to drink it over a couple of cubes of ice first, just so you can understand what the spirit is “naked” and get those original flavours.
If you want to mix it with other things and create different drinks, there’s two that come to mind;
One is the ginger beer mojito – Simply make the traditional mojito but replace the soda water with ginger beer. It’s a refreshing drink and works particularly well with golden rum. I found creating your own lime and mint sugar syrup also adds a great twist by enhancing those flavours.
The second one is called the Piña Libre, which was recently showcased when my brand appeared on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4, hosted by “world rum ambassador” Ian Burrell.
He created this combination of two traditional drinks. The Piña Colada (a favourite incorporating rum, pineapple and coconut), and the Cuba Libre, which is rum, cola and lime. Firstly, take a tall glass and half fill with cubed ice and then half with cola. Find a shaker (a jar will do if at home) and decant 50ml of Sun Rum and the same measure of pineapple juice into the shaker. Add some ice and shake for 10 seconds. The now foamy rum juice can be poured over the cola and ice, then be garnished with a pineapple leaf if you have one. It is surprisingly delicious!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE SUN RUM IN THREE WORDS, AND EXPLAIN WHY YOU CHOSE THEM?
Okay, so you need a word to represent the drink itself, so I would say SMOOTH. A word to represent the brand and the personality of the drink and I would choose ENERGETIC. Finally, I think i want it to be seen as LOVING. Smooth, energetic and loving.
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