In recent years, Scotland has become a hotbed for rum producers, with brands like J.Gow and the Ice and Fire Distillery producing top quality tipple. There’s a lot of room for innovation and the opportunity to tell local stories through the medium of drink.
For Fergus McGowan, he wanted to tell the story of the Isle of Rùm, setting up Askival rum in one of the remotest places in the world. The Rum Ration recently spoke to McGowan about his thoughts on setting up a drink brand in lockdown and what goes into Askival rum to make it unique.
The Rum Ration: Cheers for taking the time to chat Fergus and about the Askival rum brand. Before we do a deep dive into the story behind the rum, can you tell me what it’s like trying to develop a new drink concept and culture in lockdown?
Fergus McGowan: Developing a new drink brand in lockdown has been sort of a double-edged sword. On one side we have been able to concentrate on our project whilst in lockdown. Focusing our energy on the task of creating a unique rum inspired by Askival and the Isle of Rùm.
Whilst on the other side, we faced issues brought on by something outside of our control. We focused on what we could control and worked with the unforeseeable and unknown setbacks that became almost a daily occurrence. It has been a difficult journey so far with our remote location and Covid restrictions. Although, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
The Rum Ration: There’s something appropriate about distilling rum on the Isle of Rùm. I’d heard the community was small and having the distillery on the island is sure to provide some great opportunities for locals. How has it been working with the local community so far?
Fergus McGowan: I’d like to start this off by saying firstly that we are currently not a distillery but only compounding a blend of three Caribbean rums with botanicals foraged and inspired by the Isle of Rùm.
However, compounding is only our first step with distilling a Pure Scottish Rum distilled on the Isle of Rùm. It’s one of the crucial milestones in our marathon journey. It’s been great working with the community of Rùm as they have been very supportive during the early stages of our business.
We believe that we share the same goals as they do, which is to put the Isle of Rùm on the map and promote the produce of the small isles.
The Rum Ration: Where have you sourced your rum from and what kind of botanicals have you infused with it to showcase the character of the Isle of Rùm and its history?
Fergus McGowan: We infuse our rum with six botanicals foraged and inspired on the isle of Rùm. Our main three botanicals embody the different inhabitants of Rùm over the last thousand years.
Meadowsweet representing the Glens and rivers pay homage to the Viking settlers that used to lord over Rùm almost 1000 years ago. Historically they would use meadowsweet to make mead, giving the drink a sweet taste.
Secondly, roasted kelp marks the end of the Scottish Clansmen that lived and farmed the hills and shores. At its height, Rùm had a population of over 450, with kelping the main source of employment. The kelp was used to make explosives during the Napoleonic campaigns and as the war vanished from Europe so did the MacLeans being cleared to Nova Scotia.
Finally, we have spruce, marking the most recent shift of ownership of the island. The island being bought by a millionaire Victorian family who built Kinloch Castle and planted the trees which encase the village of Kinloch.
The Rum Ration: Aside from the lockdown madness, what other challenges have you faced with getting Askival out into the world?
Fergus McGowan: To be honest, being on an island makes everything more difficult. Imagine if you couldn’t get to work because it was too windy, or you left a tool on the mainland. These are not unique issues to the West coast of Scotland, with many gin and whisky distilleries being set up on a piece of ground surrounded by water.
All we’ve got to remember is perspective. At least we aren’t starting St Kilda Rum (the remotest island in Scotland).
The Rum Ration: What other Scottish rum distilleries would you recommend checking out?
Fergus McGowan: I would definitely recommend checking out Wester in Glasgow.
The Rum Ration: If you could share a bottle of rum with anyone in history, who would it be?
Fergus McGowan: It has got to be Sean Connery. RIP.
The Rum Ration: Where do you see Askival rum in five years?
Fergus McGowan: Producing a Pure Scottish Rum distilled on the Isle of Rùm.
The Rum Ration: If there was one thing you could change about the rum industry, what would it be and why?
Fergus McGowan: The temperature of Scotland is somewhat different to that of the Caribbean.