Cornish Rum? On The Trail of the Best of Cornish Food and Drink
I’m on a mission. Like a bloodhound, I am in pursuit of the hidden story of Mainbrace Cornish Rum. As you know, I like to appreciate the ins and outs of what makes something different, especially if it is Cornish. After all, not only does it have to be Cornish, it also has to stand up to the taste test. And Mainbrace has piqued my interest.
It seems something of an anomaly – Cornish rum. Could this really be something produced in this corner of South West England? Can rum encapsulate the spirit of the West Indies, and that of Cornwall at the same time?
Having tracked down the co-founder of Mainbrace, Richard Haigh, I was delighted when he agreed to answer my questions.
Could it be I am about to discover whether it’s possible to create a Cornish rum?
But first, how did I come to unearth this little gem? For gem it is, and I know you’ll love its story!
Read on to discover the Cornish Foodie interview with Mainbrace Cornish rum, and that all-important taste test verdict …
St Ives Food & Drink Festival
Despite 2 days of typically Cornish weather – drizzle, or mizzle as we call it here in Cornwall – the 3rd day was as balmy and as sunny as Barbados! With turquoise coloured sea beyond the soft, white sands of Porthminster beach, we truly could have been in the West Indies.
Wandering through the food and drink stalls, I came across Mainbrace. Intrigued by the upside-down bell shape to the bottle and the promise of Cornish rum, I stopped to chat.
Realising Mainbrace had been born on the banks of the Helford River, I am keen to uncover more of its fascinating history.
Helford River – Pirates, Myths and Legends
Already the stuff of folklore, Helford River is home to the internationally known Frenchman’s Creek, one of 7 tributaries feeding into the river itself.
Courtesy of Daphne du Maurier, tales of fugitive French pirates sheltering their ship in the tree-lined waters speaks of romance and daring raids. Inevitably, today, the area is a magnet for sailing, kayaking and gig racing with a wide expanse of relatively calm waters in which to play.
Inadvertently, it is the gig racing that has inspired Mainbrace Cornish rum.
Celebration Inspired Cornish Rum
Gig racing is hard work! Practice is carried out through freezing winter months in preparation for the competitive events of the summer. These 32 foot long boats, clinker-built of elm, crafted in a traditional manner, are rowed by six rowers and helmed by a cox. They are big heavy boats.
And so it was, one sunny evening following a day of competitive racing on the Helford River, the germ of an idea began to ferment.
Following my visit to the food and drink festival, I caught up with Richard Haigh, co-founder of Mainbrace Rum to ask those all-important questions. I am curious to hear his story.
I start by asking how Mainbrace Rum came into being.
RH – Richard Haigh, Mainbrace Rum
CF – Helen Boss, Cornish Foodie
RH: The original story of Mainbrace is one thing, but then the story of how we started making the rum is another, I suppose.
Sitting outside The Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage, we watched one of the teams toast their success with a tot of rum as they celebrated their win. At that moment we knew we wanted to capture the essence of the evening. It was a glorious coming together of all the hard work, camaraderie and euphoria of winning, coupled with the warmth of the day. A moment to relax and enjoy the experience.
Getting carried away, sharing that moment with family and friends, we resolved to create that very occasion in a bottle.
Splice The Mainbrace and A Tot of Rum
RH: Rum itself, the words splicing the mainbrace have a long naval history. A tot of rum was given each day in the hope it would see off sea-sickness and allow the men to eat their lunch! Of course, this was all in the time before sophisticated machinery, and a steady hand and eye were needed to operate technology.
Splice in the mainbrace was an emergency repair task undertaken in the middle of battle. Sailors who risked climbing the highest rigging to save the sails, and who managed to repair it, received a double ration of rum. We felt the word mainbrace embodied courage, teamwork, and friendship.
Historic Falmouth – A Royal Naval Association Cornish Rum
Of course, it helped that we were sitting in a pub, not far from Falmouth; a port with associations to the Royal Navy dating back centuries. Not only that, but the Navy had a huge presence here in the Second World War; launching from the Helford to sail to the D-Day landings in France, along with American troops stationed in the area.
CF: So, how did you move forward from the germ of an idea, and from thinking it was a really fun thing to do? Presumably, with Naval traditions in mind, you may have considered other spirits?
RH: Well, that’s a good point. Ultimately, it was between gin and rum, being two Navy drinks, both connected to the sea. When researching, it was felt that gin is now well and truly oversaturated. In the year we were planning to start, some 800 new brands of gin had come to market. If we were going to launch something new, it needed to be notable and stand out from the crowd.
And so, as we like rum as well, we thought we would give it a go!
CF: How long did it take you to settle on the right blends of rum to create Mainbrace?
RH: Oddly enough, deciding on the flavour profile involved quite a bit of reading! And, of course, a lot of tasting and trying various different things. In the end, we had a smorgasbord of different varieties that we could potentially go with.
We ended up choosing the specific blend that we did because we knew it would be great in cocktails. It also works well on its own. With a modern twist on a traditional spirit, mixologists and bar owners gave it the thumbs up!
CF: Your blend of rums come from Guyana and Martinique in the Caribbean. How did you choose those countries? And why those particular rums?
