Cleo Farman, the creator of the Diablesse Rum, joins us to talk about challenging preconceptions, betting her house on the brand and receiving a ‘Guardian of Rum’ commemorative coin from Foursquare Distillery.
In case you missed it, July is now the month of rum. In the spirit of things, we began this week with not one, but two new arrivals of delicious rums, then suggested some terrific expressions for you to enjoy, and we’ve still got National Piña Colada Day (10 July), National Mojito Day (11 July) and National Daiquiri Day (19 July) to look forward. And that’s not all, today we’re lasering in on one of the most exciting new brands to have launched in the UK recently, Diablesse Rum.
Its founder, Cleo Farman, joined for a virtual chat during the lockdown. Most of the previous year had entailed meetings, staff training and talking about her rums in person. Her focus had to shift to account for the pandemic, which means she’s been increasing her social media presence, responding to questions and comments, hosting live cocktail sessions that are then posted on YouTube, taking part in online rum tastings, overhauling the website with a rebrand and balancing all of the above with homeschooling her son. There’s already a lot to do given it was only a year ago that the Manchester-based brand launched a new range consisting of two signature products, Diablesse Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum.
The former marketing manager for Richard Branson’s Necker Island, Farman “fell in love with rum”, as she put it, on press trips to the Caribbean. For thirteen years she was also one of Manchester’s most well-known bar owners, with Odd, Oddest, Odder and the Blue Pig all being part of her roster, which provided a platform to further explore rum. By 2018 Farman had decided that her next adventure would be to launch her own brand and began formulating a plan to do so in March of that year.
Most of the early days of Diablesse Rum were spent visiting multiple distilleries and bringing back samples to experiment with, which Farman did in collaboration with The Main Rum. Every blend she made she would send to people in the trade, from chefs to bartenders, before she settled on the final blends n February 2019. “I’m fortunate to know a lot of wonderful industry professionals who helped, like Main Rum and Stephen James. What they don’t know about rum isn’t worth knowing in my opinion. They’ve offered me a lot of advice and information and most importantly told me not what to do”.
Farman makes it sound like a simple process. You know rum, you love rum, so you launch your own rum. But the process of creating a brand is rife with difficulties. “It’s insane! It’s so hard. You don’t realise something is going to be a hurdle until you’ve tried to overcome an obstacle and then find out there are even more obstacles you missed before. Raising the money and sorting the legislation is really tough. I put my house on Diablesse. That’s how much I believed in it,” Farman explains. “There’s a lot of conversations and inspections done with HMRC. You can’t start trading until you get the licenses but they take months to process, so what I did was develop the rum while I was waiting and hoping that I would be granted them”.
In the twelve months of trying, testing and tasting Farman had two basic principles: one being to, as she puts it, “let the rums speak for themselves,” which meant no adding any sugar or colouring and the second being that she would work with “establish, respected distilleries that have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of provenance and cultural relevance”. The three distilleries that ended up supplying the Diabelsse brand with rum with certainly fit that description: Foursquare, Worthy Park and the Diamond Distillery (fun fact: the latter still uses a 19th-century wooden Enmore column still which is thought to be the only still of its kind in operation today). Main Rum helped establish the connection, but Farman expertise and vision clearly sold the project. So much so that she received a ‘Guardian of Rum’ commemorative coin from Foursquare. A Richard Seale of approval, if you will. “It’s a massive honour and it means I’m on the right track. When I was given it I nearly burst into tears,” Farman admits, laughing.
Diablesse Caribbean Rum features all three distilleries, including an eight-year-old pot and column still Bajan rum from Foursquare Distillery, a four-year-old Jamaican pot still rum from Worthy Park distillery and a three-year-old Guyanese (wooden) column still rum from the Diamond Distillery. All the rums in the blend have been aged in ex-bourbon casks in the Caribbean, so our friend tropical ageing plays a role here, before the rums are shipped to the UK, blended by Main Rum and bottled in Manchester to Farman’s preference, with no additional colouring or additives.
Diablesse Caribbean Rum is refined rum that’s not overly sweet, which is the profile that Farman herself enjoys. “There’s this smooth, light Bajan rum at the core, with the power and funk of the Jamaican rum adding body and then the natural sweetness of the Demerara rum rounds it out,” she says. “This is a rum for people who know and love rum and value provenance and authenticity. They’ll want to know all the details of how it’s produced, which I’m transparent about”.
