AN EXCLUSIVE WITH MASTER BLENDER ROBIN HONHOLD AND OUR BRAND NEW DUPPY SHARE XO
Robin Honhold, Master Blender and all-round legend, sits down with Craft Rum Box to discuss his most recent feat, The Duppy Share XO.
So Robin, tell us – how did you get into the world of spirit blending?
Well, I guess I spent most of my 20s running around the world working in cocktail bars, trying to make things that no-one had tasted before, or make the best tasting version of things that people were used to drinking, and in that time got very well acquainted with the world of spirits – not only how spirits are made, but what a huge variety of spirits taste like.
I started to pick out what people liked in different products and drinks – special flavours that people would prefer over others, different techniques of distilling that made more popular drinks – by the time I was ready to move on, I had this huge arsenal of knowledge learned through experience that I could now apply to products.
Products appealed to me simply because when working in a bar, you can only really reach a couple hundred people in a single setting – one drink in one bar. But with a product, you can bring a really special drinking experience to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people in an unlimited number of settings. You see it in food all the time, chefs applying their skills to give consumers more and better options at home - but not so much in drinks. That ability to reach people’s lives and experiences on a much bigger scale was something that I really liked the idea of.
How did you come across The Duppy Share, and what made you want to work with them?
I’d seen The Duppy Share as a brand starting to make waves in the UK, and something about their challenger mentality really appealed to me. I’ve always seen myself as a challenger in the drinks industry, and I have a lot of respect for those who challenge convention and provoke change.
Once I’d entered into conversation with George, The Duppy Share’s founder, it became clear that he wanted to allow space for creativity and to focus on great taste foremost. Too often brands stifle the potential of their products by forgetting that the second bottle is harder to sell than the first, cutting corners on flavour - the net effect is a sea of pretty mediocre choices for consumers. However it was clear that George simply wanted the blend to taste amazing – and an amazing taste is something I make sure all of my products have.
How does rum stand out from other spirits?
What is amazing about rum is its incredible variety, both in terms of provenance & style, and age statements. Unlike any other spirit, rum can taste great both directly off the still, and aged for 15 years. This makes blending rum a more interesting exercise, with such a variety of flavours to work with.
Style wise, rum also has around 20 regions to choose from – and each region has distinct characteristics that offer lots of fun and opportunity when trying to create a spirit.
Plus, every spirit category has its own romanticism associated to it, and I think rum has that in swathes.
For the XO, why choose Barbados rums?
The original Duppy Share Aged is a blend of Jamaican and Barbados rums, so from a brand perspective it made sense. We’d already created a 100% Jamaican White Rum, and it followed that if we were going to make something more premium and with a higher age statement, it would of course be from Barbados. It felt like if we were going to make something extra rare, it would make sense to represent the culture of one particular place, especially one that makes great rums. Giving a portfolio that celebrates Jamaica, celebrates Barbados and celebrates rum more generally.
Bajan rums tend to be more caramel smooth, rather than the tropical nuances of Jamaican rum, so it complimented the range perfectly.
And now for the XO itself – what makes the blend stand out, what makes it sing?
This blend in particular was designed to be super premium – there are some very old rums in it (10, 12-year aged rums) and some relatively younger ones (8 year for example), the combination of which really brings out an expression of Bajan culture.
The culture of Barbados is chill, luxurious, soft, slow, mellow, indulgent – so flavours like condensed milk, fudge, shaved coconut, toasted coconut, which represent these kinds of cultural points, are all flavours that we wanted to get into the blend.
The older rums in the blend (10 & 12 years) give an intense depth of rich caramel flavour, but also a certain chocolatey sourness. This is balanced with the fresher coconut and stone fruit notes of the younger rums (5 & 8 year) - but we used only a whisper of these to lighten things up a touch.
Rum ages very quickly and it was very important that we didn't just get lots and lots of wood flavour, the longer rum spends in a barrel the less of its true character is left, and the skills of the distiller are lost to the oak.
All together you end up with a rum that takes you in a journey - rich and indulgent but with a lively underlying character that dances across your mouth. Much like you would expect of a night spent in the bars of Barbados.
How would you drink the XO?
This is a very indulgent, special tipple, so you can happily drink it neat or with some ice. There’s nothing snooty about it, it's just made for enjoyment. Have a good time when you’re indulging and feel like you’re treating yourself, but don’t feel you have to look over your shoulder when you do.
It would also make a banging old fashioned, and if you want to go a little more complex, it will go down incredibly well in an El Presidente.
Thanks Robin – before I go, final question: If you could be a cocktail, what would you be?
Ooohh… good question… Probably a Frozen Daiquiri.
Great choice! And why?
… Because they’re ice cold, but also a lot of fun.
Perfect – thanks for your time, Robin, hopefully catch up again soon!