An Interview with Mark Reynier – Renegade Rum

An Interview with Mark Reynier Renegade Rum by the fat rum pirateBoth the names of Mark Reynier and Renegade Rum may already be familiar to many of you readers. Undoubtedly more famous in the Whisk(e)y world than in the world of Rum Mark Reynier, has built a reputation for being a bit of a maverick.

Best known for his stint as CEO of Bruichladdich. He resurrected the abandoned distillery and soon Bruichladdich was famous for its exotic (at the time) wine cask finished whiskies. Reynier himself was gaining a reputation as an innovator and spoke of “terroir” in whisky way before such things became trendy. He also succeeded in pissing off the Scotch Whisky Association along the way as well.

In 2012 despite marking voting “no” Bruichladdich was bought for £58million by Remy Cointreau. After licking his wounds Mark set about innovating in an entirely different sector of the whisky market – Irish Whiskey. Determined to reinvigorate Irish Pot Still Whiskey at the Waterford Distillery.

As you will note from this interview (and others he has done in the world of Whisky – seek them out online) Mark is a very assured, confident man who is not afraid to express his opinion. The last time Mark experimented with Rum – with the original Renegade Rum line up – he may have been a little too early to the party. Ahead of his time perhaps.

Whilst the original Renegade Rums were quite well received by enthusiasts. At the time their 46% ABV was quite ground breaking in itself. The cask finishes didn’t always work as well as they might have. I’ve been fortunate to pick up a few samples of some of the old Renegade Rum bottlings which I will review – soon.

I have also got quite a bit of information on the new Renegade Rum venture which I will also look to share with you. This project is ticking all the right boxed

However, as you will see Mark’s latest project with Renegade Rum is entirely different to what went before. He has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve and I have a sneaking suspicion he just might succeed in this latest venture!

1An Interview with Mark Reynier Renegade Rum by the fat rum pirate. Why have you decided to situate the new distillery on Grenada?

I have been looking for a home for this project for around a decade. When we noticed that mature stocks of good quality rum were getting harder to obtain, it seemed independent bottlings had a very limited life span. Many of those early bottlings were finite stocks from defunct distilleries; doesn’t take a genius to figure out that one is dealing with a double whammy of a diminishing stock pool, and declining quality. And everyone bottling the same stuff!

So I looked for a distillery to buy, like I did with Bruichladdich, but failed to find anything suitable. Either too big, dirty, unsafe or far away! It became clear, desirable indeed, that we would need to start from scratch. I needed ‘a quiet corner of the Caribbean’ and a series of serendipitous events – don’t you love ‘em? – led me here to Grenada. I liked the feel of the place immediately, it just felt right, and I tend to go with my instincts…

2. So I take it, it is unlikely that we will be seeing a return of the old style independently sourced Renegade rum line up? Will Renegade be purely about new spirit from Grenada?

Renegade Rum will be solely about terroir-influenced rum from the Renegade Rum Distillery. The availability of good quality third party stocks was getting hard to find back then, the good stuff had long gone, we felt we were scraping the bottom of the barrel at times. Now it’s nigh on impossible. I believe this partly this is down to consolidation, partly reduced distilling capacity (environmental concerns), and the end of mature stocks from closed distilleries. In fact, it’s quite a similar situation to Scotch whisky. Same companies in charge I guess.

3. Rum from Grenada doesn’t have much of an international profile are you hoping to invigorate the Grenadian rum scene?

The two existing distilleries very much serve the domestic demand for white rum, where my project is an international one. A single malt rum. I certainly hope to put Grenada more firmly on the rum map.

4. In the past you have focused upon Terroir and you have already mentioned it earlier in this interview? Do you attach the same importance on terroir in rum as you do in whisky?

An Interview with Mark Reynier Renegade Rum by the fat rum pirateYes I most certainly do. There are industry cynics that say terroir is impossible, it cannot be in a spirit. But the proof is in the pudding ‘the Gay-Lussac in the dessert’ doesn’t quite sound the same, does it?. Like a creed, I firmly believe in terroir. I come from a wine background, of my 40 year drinks industry career, 20 years has been in wine, 20 years in distilling. I believe I am in a somewhat unique position having owned both a vineyard and a distillery (or two).

