An Interview with Neil Mathieson – Mezan Rum

Mezan RumAs Managing Director of the self styled “untouched rum” Neil Mathieson has set the bar high in terms of expectation.

Over the past few years a debate has focused around the practice of adding sugar and other additives during the production of rum.  For many such alterations are viewed as entirely unacceptable.

Pressure and very vocal criticism from within the industry by one of the Caribbeans most respected producers Richard Seale has added further fuel to the fire.  As has Hydrometer Tests by sites such as Drecon.dk (Johnny Drejer).

In terms of producing untouched product Mezan Rum’s timing could not have been much better.  Priced competitively and with growing interest amongst rum lovers Mezan offer an excellent gateway for the consumer who is keen to try untouched rums but whose budget perhaps does not extend to bottlings from the likes of Velier, Silver Seal and Samaroli.

Mezan Rum is very much the vision of one man and this become every evident during this interview.

1.  Apart from wishing to put out unadultered rum what were the main visions for Mezan as a company when you first started out? Over the years has anything changed?

We started with a simple mission and that was to bottle some nice rum we had obtained, what actually happened was that we became more interested in the Jamaican flavour profiles and thus developed the XO as a focal point. Future development is a lengthy process so we have a ten years plus ageing platform.

 2.  Aside from recent moves into the US market (exhibiting earlier this year at Miami Rum Renaissance) what are Mezan’s future plans? Do you plan to expand into more overseas markets?

Indeed, as we make more liquid available we expect the sales reach to spread.

 3.  Are there any Rum Companies which Mezan looks upto or would like to emulate? Did any influence Mezan’s approach?

I admire many of the rum makers I have met both for their production skill and blending ability, however the current and future Mezan XO profile is our own and will develop further that way.

 4.  I assume that a few of the people involved in Mezan are “rummies”.  Could you advise on the Eureka moment when those involved now with Mezan realised Rum was indeed the Holy Grail and something to embrace?

I believe that our interest in rum has developed greatly over the last twenty years or so, but no eureka moments really, only a gradual sense of developing what we want to share with the marketplace.

5.  With question 4 in mind what are Mezan staff favourites?

Quite often they tend to be test blends or casks that we have too few of.. …as is always the case with small stockholders of brown spirit. If we look to the past, I think we would still like to have bottles of a 30 year old Guyanan rum and 6 year old Clynelish we bottled ourselves and some amazing Armagnacs from Martine Lafitte at Domaine Boingneres and Cognacs from Ragnaud Sabourin.

 6.  Who exactly sources the rums for Mezan (that must be an amazing job)? Who decides which casks to take? Is their a collective decision? Are opinions sought from anyone outside of Mezan or Marussia Beverages?

No collective decisions I’m afraid; blends, flavour profiles, cask selections, re-casking NeilMathiesonand wood choices are all mine. Mezan production falls under our distilling arm called Mossburn Distillers who are also active in the whisky world.

7.  Have you found it easy to source good quality casks? Or have you found other more established Independent bottlers have first pick of the best casks?

We source a variety of casks but also buy new. Although most of what we use is re-use bourbon from one distilling company we have a variety of stock aging specifically to take advantage of the casks. I wouldn’t see these as finishes as they are all re-blended.

8.  What was the thinking behind bottling at the 40-43% mark when so many Indie bottlers go for cask strength?

With the XO and vintage bottlings my preference is to offer people a product that they can drink straight. After thirty years of tasting professionally I personally never drink anything at cask strength so perhaps this has coloured my choice. This is not to say that we will not produce at other strengths but it will depend greatly on the liquid. One other point is that with no ‘enrichment’, the natural flavour is quite prominent, we continue to try to make this one of the major points in our selections.

9.  I’ve noticed that some of Mezan’s Rum is from Guyana.  Do you find it difficult getting the pick of the casks when DDL have long standing relations with the likes of Velier?

We don’t actually buy a great deal of DDL product and what we do buy is not intended for immediate bottling.  So my current Guyanese stocks should be quite different from other people’s as they are shipped after the first stage of ageing in bulk and the re-casked by us.   Then re-aged.  When we buy a batch it is tested against our expectations rather than anything else and then we decide on the age of the wood and the length of ageing.

10.   Where do you see the Rum World in 5 years time? Do you sense a change now information regarding Added Sugar (amongst other things) is now getting published?

I am sure we will see an increase in the larger distillers ranges of aged bottlings and premium blends, like the malt distillers……they have the stock! We should also see the wider availability of global producers, the immediacy of the internet has raised interest levels and I believe there are more experimenters out there willing to re-evaluate the traditional offering. Sugar is a different topic completely, we add no sugar but are not afraid of the sweetening and spice that good cask usage can provide, others take a different view and provide the marketplace with a wider flavour range

I haven’t much to add really aside from the fact………….I want Neil’s job!

 

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