Updated: Sep 13, 2020
You might think the ingredients for gold medal-winning rum is about the molasses, carefully sourced, distilled and teased into life in their copper pot stills.
But you’d be only partially correct.
The ingredients of the new and award-winning “Liv” brand of rum, which is distilled right here in Livingston by Matugga Distillers are a rum-distilling Caribbean heritage, an East African connection with sugar, a passion for the land and what can be achieved when we work in harmony with it; and a large measure of serious scientific know-how.
It’s as much to do with these ingredients as the molasses, the handcrafted alembic stills, and interestingly, the foraged botanicals that are going into some of their creative new rums.
Paul grew up in Uganda. He is a civil engineer by training and has long been a whisky connoisseur. Jacine grew up in London and is a corporate marketer. Back in Jamaica where her family hails from, rum is the national spirit. Long evenings with family and friends enjoying good food, craic and camaraderie as a bottle of the finest slowly disappears has always been part of Paul and Jacine’s social life.
A rum-distilling Caribbean heritage, an East African connection with sugar, a passion for the land and what can be achieved when we work in harmony with it; and a large measure of serious scientific know-how.
The seeds of their rum journey were sown during family visits back to Uganda, where the sugar and molasses industry is massive.
“We thought, why not take this molasses grown in our homeland and make rum from it?”
Production of their first batch of Matugga Rum was outsourced to a distiller in England - they were living in Kingston upon Thames at the time and both working full time in their own careers. Matugga is the name of a town in Uganda just north of Kampala, where the family owns land. It’s an artisan range of speciality cask-aged golden and spiced rums, and was quickly picked up by a French distributor. They found themselves thrown in at the deep end with exportation! When contract manufacturing quality concerns arose, they decided to take the plunge, leave their careers and go full time into distilling for themselves. Heriot-Watt University came up as offering world-class expertise in Brewing and Distilling.
So, with their two young daughters, they arrived in West Lothian in 2017 so that Paul could do the course and they could follow the dream.
It’s been a good move in every way. “I knew Paul would be a good distiller,” says Jacine. And it seems she’s not the only one! As I was there for this interview the news came in that their new Liv white rum brand had just won gold at The Rum and Cachaça Masters 2020 competition. White rum is taken straight from the still, unsweetened and unaged, showcasing the distiller’s pure copper-pot craft, and to win a gold medal is an extraordinary achievement. The latest gold medal follows several other prestigious awards for the new distiller, such as winning the Women’s Enterprise Scotland Start-up of the Year 2019.
White rum is taken straight from the still, unsweetened and unaged, showcasing the distiller’s pure copper-pot craft, and to win a gold medal is an extraordinary achievement.
They have a cask-exchange arrangement with Whyte and Mackay, so they use oak casks that have been used once for Scotch whisky. There is much more to come from this collaboration, watch this space. Innovative cask-ageing is in the DNA of this distillery, as they demonstrated through the release of an acacia-cask special limited edition rum last year.
“We’re loving it here in West Lothian,” enthuses Jacine. “Our girls are thriving and my mum has now moved up from London too to be with us. We also make regular trips to Uganda to keep up with Paul’s family.”
In response to the appeal to distilleries to assist the country’s shortage of hand sanitiser during the Covid19 lockdown, Matugga Distillers quickly switched the production focus at their rum distillery. They produced and donated over 1,000 litres of sanitiser to local healthcare providers, frontline services and community workers as well as selling critical supplies to local businesses. In time, the conventional suppliers of sanitiser were able to boost their production levels and Matugga Distillers reverted to prioritising their conventional business of distilling artisan rum. They officially unveiled their innovative new Liv Rum collection in June, and landed a regional listing with the Co-op. Liv is now available in the Bankton Retail Centre, Howden West and Craigshill Shopping Centre Co-op stores in Livingston.
The next stage in fact relates to the family’s land in Matugga; they are planning to start a sugar cane plantation, so eventually the complete cane to cask process will be wholly owned by themselves. “There is a lot of unfairness in the sugarcane sector, and we want to better support the livelihoods of sugarcane growers in East Africa,” explains Jacine.
The next stage in fact relates to the family’s land in Matugga; they are planning to start a sugar cane plantation, so eventually the complete cane to cask process will be wholly owned by themselves. “There is a lot of unfairness in the sugarcane sector, and we want to better support the livelihoods of sugarcane growers in East Africa.”
They forage for local ingredients across Scotland such as lavender and heather to infuse into their new spiced and flavoured Liv rums, an innovative approach normally more associated with gin. They insist that the botanicals added are real plants, not bottled flavours. I tasted their Liv raspberry and hibuscus rum liqueur and their honey and lavender version.
Needless to say, my verdict concurs perfectly with the judges who gave Liv a gold!
The strap line “African soul, crafted in Scotland” is true in every detail.
Follow Matugga Rum and Liv Rum online to keep up to date with events
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Published in Konect April 2020. Updated September 2020
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer