An Interview with Carl Stephenson – Elements Eight

Elements Eight Carl Stephension Interview Daiquiri rum by the fat rum pirateFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Elements Eight they are an Independent  British Spirits Company.  Elements Eight refers to the eight elements which make up their final product.  Elements Eight rums are also a blend of eight separate rums.

The company has been operating since 2006.  As well as celebrating their tenth year in business in 2016, Elements Eight have also re-designed and re-vamped their packaging and line up.

Company founder Carl Stephenson has worked in the drinks spirits marketing world since 1992.  Carl lived in Jamaica for 3 years working in senior management for Appleton Estate in the early 2000’s.

He has also managed brands such as Lamb’s Navy Rum, Red Heart Rum, Grand Marnier, Hine Cognac, Hennessy Cognac, Blackwell Rum, Appleton Rum, Wray & Nephew and Beefeater Gin.

I spoke with Carl recently about all things rum related.

1.  What was the inspiration behind Elements Eight?

10 years ago we set out to create a rum brand that referred to the complete crafted process of making rum. Before we launched E8 and from our rum industry experience, bartenders would generally ask about rum brands with 2 questions…how old is it and where does it come from? It seemed rum wasn’t being appreciated as the respected spirit like whisky, bourbon or cognac. We also wanted to bring a high degree of modernity to rum. Heritage with a contemporary face.

2.  Coming into such a competitive market dominated by the big hitters and global multi nationals, what did you do to try set your products apart? Elements Eight Carl Stephenson Interview by the fat rum pirate

I worked in Jamaica with Wray & Nephew for 3 years and received the best rum education. Seeing first hand how rum transcended the country. My aim with E8 was to elevate the premium image of rum and create the best possible rum. The style of our rum is quite dry and not sweetened. E8 is difficult to make and the result is complex rums using three different distillations, 3 yeast strains 8 single blends…its rum but taking it to the level where it becomes a labour of love!

3.  Early on when did you first feel you had tasted success? Any notable moments when you felt all your endeavours were worthwhile?

The highs initially were incredible. As new entrants in 2006 we were only aiming for a small number of bars and having a back bar position initially. But the brand was a little more sophisticated looking in design and most importantly the rums were being talked about by the key bartenders that we soon became the brand pour at Zuma, Nobu, Artesian very quickly after launch.

This really gave us the platform to grown from there. Proudest moment was getting the IWSC Best in Class and Gold Medal as the top Rum in 2007. It confounded some critics who either had written us off as we didn’t look like typical rums at the time or felt that E8 was too dry as a rum to get the accolade. One judge said we had the feel and nose of a Speyside smokey malt whisky which just shows you how rum can explore such different flavour avenues.

4.  What made you turn to St Lucia for your base rums?

I would call the late Laurie Barnard my rum mentor. Mr Barnard was the owner of St Lucia Distillers and was the guiding light in being able to move to creating my very own proprietary set of aged rums, with a distillery that has over 120 years of rum making savoir-faire. It was such a privilege to learn about rum making from Laurie and without doubt he was ahead of his time and the leading rum authority and innovator in the Caribbean.

5.  Many producers use artificial flavourings and essences in their Spiced Rums  How authentic and “real” are the spices used in Elements Eight’s Exotic Spices Rum?

We use 10 natural spiced flavours that are the best quality you can get. They are married with the aged rum and I use the word ‘symphony’ as each one gives a unique note, but together form the most complex spiced rum on the market.

Elements Eight Carl Stephenson interview rum by the fat rum pirate6.  The brand has also recently undergone a packaging transformation.  What was the thinking behind that?

The new Elements Eight is the first real change in 10 years. I am really in love with the new packaging, which is just as well! Previously they have been variations on designer tall bottles.

I felt after 10 years we needed to show our crafted values more. We are an independent British company and I want to take the rum into the next 10 years. Consumers I think feel more comfortable with this smaller size bottle and we have retained the contemporary feel, but perhaps identified more with some of the inherent values that we hold that consumers are looking for in artisan production.

7.  What would you consider to be E8 main competitors? What segment of the market are you looking to gain a foothold in?

We are focused on our Spiced and Vendome variants. We were the first aged white rum in 2006, but the level of appreciation for aged white rum is not really there yet unfortunately. Bacardi are white rum, so trying to do a premium version makes it tough.

We are in the deluxe rum market but not overly priced. I feel as the first super premium spiced rum launched in 2010 we have a good foothold in pioneering the top end spiced segment.

8.  Has the brand considered getting into bottlings from other areas of Caribbean or beyond? Do you have any plans to expand the range?

Yes this is a consideration. Elements Eight is the process after all by which our rums are made. It is not defined solely by provenance. The Caribbean Islands have such varying rum styles in the same way Scotch Whisky has regional traits.

I am also currently exploring some double barrel finishes. This is exciting as opening up the influence of woods is fascinating and predicting which new flavours may result.

Elements Eight Carl Stephenson interview rum by the fat rum pirate9.  How do you feel attitudes to rum in Britain in particular have changed over the last 5-10 years?

I am ever the optimist Wes and would like to think rum is becoming more respected and aspirational. But it’s quite a slow process. Rum tends not to regulate itself quite as closely as Scotch for example. By that I mean labeling and age clarification, listing added ingredients post distillation for example.

Rum lovers tend to gravitate to sweet spirits and this gives the image a of rum only being good if its sweet. Rums that have only come into contact with barrel aged wood are sometimes quite dry in profile, like our rums.

I think therefore it creates a category that has such a wide spectrum. Rum is still seen as playful and party and this makes the “grown up job” more difficult in educating new rum drinkers that rum is a crafted spirit. But definitely deluxe aged rums are going to become big news, it is happening gradually rather than the sharp spike everyone predicted 10 years ago.

10.  When you aren’t sipping your own rums what other brands/producers do you appreciate? Any stand out rums or producers that you aspire to be like?

In my drinks cabinet I tend to reach for Blackwell Jamaica Rum. I think it’s a really great nod to a bold Jamaican rum style and an everyday, any occasion rum I of course hold Appleton very dear and the Estate Range is fantastic. I tend to find their 8 year old the best balanced, with not too much wood.

Daiquri11.  Do you have a favourite cocktail recipe you could share with us?

I feel the Daiquiri is the benchmark for white rum. I love the Elements 8 Platinum Daiquiri, but not too sweet!

 

  • 50ml Elements Eight Platinum
  • 15ml Fresh Lime Juice
  • 5ml Simple Syrup
  • Add all ingredients to a Boston glass and shake hard over cubed ice.  Double strain into a cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a Lime Wedge

 

The grown up drinks like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned are serious late night drinks and transport you to this rum world where you can mellow out and contemplate life!

So there you have it.  As you can see from the answers Carl is very much in favour of producing an authentic range of rums.  He is also not afraid to use the word “Premium” which is often a byword for a very different kind of rum.

In the case of Elements Eight I can assure that Premium means what it should!

 

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