Rum Champions highlights the stories of the folks who’re doing some awesome things in the rum industry and it was a pleasure to chat to Collin Van Schayk, the founder of J.Gow rum. Named after the infamous Orkney pirate, John Gow, J.Gow is a brand that’s been built from a place of passion and determination.
Collin went into detail about the production method behind his rum, where J.Gow is going in the future and a couple of sexy new releases that are happening soon.
The Rum Ration: Thanks for taking the time to chat Collin. I really like the story behind J.Gow rum and it’s connection to the notorious pirate John Gow. What inspired you to start the brand in the first place?
Collin Van Schayk: I’ve always liked rum. My dad’s been making fruit wine in Orkney for over 20 years.
After rejoining the company in 2014 he was gearing me up to take over the business, but I fancied doing something a little different. I took over half the building put a still in it and started making rum.
There’s no escaping pirates when talking about rum so it made sense to name the brand after Orkney’s very own pirate, John Gow.
The Rum Ration: The J.Gow distillery may be one of the smallest distillers in the world. What’s the setup of the distillery like and what equipment do you work with when making the rum?
Collin Van Schayk: We have a 2000 Litre pot still, with packed column, which we also use as a fermenter. We also have a separate 2000L fermenter.
The imported molasses comes in 1000L IBCs, this is then pumped into the fermenters with water, yeast and nutrients and fermented for 7 to 14 days depending on which rum we’re making.
It’s then distilled first from 8% to 30% in a stripping run, then it’s returned to the still and distilled again in a final run to around 65%.
It’s then either turned into spiced rum with the addition of whole spices or filled into casks. We also keep some of the backset (stuff left over in the still) from stripping runs and add it to our dunder or muck pit.
This is bacterially fermented and fed with dead yeast, waste molasses etc to develop heavier compounds and esters. Small portions of this are added to future fermentations to develop heavier rum flavours.
The Rum Ration: There’s a great range of rum to try, from J.Gow spiced to J.Gow Fading Light. How would you describe the different flavour profiles?
Collin Van Schayk: The spiced rum is a dry spiced rum with only 5 grams of sugar per litre added after distillation. It’s quite subtly spiced. I wanted it to taste of rum complimented with spices rather than masked by them. It has subtle citrus flavours, with flavours of moist ginger cake and oatmeal with a nice warm spice finish.
The Fading Light is fermented for 14 days, double distilled and aged in chestnut casks for 18 to 24 months. Zero added sugar or colouring. It has a slight funk on the nose, natural sweetness with estery notes of dried fruit, vanilla, honey and cream, the palate is smooth with hints of nuts on the finish.
The Rum Ration: You’ve got some excellent new releases on the horizon, like the three-year cask strength single barrel. How has this rum been made?
Collin Van Schayk: It’s been made with high grade molasses, fermented for over 7 days with a small portion of dunder added and distilled twice. It’s somewhere between the base rum recipe we use for the spiced rum and the Fading Light recipe.
The cask itself is quite unique too, but I don’t want to give too much away just yet. It’ll be released in October. Our standard 3-year-old will be released early next year and will most likely be a blend of ex bourbon and virgin oak.
The Rum Ration: What are the most unusual types of rum that you’ve tried and what would you like to try in the future?
Collin Van Schayk: Not sure on most unusual, I’ve tried a few caronis and would definitely like to try more.
I’m quite into high ester Jamaican rums and grassy agricole rhums, recently having got one that was made entirely with black sugar cane. I’d like to try some rarer/older high ester rums and agricoles, slowly building up a decent collection.
The Rum Ration: What have you found to be the biggest challenges about your job?
Collin Van Schayk: Most of the time it’s long hours, a final run can take around 15 hours. There’s also mountains of paperwork (but you get that with most businesses).
It’s also hard trying to find enough time to go around the country promoting the brand at shows in between making it, but I do love it. Everyday is different and it’s rewarding to see people enjoying your rum.
The Rum Ration: Are there any other types of Scottish rum that you’d recommend that people try?
Collin Van Schayk: There’s quite a few Scottish rum distilleries around. I’m good friends with a few of them. Would recommend checking out Sugar house in Glasgow, Ninefold in Dumfries and Matugga in Livingston. All producing very different, interesting rum.
The Rum Ration: Where would you like to the see the J.Gow brand in five years’ time?
Collin Van Schayk: We’ll hopefully have our 8-year-old out by then and be sold in several countries in Europe and around the world. I’m in this for the long game and can’t wait to see what our 12-year-old and beyond rums taste like.
The Rum Ration: If you could change one thing about the rum industry, what would it be and why?
Collin Van Schayk: It would be cool if we could settle on one type of classification system. Stop classifying rum by colour and more by country and still type (I.e. the Gargano classification).
It would offer more transparency to the consumer and make it easier for them to see what they are getting. Also, if people stopped chucking loads of caramel colouring, sugar/glycerine etc in unaged rum and pretending it’s aged that would be cool too.
More transparency is what I hope for, producers being open about exactly what’s in the bottle.
The Rum Ration: What’s your best advice for someone who would like to start their own rum brand?
Collin Van Schayk: It’s hard, so many things to learn and figure out. You have to put in a lot of work before you see any return, but hopefully it’s worth it. It is a challenging but rewarding job.