As a wave of drinks brands look to innovate and evolve in a post-Covid world, consumers are often left wading through an overwhelming number of choices that currently flood the shelves of bars, restaurants, and supermarkets alike.
This sudden burst of quality spirits has birthed a highly competitive market, with one such brand, launching on the cusp of the global pandemic, having embraced the highs and lows of the unpredictable, yet exciting drinks industry.
Born out of a deep love for the Caribbean and a desire to shake up the rum category, this unique brand has gone above and beyond, voyaging across the oceans to bring us a range of quality, craft rums… with a twist.
MacGregor Black talks with Cleo Farman, Managing Director of award-winning drinks company, Diablesse Rum, about ‘savouring over sessioning’, breaking the sailor mold, and what the future holds for this ambitious brand.
MacGregor Black: So, Cleo, to someone who’s never come across Diablesse Rum before, how would you introduce the brand?
Cleo: Gosh, where do I start? First of all, I’m proud to say it’s the first female-owned rum brand in the UK (Yay!). Diablesse was born out of a HUGE appreciation for quality Caribbean rums, where people have distilled rum since the early 17th century and is where I think the best rums come from! The figurehead of the brand, the beautiful woman on the label, is La Diablesse, a mythical female enchantress character from Caribbean folklore. The purpose of the brand is to change people’s outdated perception of rum which still seems to be that it’s mega strong and quite samey flavours, if you know what I mean?
MacGregor Black: And why did you choose La Diablesse to represent the brand?
Cleo: Some of the best master distillers out there are women but unfortunately, you wouldn’t always know that. I wanted to get a bit more female representation in the industry, and I was lucky enough to come across Diablesse. She was a temptress that also stood for female empowerment and she’s of Caribbean descent so represents the heritage of the beautiful rums in the blends (and it would be a travesty to put anyone else on the label in my opinion), But, yeah, I thought her character sat well with the brand and what we stand for, which is that: Diablesse rum is a female forward inclusive rum brand, is flavour lead and is here to show people that there’s more to rum than they might think.
MacGregor Black: With so many spirits out there to work with, why did you choose to launch a rum brand?
Cleo: Basically, I used to be a gin drinker but, to be honest, I got a bit bored. And since I used to own four bars in Manchester, that gave me a really good platform to explore distinct categories of spirits and I discovered that I quite liked rum.
So, I went off to the Caribbean and looked at the distilleries there, met with loads of impressive people that knew a lot about rum and I really loved it. Ok, I’m going to be a nerd now, but my Diablesse Golden Rum is a blend of an eight-year-old double distilled rum from Barbados, a four-year-old copper pot still rum from Jamaica and a three-year-old rum that’s made in the only wooden column still in the whole world! It’s been really exciting working with all these lovely flavours and pairing them up to see what fits.
MacGregor Black: So, what exciting things do you have going on now at Diablesse Rum?
Cleo: Oh my gosh. Loads of things! So, right now I’m going through a major fundraise. There’s so much money involved in launching a spirit brand. I’ve put a lot of my own money into the brand because I believe in Diablesse and now that I’ve demonstrated, through a good sales record, that people like it and want to buy it, I’m now looking for investors to join me!
I’ve also got a new Marketing person starting with me soon who is working with me to put together quite an ambitious marketing plan. If we raise the money, we’ll be doing activations across the UK, attending festivals, and just working hard to get the brand message out there, really. Which is nerve-wracking but also super exciting!
Diablesse Rum is also going to be making an appearance at the Manchester Christmas markets this year, which is 41 days solid of talking about rum! I’ve put a team together and we’ll be there to spread the message and speak with anyone who’s interested in knowing more (and to give everyone a taste!) I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve got a stall at St Anne’s Square, and we’ll be there from the 10th of November, so come and see us!
MacGregor Black: What would you say your most ambitious goal is for the Diablesse Brand?
Cleo: I’d love to open a little distillery under the Diablesse brand, where I could experiment with creating more of my own small batch limited addition rums. I’d like to have a brand home at some point in the near future, where people can learn about the company, visit our in-house bar, and really get a feel for the complete Diablesse experience. And I’d also love to see Diablesse launch into the US and China, but not just yet.
But, having said all that, I’d say my most ambitious goal for the brand is, like I say, to change people’s opinion about rum entirely. In the UK, a lot of people still associate rum with the Navy and it’s seen as quite a male drink. You know, you’ve got many rums brands such as, Neptune Rum, Captain Morgan, or Sailor Jerry, but I wanted to do something a bit different. Bring a new light in and really shake up people’s perception of rum to see it as something that can be savoured, rather than chucked back with a coke mixer. ’Savour, not session’ is what I’m going for!
After building Diablesse here and abroad, one of my most ambitious personal goals is to launch into different spirits, but not under the Diablesse brand. Diablesse is so personal to rum and the Caribbean, so I don’t think another spirit would sit under that brand. I would probably look to get into white spirits, but not gin. There you go, there’s a clue… yeah, Gin is brilliant, it’s doing really well but not gin …. I’d like to keep away from that.
MacGregor Black: Having been there and done it, what advice would you offer someone looking to launch their own brand-new rum brand?
Cleo: Well, firstly I’d say do your homework! It takes a lot to get off the ground, there’s so many hoops you have to jump through for instance getting your licenses from HMRC. I even had people check my home to make sure I wasn’t some sort of dodgy rum dealer! For Diablesse, I store a lot of the rum under bond, which basically means I stored my rum in HMRC-operated warehouses and am only required to pay the Alcohol tax once I’ve taken a bottle out of the warehouse, rather than paying it all in one go. That has helped with cashflow immensely, but you have to get special government licenses to be able to do it and it can be quite difficult.
Secondly, I’d say be honest with your forecasting. It costs a lot more money than you’d ever think to get going, I learned that the hard way.
Another thing is, you’ve got to build your distribution. Once you’ve made your rum, how are people actually going to buy it? It’s not often that you can just walk into a bar and say, here, I have a rum, do you want to sell it? You need to work with wholesalers, which can be hard and takes a lot of time. I started out doing markets to push Diablesse out there and that’s how I met my wholesaler. I now have a distributor that sells to wholesalers, so I’ve gone about it that way.
Lastly, build a brand that means something. Don’t just think, ok, I want to make a rum because I want to make lots of money because people see right through that. people want to know who you are, what you’re about, what drives you and what drives the brand. For me, I really like rum and I’ve built the brand around a story that resonates with what I’m trying to achieve.
MacGregor Black: And finally, to round things off, which Diablesse drink would you recommend to newcomers?
Cleo: I’m sorry, but I love them all!
Well, I guess you could say my personal favourite is our Golden Rum with a ginger and lime mixer, but that’s not always to everyone’s taste, is it? So, I’d recommend trying the Clementine Spice Rum, paired with a Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale mixer, or at this time of year, hot apple juice! I also really love the Diablesse Coconut & Hibiscus Flower Rum with Franklin’s Pineapple and Almond mixer. All of those are delicious and I drink them at home.
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