Nusa Caña rum is the brainchild of four friends, Sam Jeveons, Marc Rodrigues, Andy Gaunt and Joe Milner. In this comprehensive interview, we speak with Co-Founders Sam and Marc about the forgotten story of Indonesian rum, how Nusa Caña captures the essence of Indonesian rum and the upcoming release of the Godfather, 100% Batavia Arrack.
Tell us a little about yourselves, your background and where you’re located.
Sam Jeveons: My background is hospitality – bartending and consulting. I moved from the lauded Match Bar Group in London’s bar scene of the early 2000’s to Hong Kong where I set up a successful Bar & Beverage consulting business working with spirit brands and opening venues across the Asian region. Through this decade of work I met great friends, Marc and Joe, and reconnected with Andy whom I knew from our days in the London trade. Collectively we shared a vision to produce an Asian spirit brand close to our hearts and our ‘passion project’ began late 2015, with Marc and I running the company as full time employees by 2018.
Marc Rodrigues: My background is in Category Development and Commercial roles within global wine, spirits and drinks brands, working for the likes of Diageo, Jim Beam, Constellation Brands and Coca Cola. I have worked in Australia and Asia and currently call Bali my home for the last 5 years. The ability to live and work on a tropical island was a dream of mine for years and was made a reality as the opportunity to bring back the forgotten story of Indonesian rum was identified. My passion and commitment is in living the Bali lifestyle whilst taking Indonesian rum to the world.
What is your role at Nusa Caña?
Sam: My role and passion are two-fold, focusing on liquid and brand, working with our production partners to create the unique spirits and blends for all Nusa Caña rum products, and working with our distribution partners to communicate directly with trade and our consumers.
Marc: My role as Managing Director is to lead the business through its vision and achieve our set goals. We have a large and growing group of shareholders who have joined our tribe and our mission to put Indonesian rum back on the map. We are currently available across Asia and Europe as well as our key market of Australia. My role is delivering them (shareholders) that mission and the returns that come with that.
Why Indonesian rum?
Sam: My love of rum was rooted in my time behind the bar in London, winning cocktail competitions and travelling to Cuba for international finals (2004). I have been travelling in and out of Bali since my early twenties. It was a consulting job that Marc, Andy and I worked on researching Asian spirits that lead us to discover the details and intricacies of Indonesian rum.
We found Indonesian rum’s story so compelling, its creation, its success, its domination and its subsequent obscurity. Once heard, the story became impossible to ignore. Together we found an opportunity through the creation of Nusa Caña rum to bring back the forgotten story of Indonesian rum and in doing so revealed a chapter in the history of rum rarely talked about today.
Historically, Indonesian rum stands out for 3 reasons: its unique use of rice as a fermentation kick-starter, the quality of craftsmanship and distillation to produce a clear, pure distillate and the adoption and use of teak-wood barrels for ageing and transporting the spirit from Indonesia to Holland.
As a spirit, the historical pedigree of Indonesian rum spoke for itself, our job became bringing it to life in a way that resonates with today’s consumer.
Marc: Simple. For me, it’s all about the island of Bali. Before calling it home, I visited many times from childhood through to living here. The mix of ancient days and modern nights and the freedoms that gives is the appeal.
But it’s not just Bali. Indonesia is some 18,000 islands that offer culture, adventure, discovery and fun. Whether that is motorcycle touring, surfing, trekking, mountain hikes or listening to stories, it has it all. It is also rapidly becoming a place for adventurous free spirited creative people from all over the world to call home. A place like this needs an expression that represents it in bars and homes all over the world. So when people feel like a bit of what Indonesia can offer they can simply pour it in a glass. After understanding the history of sugarcane spirit from the islands of Indonesia, it become apparent that the Indonesia rum story needed to be told and drinks shared.
How does Nusa Caña rum capture the essence and story of Indonesian rum?
Sam: The brand sees life through the lens of Bali, ‘The Island Of The Gods’, a melting pot of modern Indonesia, where culture and experiences are mixed with hedonism, adventure and discovery. Nusa Caña speaks to our personal love of bars and beaches, music, surfing culture and tropical island life, communicating with like-minded consumers across Australia, Indonesia, Europe, Asia and the UK. We bring the story of provenance to life by living and sharing the Nusa Caña (Bali) lifestyle. We have a saying in the team that we are respectful of ancient days (provenance and liquid production), blended for modern nights (fun, revelry, celebration, occasion).
Marc: For me, Nusa Caña is respectful of Indonesia’s history and culture, but lives for today reflecting the lifestyle of those who love its (Bali) home.
How is Nusa Caña Tropical Island Rum produced?
Sam: Molasses from Sacchurum Robustum sugarcane are mixed with water and dried crushed red rice grain to begin a long and slow fermentation in large wooden vats. The resulting wash is sent through to steel pot stills where it is distilled twice to a maximum ABV of 65%. The liquid is rested/aged in large teak wood barrels for 12 months on the Indonesian island of Java before being shipped to Holland to be blended, bottled and sold following 350 years of tradition.
