How small-scale and personal do you need to get before you can be called a truly artisanal and independent distiller? In a week in which the owners of leading independent brewer Stone & Wood surprised the industry and most of their staff by selling to Lion, Keri Algar is at quite the opposite end of the scale – you couldn’t get much smaller, more handmade or more enthusiastic than Keri – the Soltera Rum copper still is literally on her property, a stone’s throw from the beach in beautiful coastal Cabarita.
Whilst I’d heard about the ‘Spanish woman near Pottsville who makes rum’, no-one could remember her name or exactly where she was located. But now Soltera Rum, the first bottle of which was produced a year ago, is coming of age… unlike most useless garage start-ups, starting a micro-distillery is much more worthwhile, and hence takes a bit of time. Before she even started, Keri, whose grandfather was a chemist in a sugar factory in Spain, spent two years pestering distillers for tips and tricks before she settled on a production technique.
And she has the right attitude, a ‘mission to make beautiful booze in the spirit of cheerful enjoyment’. The tradition of rum really is a tradition of romance and revelry, she says, ‘and I aim to put a bit of that joyful culture into every bottle of Soltera Rum.’
She uses 100d per cent local ingredients. The molasses is from the Condong Sugar Mill in Murwillumbah and the majority of the sugar crushed there is grown in the Tweed. Keri says, ‘There’s something really special about being hyper local, I love driving past the cane fields, imagining that sugar might end up in one of the fermentations. Each batch is double distilled and is small, averaging between 100 and 140 bottles.’
Released less than a year ago, Blanco is Soltera Rum’s debut spirit, and it’s a delight in cocktails that need a bit of sass. It’s a lightly spiced, unaged cane spirit, not legally a rum as it hasn’t aged in wood for at least two years. ‘There are barrel-aged products in the pipeline, but for now, Blanco makes an excellent daiquiri!’, says Keri.
While Soltera Rum is the mainstay of Cabarita Spirits, having a copper pot still means there is potential for more than rum. ‘You should see the distillery at the moment – it looks like a mad scientist has been let loose. The creative aspect of experimentation is really interesting, and fun! I love tinkering around the distillery in the afternoons.
‘Starting a distillery singlehandedly, even a tiny one, has been a massive adventure. There’s a lot of learning, a lot of work, a lot of determination at play, but it’s also been made possible thanks to the support of the local community. Local bars, restaurants and independent bottle shops have been wonderful about giving something new a go, I’m very grateful.’
Soltera Rum’s Blanco cane spirit is now at your local bottlo, and at