RH: Yes, we knew we wanted to make something that wasn’t quite as sweet as a lot of the English Navy style rums. Traditionally, rum sold in the UK has been made with rum from Jamaica and Barbados.
However, we deliberately chose rum from French Martinique because of their use of Rhum Agricole. Made from fresh sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses, it brings something different to the blend.
Our Guyana rum uses high-quality Demerara sugar to create molasses with toffee and caramel flavours. I suppose you could say the rums chose us, as we deliberately set out to devise a drink infused with richness. Yet, we wanted to cut down on the often very sweet taste of long-established rums on the market currently.
We thought it was very important to use Caribbean rums because of their heritage, having been made in the same way for so many years. And because rums made in the Caribbean are naturally different to those in the UK, they mature in a different way.
The warmth and humidity allow the rums to end up with a different flavour profile. I wouldn’t want to say necessarily higher quality, because there are wonderful rums all across the country. But, authenticity was a very important part of our tasting process as well.
Spliced together, the blend of rums we’ve used perfectly sum up our original idea to create something traditional with a modern twist.
CF: Your bottle is unique in its shape. Tell me how you came to design it?
RH: Well, I’m ashamed to say it’s not actually unique. It is just a standard bottle, discovered after trawling catalogues of different bottle shapes. There are a few gins that use it, but we didn’t know that until we had settled on it.
And it is wonderful, a fantastic shape!
You know, there are lots of elements we’ve included drawing upon the history of the barrels. They used to serve the rum ration out of a similar design barrel called a Grog Tub. Little things like the stoppers are the same colour as the wood of those tubs. And we have added the traditional saying, “The Queen, God Bless Her” finishing the edge of the stopper.
We’ve got the Roman compass on the top, the gold star, also used on top of those original barrels. Plus, it’s a very bottom-heavy, low centre of gravity bottle, meaning it’s sturdy, even in a rough sea!
We put a few more elements in there as well, such as the gold bands on the top and bottom of the label, reminiscent of the gold bands on both rum barrels and uniforms.
So we tried to include a few of those elements while also keeping it sleek and refined. However, we don’t wish to overdo the Navy connotations.
CF: So what’s next for Mainbrace Rum?
RH: We are thinking of a spiced rum. Although, we keep asking ourselves, “ what would we want to do with it?” And what direction would we want to go with that in terms of the flavours? Much to ponder on!
We are also thinking of a gin. Because in the Navy, you were given a choice of either rum or gin.
Although I suggested earlier the marketplace is crowded, we feel we want to at least do a small batch gin. So there will be a gin coming out soon to add to the Mainbrace brand.
Mainbrace Cornish Rum Taste Test Verdict
Rum and Ginger Classic
Rum and ginger beer make a great combination! Simple to create, refreshing and certainly conjures up images of Caribbean sunshine. Here I have poured Navas Classic Ginger Beer over ice, a squeeze of lime juice (to taste), and added Mainbrace Golden Rum.
Definitely the adult version of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five “lashings of ginger beer” drink. Dependent on the amount of lime you’ve added, this could lean towards a rum sour. You may wish to add a little sugar syrup to balance the acidity.
This rum will work extremely well in cocktails, yet stands on its own two feet over ice or alone.
Cornish Rum & Shrub
When I mentioned Shrub to Richard, he wasn’t much impressed. For those of you who don’t know, Shrub is a fruity cordial based on a spirit, infused with citrus fruit, cardamon and cinnamon. Difficult to get hold of these days, but back in the age of Bristol’s dominance as a seafaring city, Phillips of Bristol supplied medicinal, alcoholic cordials for the Navy.
If you like the idea of the blend of fruits, why not try Sevenstones Citrus & Samphire Cornish Shrub from Constantine Stores?
Richard’s tip: Mainbrace Cornish Rum with Campari.
If you love rum, give it a try. For me, it’s a thumbs up! It perfectly captures the spirit of Cornwall blended with the excitement and heat of the Caribbean. A Cornish Rum conceived on the shores of the Helford River, born in the Caribbean, and evolved in Cornwall.
Before you go, I expect you are wondering where you can get hold of a bottle?
Cornish rum direct from Mainbrace Rum, or Constantine Stores
Where to Catch Mainbrace Cornish Rum this Summer
Porthleven Food Festival
Gig World Championships
St Ives Food and Drink Festival
Falmouth Sailing Week
Megavissey Sea Shanty Festival
Fowey Christmas Market
Truro Winter Fayre
Bude Christmas Castle Fayre, Bude
Falmouth Festive Weekend
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Discover more about Cornish Seaberries, The Cornish Larder, Philleigh Way Cookery School, and Deli Farm Charcuterie.
Looking for Holiday Accommodation in the Area?
The Helford river area is a wonderful spot to explore on your Cornwall holiday. A wealth of sailing activities, history and marine ecology await you. All this, as well as walking, National Trust gardens and homes, you’ll never be stuck for something to do!
July Cottage in Constantine is one such holiday cottage in Helford river area you’ll fall in love with!
Visits to Falmouth and The Lizard are also recommended. If staying on The Lizard is more your style, check out these beautiful homes – The Lizard & surrounds.
Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.