Unlike traditional Batavia Arrack, Nusa Caña’s unique final process is to blend our Indonesian rich sugarcane spirit with a more familiar modern rum in a proprietary recipe and ratio. The purpose behind our blending is to make the spirit and flavour of Indonesian rum shine whilst softening the rugged and vibrant Indonesian heart with familiar notes appealing to today’s drinkers.
Red rice is a key element in the production. What role does it play and does it add a specific character to the rum?
Sam: Red rice or beras merah is unique to Indonesian rum production, a method passed down from the Chinese, the master distillers of their time who had been distilling with rice and trading knowledge and goods with the Indonesians.
Red rice is cooked, dried and crushed into a grist or powder before being mixed with the molasses and water to slowly ferment in open tanks. This method allows bacteria and yeast derived from the rice and molasses to propagate the wash producing a unique style and taste. In today’s production of Indonesian rum, rice constitutes less than 2% of the fermentable ingredients yet its inclusion anchors the spirit as being truly one of a kind.
And the ‘Jati’ oak barrels?
Sam: The teak or jati wood is a local Indonesian hard wood. The grains in teak are tight leaving less room for the spirit to interact with the wood. It is hard to bend into small staves, so the barrels or vats used for ageing and transport with teak wood are significantly larger than our oak wood cousins, holding up to 10,0000 litres.
The size and composite means less liquid is touching the surface of the wood inside the barrel and the liquid absorbs less colour, compounds and tannins than traditional (oak) ageing. The resulting taste is that of a vibrant, drier spirit.
You launched Nusa Caña Spiced Island rum in 2020. Is the production method the same?
Sam: The production method for Spiced Island rum is exactly the same as for our Tropical Island rum. The spiced expression talks of Indonesia’s history as the source of luxury spices and tells the story of the Indonesian Spice islands and the historical role they played through our bespoke Indonesian inspired spice-blend.
Nusa Caña Spiced Island rum is a fruit-forward dry spiced rum. Ginger, coffee and cacao are wrapped in the sweetness of pineapple and finished with exotic warmth of nutmeg and clove. I built the recipe profile much like I would a cocktail, considering the base, dominant flavours I wanted to use and bridging ingredients with complimenting intensities that take the consumer on a tropical flavour journey. Great to sip over ice yet designed with the full intent as a cocktail base spirit.
How would you describe the flavour profile of each expression?
Sam: For me, the flavour profile of Nusa Caña rums is represented by the colourful label designs of the respective bottles.
Tropical Island rum is full of young, ripe, fresh rum flavours indicated by the bright greens yellows and sky blue of the bottle’s label. Opening with fresh young sugar cane and young coconut notes, moving to mature dry wood and toasted banana leaf. The rum is smooth and quaffable at 37.5% ABV and leaves you with a lasting finish and lingering cane.
Spiced Island rum bursts with spiced-pineapple fruit cake on the nose and palate. Dry spiced rum and deep notes of coffee and cacao are carried on a spicy ginger mid palate. The finish is a lasting lick of ginger, sugarcane and nutmeg. The darker browns rich greens and vibrant yellows of the label reflect the flavour combinations and set your expectations.
Where do you see the rum category heading in the near future?
Sam: I am very proud to be a small voice in this large community of rum lovers and producers. We started our project in 2015 creating a fun brand built on provenance and pedigree. These factors in the rum category are more pronounced 6 years on. I believe we are in the wave of rum brands being transparent about production, provenance, ethical and environmental practices and sustainability. With all these serious topics being championed by rum brands today, the rum category will thrive. And I hope the element of fun and adventure associated with rum will permeate the growth and maturation of the category.
Marc: Most of the people paid to know and write about spirits see rum as the next big thing , whether that be from growth in a more relaxed lifestyle, the regeneration of Tiki, or a greater understanding that rum is in all of your favourite drinks or maybe it’s just its turn! Anyways, it appears to be happening, what we wish to do is to add to this growth by bringing consumers genuine innovation by driving a liquid out of Asia rather than the current known rum regions and delivering against drinking occasions that represent escape and fun. Our plan is to align the growth of appeal in rum with the growth and appeal of Indonesia and primarily Bali and bring to the category a lifestyle and liquid that’s more than just pirates of the Caribbean lol.
There’s a lot of excitement about the soon-to-be-released Godfather expression. Can you give us a preview of what’s to come?
Sam: The Godfather could have been Nusa Caña’s starting point. Instead, it is our third release (a prequel of sorts) and our first limited edition series. We took the moniker from Dave Wondrich who called Batavia Arrack ‘Godfather to the rum world’.
Whereas our core expressions of Tropical & Spiced Island rums are a blend of Indonesian and modern rum meant for mixing, Godfather is 100% Batavia Arrack, an unadulterated, pot sill, high strength blend at 60% ABV.
Godfather is at the heart of the Nusa Caña brand. Sip it and see. It’s a powerful expression of provenance and history. This limited edition release of 1000 bottles will be available on allocation in Australia by the end of the year.
Marc: From my perspective, get a bottle if you can, open and taste it, remember the aroma and the flavour, then put it away. Bring it back out when sharing our tropical or spiced rum with friends who deserve to know the full story.
In partnership with Nusa Caña rum. Visit their website here.
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