At Bruichladdich I had the chance of experimenting with the terroir concept, though much against industry and traditional convention. At Waterford distillery I have been able to take it to a total, definitive conclusion. There, a landmark academic study is being run to show that terroir can indeed be a major influence that can transcend from wine to whisky. It is after all about the plant and how it is influenced by microclimate, soil, and exposition.

The French call it terroir, but others, in the absence of an accurate translation, might call it “gardening”, others “farming”. They all agree that a plant grows differently according to highly localised conditions. It follows that if the plant responds to variable growing conditions, then so does it’s fruit be that a grape, grain or sugar. That’s why we are growing cane – not because it looks good in the marketing photos or to tourists, but because molasses cannot give you terroir. I could distill the same molasses as half the Caribbean and not even leave Scotland.

5. What excites you so much about rum?

It’s like whisky industry was circa 1980, almost dead in the water, a complacency encountered when an industry is dominated by a handful of the same multinationals with their ginormous ubiquitous brands. The difference between scotch and rum is we are not talking about just one country Scotland or Ireland, we are talking about a whole panoply of countries with their own customs, ideas and regulatory – or not – systems. Pretty much anything goes from age statements to additives.I believe that there is now a place, for my creed of the holy trinity of transparency, traceability and terroir. The time is nigh for a new, iconoclastic approach, based on authenticity.

6. Since Renegade rum stopped bottling in 2014 have you kept up with the Rum Scene in general? Are you aware of the current trends? The new kinds of “rums” being discovered such as the Clairin’s from Haiti? The desire amongst enthusiasts for Cask Strength rums?Clairin World Championship 2017 Rum Review by the fat rum pirate

Yes, but for Renegade Rum distillery project, trends aren’t really relevant. Being more of an iconoclast I’m not really a follower; for me it is a philosophical question. How can one make a rum that has the complexity and focus of a single malt. One that stimulates the curiosity, a spirit that demands one’s attention. A rum to savour. This project sets out to answer that question.

I am aware of both the Clairin’s and the resurgence of Jamaican Overproof rums. Yes, but as above, trends don’t really concern me. When one bears in mind that, like whisky used to be, rum is mainly consumed white, ‘off the still’ – there’s been enough practice at it. But it’s not what I am trying to do. However it follows that if one gets the raw ingredients right, the milling, fermentation and distillation right, then one ought to be able to enjoy the spirit at any stage of its development, regardless of age.

One could very easily drink the new spirit we distil at Waterford straight off the still. But I am looking to create a maturer, more complex spirit, multi-layered flavours, like a millefeuille pastry, and that needs time spent in cask for those flavours to develop. And money to be able to afford to hold the stock.

Alcohol strength is an interesting one: I’m not a fan of either chill filtering, nor colouring. I like spirits to be unadulterated and often this means a spirit has to be bottled at least at 46% ABV or 92 degrees proof. Since overproof used to be anything over 100 degrees proof, we’re not far from it anyhow.

I do feel the proof obsession is a bit of a macho marketing pitch, putting hairs on the chest wheeze. Having said that, different bottling strengths can affect certain spirits in interesting ways, increasing certain flavours decreasing others. I envisage a variety of strengths decided by individual spirit quality not marketing fashion.

8. Are you looking to develop a distinct Grenadian style rum?

It will be what it is: of Grenada by Grenadians. A truly Grenadian rum. One thing is for sure it will have the ultimate expression of Grenada – and we’ll soon discover what that is – in the very real sense. A modern distillery that brings the best technology from around the world (Brazil, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, South Africa, England and USA) may not look as cute as an olde worlde distillery.

There again there haven’t been many purpose-designed rum distilleries in the Caribbean for decades, which you could say is part of the issue. Many are converted sugar refineries with equipment that has seen better days. I have had experience of both ends of the modernity scale: I really fell in love with the Victorian equipment at Bruichladdich, very photogenic, and thanks to its inspirational design and maintenance still very much relevant today.

Waterford, on the other hand, is the other extreme – cold, steel, calculated, efficient – with more controls than you can shake a stick at. Less cuddly, more awe-inspiring. But while the distilling processes are still the same, the machinery is more elaborate bringing total control to the fore. Distilling in real-time, armed with all the relevant data as it happens, means decisions can be made influencing the future rather than just reacting tAn Interview with Mark Reynier Renegade Rum by the fat rum pirateo the past.

