You might think that Trinidad and Aberdeenshire don’t have very much in common.
But thanks to a bold business venture, Caribbean sands and rugged north east beaches might not be so different after all.
Admittedly, the two climates remain at odds. But when it comes to a decent tipple, an impressive bridge has been built which overcomes both distance and culture.
And it’s all down to oil and gas workers, Jim Ashley and Patrick Maris, who are on a mission to put an altogether different kind of drink on the map.
They’ve veered off the whisky trail and are now in direct competition with Scotland’s golden nectar, having founded Outlaw Rum.
The idea was little more than a passing thought four years ago, and the venture was then faced with a global pandemic come the launch.
But the pair are now determined to change perceptions by offering a premium drink – which can hold its own in a competitive industry.
“My understanding of rum was pretty much like everybody else in the UK,” says Jim.
“It wasn’t something you’d drink neat because it wasn’t really well matured.
“But once I moved to Trinidad and starting speaking to a lot of folk, you actually find out that there is really good rum out there – it’s just a matter of finding it.”
Jim moved to Trinidad in May 2012 for work in the oil industry before returning to Aberdeenshire four years later in August 2016, where he remains today.
His path to entrepreneurial inspiration was not straightforward, and Jim had plans to start a delicatessen business before finally arriving at the concept of rum.
“There was a fella in Trinidad who’d set up his own South African style delicatessen meat business. He and I were talking about maybe doing something similar here,” he says.
“It didn’t pan out… but I learned to appreciate the graft and delicate art of actually producing something outstanding.
“Speaking to people in the whisky industry, they were saying that to do something special, you had to know somebody who knew somebody.
“This was very much how it was for me in Trinidad, and that’s where my brainwave came about.
“We live on the stomping ground of Diageo, Glenfiddich and Balvenie here in Aberdeenshire. So, I thought, ‘how about we actually compete [with the whisky industry] and show a lot of people how good rum is?’”
Patrick, who still lives in the Caribbean, was able to make a connection with the renowned Angostura distillery in Trinidad.
Outlaw Rum was born in 2017, and the pair have never looked back.
Jim believes that Outlaw Rum’s double maturation process – between Trinidad and Huntly – gives it its distinctive qualities.
“The maturation in Trinidad is totally different to the maturation here,” he says.
“We came up with what we class as our base rum, which is a cask aged rum in the Caribbean.
“Then we add extra complexity with another maturation cycle in Aberdeenshire using whisky casks.”
The company’s flagship rum is a mix of Speyside cask, Highland cask and bourbon cask, indicating the diverse effort made to capture a real depth of flavour.
“We wouldn’t want to do what other people would do,” says Jim, and it seems that both in name and approach, an Outlaw inspired ethos is at the heart of the business.
“Rum is often seen as a cheap drink or as something that goes on a cake to burn.
“But we’re hoping we can change opinions. A lot of people say rum is the next gin and it can be.”
In November 2020, their first products launched with more limited-edition bottles released in the following months.
As well as gaining international appeal with orders from the likes of Singapore, Jim believes that local communities have been pivotal to their early success.
“Sales have been going really well,” says Jim. “There are already a lot of people who are out there and enjoying it.
“We had a lady pen down a heartfelt letter of thanks which was amazing. It feels great to know that your daft little idea at the beginning did have legs on it.”
“We’re just using local people, ideas and ingenuity to take on the big boys.
“In the next 18 months or so, we’re looking towards building our own premises and employing folk to give them work options without feeling that they have to go to the big cities.
“We’ve been asked to take part in the Speyside Whisky Festival, and there’s a lot more opportunities which will be coming up very soon.
“We’re learning as we’re going… I’ve never been in a job like it.
“I never thought that putting rum in cask could be so enjoyable. The smell from the various casks in the warehouse, it just makes you smile.”
A list of local Outlaw Rum stockists can be found at www.outlawrum.co.uk