Diablesse Clementine Spiced Rum, by contrast, is an expression to welcome people into the delightful world of rum. A single origin and unaged Demerara rum from the Diamond Distillery which was flavoured with clementine and spices, it’s sweeter and has an accessible and delightfully mixable profile. Farman thinks this kind of premium spiced bottling can seduce gin drinkers who are looking for their next spirit love. She’s seen the beginnings of rum establishing a wider dominance in her role advocating her brand and trade shows and tastings. “When I began doing this at a show there’d be five gin stalls there. Now there are five rum stalls. Prior to the pandemic, I saw that the on-trade was increasingly requesting tastings and talks because they wanted to increase their rum range. Even during the lockdown, there’s been a wave of people wanting premium rums that they can experiment with at home”.
Farman’s appreciation of cocktail culture has her well-placed to meet this demand. Along with award-winning Cottonopolis bartender Gethin Jones, she has created a number of delightful serves. She suggests the classic Daiquiri as a wonderful way to enjoy Diablesse Caribbean Rum and recommends the Chocolate Orange Negroni for the Diablesse Clementine Spiced Rum (I can confirm it’s also delicious in a regular Negroni), while both work well in Old Fashioneds and Sours. Her favourite, however, is Jones’ creation, the Mama Dlo. It represents Farman’s desire to create sophisticated, delicate and high-end serves. “Everyone immediately thinks of rum and Coke or ginger. But I want to help promote rum’s versatility. It’s great with all kinds of tonic water and can be used to make a number of amazing cocktails you might associate with different spirits”.
This ability to challenge preconceptions of rum is of great importance to Farman as she’s aware that the category still carries some negative connotations. “Some people still think rum is a cheap party spirit that lacks versatility or sophistication. It’s worth remembering that gin overcame this problem. People used to call it mother’s ruin. Now look what’s happened. It’s about education,” Farman says. This perspective has also fuelled Farman’s desire to ensure that women don’t feel excluded from the joys of rum, which influenced her brand story and name. “I wanted to create a female inclusive brand. A lot of rum imagery is very bullish, featuring gods of the sea or pirates and captains. My rum is for everybody, but I wanted to have that female perspective. Hence why I chose La Diablesse, who is brilliant. She was a beautiful temptress from ancient Caribbean folklore and legend has it she had deals with the devil and would cast spells on unsuspecting men and lure them to their fate in the night”.
Looking forward, Farman reveals that she’s currently working on a new expression, saying “I can’t tell you any more than that or I’ll have to kill you…” She’s hoping to launch relatively soon, but with the current climate, she’s biding her time to see when the best moment is. Farman admits that she’d love to release some cask strength, small-batch rums from the Caribbean. She also reveals she trademarked another brand that will release English rums but that it won’t be seen until much further down the line, adding that “I’d also love to have my own distillery, but that’s pushing it right now!” At the moment, the focus is on spreading the word about Diablesse Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum. For my money, it should be an easy sell. These are well-balanced, versatile and delicious bottlings. You can taste the quality of the base rums in the blend and both have enough character to stand out even when mixed. I’ve had a very enjoyable time experimenting with them and I’d really recommend trying some of the Diablesse cocktail recipes on the website.
You can both purchase Diablesse Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum here.
Diablesse Caribbean Rum Tasting Note:
Nose: The first thing I get is a really pleasant dose of Jamaican funk, with dunder notes and plenty of tropical fruit with overripe banana, chargrilled pineapple, papaya and citrus peel. There’s then plenty of sweet spices and vanilla fudge, as well as toffee apple, brown sugar, melted white chocolate, fresh herbs and a hint of sweetened coffee.
Palate: Dry, clean and delicately sweet, the palate has more of that tropical fruit blend (pineapple cubes mostly) and vanilla, with hints of lime and gooseberry adding a slightly sour and tart element. Peppery oak, black tea and the slightest touch of wasabi add real complexity as butterscotch and molasses make things sweeter as the palate moves towards the finish.
Finish: Long and lightly spiced, with a combination of vanilla and butterscotch making the finish quite sweet.
Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum Tasting Note:
Nose: Like a thick, full slice of Jamaican Ginger Cake that somebody has spread a huge heap of Seville orange marmalade on. That might sound strange but it’s beautiful. The blend of spice is complex and well balanced, with nutmeg, cinnamon, red chilli, then clove and star anise which give it a slight East Asian element. There’s a dollop of golden syrup, as well as dried fruit, vanilla and red cola cubes underneath.
Palate: The palate is sweet, slick and has a liqueur-like delivery, which is then lifted by an aromatic and full-bodied hit of spice, mostly ginger. In fact, it’s like a slab of gingerbread. With marmalade on it. I’m not sure who’s spreading marmalade on all these desserts in my mind, but it’s definitely working for me. The clove is more pronounced here, as is the dark fruit note, adding more sweetness which Demrara sugar, toffee apples and another handful of cola cubes enhance.
Finish: The finish is a good length and has more of that spicy blend I like.