I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cleo Farman at Cottonopolis last week for a conversation about her delicious Diablesse Caribbean rum as we reflected on how her solo-business is doing in its first three months of life.
KT: Right – so tell me about Diablesse Rum?
CF: Ok well, there are two expressions –first is a golden blend which is a more traditional rum, more of a proper rum for proper rum drinkers. That blends different aged rums of provenance from around the Caribbean from fantastic distilleries who have been making rum for hundreds of years.
It’s made up of an eight-year-old rum from Barbados from the Four Square Distillery- they’ve been making rum since the 1800s, then you’ve got a four-year-old rum from Worthy Park in Jamaica which again is an excellent distillery. They’ve been making rum since the 1700s. And then you’ve got the last one which is a 2-year-old demerara rum made in a 200 year old wooden still called the Enmore Coffey Still which is from the Diamond distillery in Guyana. It’s the only one still in production today which I think is pretty amazing!
KT: What did you do with those rums to make your special blend?
CF: I blended those three elements together and that in itself is unique – no one has done this exact blend before, and the end result is really good. There is no added sugar, flavouring or caramel and it’s aged in ex-bourbon whisky casks. That gives you quite a dry, but very well balanced rum but with a natural sweetness – so it’s quite a different rum and surprisingly quite a lot of whiskey drinkers are liking it too.
KT: And what is the other expression you have?
CF: The other one is the Clementine spiced rum. That’s a demerara rum from the Diamond Distillery which is flavoured naturally with clementine, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla pod and ginger. Having experimented with it for a while we decided to drop the sugar content by 20% as it was a bit claggy and, when we did, you could really taste the zest of the clementine, so it’s really unique, quite bright and not overbearingly sweet which is lovely.
KT: And how strong as we talking?
CF: Both are bottled at 40% which means they stand up really well with a mixer. We played around with ABV’s quite a lot, we found that when it was around 35% it just got lost when you mixed it so we increased the ABV to 40% which solved the problem, 40% ABV is quite unusual for a spiced rum.
KT: So when did you start it?
CF: March 3rd last year, so just over a year ago but it was only launched a couple of months ago on 20th February.
KT: Oh right so it’s early days!
CF: Very early days! In terms of it actually starting up, I was a rum drinker anyway but I enlisted someone to help me and I went out and learnt all about rum and then I got really interested in it. I went and talked to loads of rum experts like my new friend Steven James who is known in the rum world (The Rum Diarist) and we went and sat in Altrincham and he told me all about rum and let me try loads of samples so I learnt that way. We also experimented with loads of different blends and took them out to trade, chefs, bars and let them try it which is how I arrived at the 2 rums I’ve got now.
KT: Where can you get it in Manchester?
CF: It’s gone mad which is brilliant! We’ve just got it in Mackie Mayor and Altrincham Market and other Reserve Wine shops. We’ve got it in Tiny’s Tipple and Ludo in Chorlton, Selfridges, Astons – actually Selfridges has sold out four times now which is cool! Tipples in Manchester city centre and some places in Leeds and Liverpool too. It’s springing up in independent wine/spirits shops all over the place which I really like.
KT: And bars? Where can I drink it?
CF: As for bars – here at Cottonopolis, Behind Closed Doors, The Refuge, Volta, Cane & Grain, Liars Club, Dusk till Pawn, CBRB – so we are getting it in all the top ones you know? We’re speaking to loads of places and gradually getting it into all the good places where people will go in and see it. It’s also popping up in bars in Liverpool and Leeds .. all very exciting!
KT: What made you go into business in the first place?
CF: Well I used to have the bars Odd, Odder, Oddest and Blue Pig, I did that for around 13 years and I really, really loved it, but by the end, I just wanted to do something a bit different. So that’s how it was. And because I had had my own business before, I felt quite comfortable starting another one, I knew lots of people in the industry which has at least helped a bit and has enabled me to get people to try it. I did hear that some were a bit worried about what to say to me if it was crap (she laughs) –but it isn’t which is great and they’re stocking it so it must be alright!
KT: And what is it like doing it on your own?
CF: Well day to day it can be quite solitary which is a bit of a shock, I’m literally on my own out on the road a lot. Plus every weekend for the next 12 weeks I am doing tasting sessions all around just introducing people to the rum. I do love it, but it is bloody relentless sometimes! It’s good to have Gethin to spring-board ideas off (Gethin Jones – Diablesse Rum Brand Ambassador and award-winning cocktail master from Cottonopolis) behind me with development and Boycey (John Boyce, sales) so that’s good.
KT: So what is it like being a lady in the alcohol industry? Is it as male-dominated as it seems?
CF: When I first started the bars back in 2005, I’d say it was much more male-dominated although I think things are changing as time goes on. I mean I don’t know of any other women who have actual rum companies, but to tell you the truth that doesn’t really matter, everyone is so supportive because it’s a Manchester business and I think people like that, so it isn’t so bad.
CF: Just on that topic too, what’s really interesting for me is at least three of the master blenders of some of the best rums are actually women which is brilliant! So it’s lovely that they are at the top.
KT: What are the highs and the lows you have experienced so far?
CF: I cannot believe that I am actually sat here with a bottle in front of me. It is MAD. I literally cried when the bottles came off the production line. I remember I was looking really attractive with a hair net on and a white lab coat and gloves on and these weird things covering my shoes because you have to be so careful in a factory and I was just stood there crying my eyes out. (she laughs) I held it for the first time and just thought ‘wow’ it was amazing. For all the work that went into it actually seeing it come out in a f*cking bottle was bonkers it blew my mind. And then you think…’oh god now what!’
CF: As for the lows I’d say I’m quite impatient, so the real lows are waiting for things to happen … waiting for licenses because you can’t do anything without them, so with stuff like that, you know the nuts and bolts of it, I was like ‘oh come on hurry up!’ But to be honest, there aren’t any lows at the moment, I just love it, it is bloody hard work but it’s so worth it.
KT: So what’s next for Diablesse?
CF: Well at the moment I’m concentrating on growing the brand and doing events, I am at Manchester rum fest 8th June and then I’m actually sponsoring Leeds Rum Fest in September which is amazing, I have to do this talk/tasting session on the main stage with a microphone which is a bit scary too – so might have a quick shot before I do that one! (We both laugh). As for the bigger picture I just want to concentrate on the two expressions I’ve got and really get them off the ground, I’ve got some fab plans for more rums but I can’t tell you about them yet!
KT: Finally, what is your perfect serve for your lovely rums?
CF: Well, god there are just so many! They work really well in classic rum cocktails but also in less traditional ones like Negronis and Cosmos, but to tell you the truth, sometimes simple serves are my favourite. Like one with the Clementine rum I really like is with Fever Tree spiced orange ginger ale with loads of ice and fresh strawberries – it’s fantastic and I’m converting gin drinkers left right and centre, seriously, that is always how I get people to try it for the first time and it’s so simple! Then here at Cottonopolis, Gethin has done some that are more complex, one has homemade pine syrup and fresh pears which is incredible too – but honestly it’s so versatile the possibilities are endless.
You can buy Cleo’s delicious Diablesse rum at most good independent wine shops here in Manchester, plus it’s also available on Amazon, Master of Malt & The Whisky Exchange. It also graces the shelves of Cottonopolis, The Refuge, CBRB, Cane & Grain, The Liars Club, Dusk till Pawn and Volta to name but a few.
Next stop for Diablesse? World Domination!