We have designed a distillery and mill where the logistics mean we can have cane harvested parcel by parcel, terroir by terroir, and milled with in 2 hours fermenting 30 minutes later for ultimate purity. We have scoured the world for new equipment, fresh ideas, like adapting logging trailers for cane collection and transport. While I deeply respect and admire the past, I am not scared of the future either.

9. Where do you stand on the additives controversy in rum?

Controversy? You would be surprised that most alcohols – wine included – have additives of one kind or another, some more than others. Additives can be by way of short-cuts, correctives, flavour enhancers, neutralisers, or stabilisers, Most, sadly, are at it in some shape or form.

Personally, my modus operandi has always been to go ‘unplugged’, au naturel, and if you go down that route of purity there can be no half measures. It’s all – or nothing. I am predetermined to go down the natural route: so nothing. No additives. Zippo.

10. Which rum producers do you admire? Will you be approaching any for advice etc?

The Martinique/Guadeloupe gang are clearly an inspiration with their AOC. But I think we can add a certain Anglo Saxon je ne sais quoi… Of course, I think one should be aware of other customs and practices, but I tend to prefer to discover things for myself rather than merely copy others. While the spirits industry rule#1 may well be that ‘imitation is cheaper than innovation’ I tend to prefer to innovate, do my own thing, plough my own furrow. After a thousand years distilling is well understood, but using cane grown from numerous terroirs means there are a whole load of variables at play. That’s very exciting.

11. What type of stills will you have in place at the new distillery?

We are having them made at Forsyths. A traditional pot still and retort and a very modern, bespoke column still – split in two. We have optionality built in.

12. What types of rum are you hoping to produce?Renegade Rum An Interview with Mark Reynier Article the fat rum pirate

We can distil many different weights of rum, and we will. But they will all be Renegade terroir rums – spirits that express the terroir from where they are grown. The intention is to lay down a variety of styles, component spirits if you like, that can be used later according to how we decide to achieve ultimate complexity.

13. Will we see the same kind of innovates cask usage that you have done in the past? Should we expect a lot of wine finished rums going forward?

No. That was a remedial necessity born out of trying to breathe life in to increasingly poor wood/dull stocks. One thing I learned at Bruichladdich was that there is no short cut to maturing spirit: a good wood policy is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Finishing is just as the name implies, terminal, an operation of last resort.

Sure, judicious use of oak in varying proportions and styles is an art form we learned and perfected which requires a close understanding of both the spirit and the wood and maturation environment, all factors I look forward to discovering. However the vast majority of ‘finishing’ these days is either marketing-led or remedial. Or both. Art it certainly is not.

14. Why did you decide to get back into rum? What is your connection?

Because I arrogantly believe I can do something special. And because I am amused at the perennial pleads from the rum industry that ‘rum is going to take off’ which they have been saying for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t because the basics haven’t changed. A fancy heavy glass bottle doesn’t fool everyone.

15. How long will it be before we see new Renegade rum?

Hopefully we will be distilling by this time next year. I think we might bottle something around 2022, let’s see how it goes.

The rums will be in the Agricole style. But there is not really a brand out there that has the complexity that I am looking for. That is my goal, my strategy: I am going to provide it. At least have a darn good go at it. I’m sure you and your readers will be sure to tell me if I fail.

Renegade Rum An Interview with Mark Reynier the fat rum pirate16. Will you be employing any rum experts in any capacity to help you? Will these be people from Grenada?

No. The same advice tends to go round and round… While I want to take a fresh look at rum, I do have a very good chief distiller, a Grenadian with 13 years distilling experience on board.

17. Westerhall Estate perhaps the most well-known producer on the island no longer produce their own rums, they use Angostura stocks? How do you feel about this?

Westerhall, funnily enough, was one of the rums we first bottled under the Renegade rum label when it was an independent bottler. And as you rightly say, the distillery no longer produces, finally destroyed by the hurricane Ivan. There you have the independently bottled rum story in microcosm.

There is a possibility that we might collude on a new direction for Westerhall rums, we’ve discussed it, but ultimately that’ll be Graham’s decision.

As you can see Mark Reynier is not a man short of confidence and enthusiasm for his subject. He clearly has a very clear vision of what he wants to achieve in the rum world and his direction is in keeping with the way the Rum world, particularly the part of the Rum world occupied by the genuine enthusiast is heading.

I’ve a feeling this could be a very interesting journey. We’ll certainly try and keep you all updated on this project.

If you do want more information on Renegade Rum then I suggest visiting their website and Facebook page for regular updates.

 

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