North Point Skerra Bar Spiced Rum - The Spice of Life

North Point Skerra Bar Spiced Rum - The Spice of Life

North Point Skerra Bar Spiced Rum

Craft Rum Box | North Point Spiced Rum

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The Spice of Life


Some of our Craft Rum Box drinkers may be familiar with North Point Distillery. Their Pilot Rum was featured in March’s box, with an article focusing on the story of the distillery, in particular the sustainable nature of it and their processes, down to every tiny detail. It’s a good distillery, run well. They have a mentality to do things properly, or not at all. And the rum is pretty good too.

So, when it seemed that their spiced rum, Skerra Bay, was going to feature in this month's box, I was over the moon, but it put me in a bit of a conundrum. There will be readers here that will have read the previous article, there will be readers that haven’t. I need to deliver the information, but don’t want to repeat too much. Luckily, after catching up with Alex, it seemed I didn’t have to worry. As even in three short months, the distillery has evolved, as we have. As Alex said “You’re watching our distillery grow up through your publication, which I think is a nice thing.” It’s true. What with introducing this months’ new feature, our news feed we are growing too. It seems like we are evolving side by side.

Three months may not seem long, but it can be long in the distilling world. Since April’s box, North Point Distillery have won the Environmental Sustainability Award from the Gin Guide Awards, a testament to all of the work that’s been put in to setting up their distillery, and processes covered in our previous issue. In addition to this, the Skerra Bay Spiced Rum has gone from a distiller’s edition, first dreamt up in October 2020, to a permanent member of the range. Why? Because it’s their best seller, and despite Alex’s hesitance in the early days of the project, and his dislike for spiced rum generally, he’s a bit of a changed man.

Let’s cover the basics quickly, so we’re all on the same page. North Point Distillery is located in the North of Scotland, near the Pentland Firth. Their rum, Pilot Rum, takes its names from the pilots, men in the local area who took their boats out and guided ships in and out of the Firth when travelling to the Americas to trade flint and other local produce for the beautiful Americas export of rum and other things. The distillery is young and has a strong environmental focus, not just looking forward with their own processes, but looking backwards in as much as the process botanicals go through to get to them. Are they organic and Fairtrade sourced? Are they sustainable? They do everything they can to ensure they are doing things right, and not only that, they make fantastic spirits to boot.



Skerra Bay Spiced Rum is no exception and it’s easy to see how their meticulous planning has created something quite wonderful. All of the distiller’s editions are named after bays in the area where the pilots either lived, or launched their boats from. To honour the idea in the pilot rum is a lovely thing, but then to make it more personal, launching spirits of the same namesake as the pilots launch points is a lovely homage to the area. It’s a nice touch. And as we have already touched upon, it has become so popular that it has become a permanent member of the range, which wasn’t always the in intention. “Creating a distillers edition, this is our proving ground,” says Alex, “This is where we can get creative. Where it’s not so much about the money, it’s about the art, the craft, the love, rather than the bottom line.” And yet, this has turned into one of their most popular spirits, and it’s won awards, so it quickly became clear that this was one to keep. “The story behind it is quite romantic, you know.” Alex explains. “A cold winters night in the Highlands. Even though I was there, it always elicits this false memory of us all hovering over a lantern or a campfire wondering how we were going to make our spiced rum. However, it really came about accidentally. Our distiller was really very strict with our palates before a taste testing for our rums. Laura and I scurried away, ate some Terry’s chocolate oranges before we tasted the rum which was a big no no. When we came through, we still had a taste of chocolate orange on our palates. And then we tried the rum and said, “This is fantastic”, but we knew there were other chocolate and orange spiced rums so how would we be different? It was a ‘How do you bring a spice of life question’.”

The spice of life is a term that Alex is quite fond of, and this rum certainly has some of that. A lot of spiced rums out there are blended with essences. I was not at all surprised to find out the North Point distils their spiced rums with twenty one botanicals in the distillation process. So, the spices are distilled into the rum and then some are additionally post-macerated too. “We don’t use any essences, any oils or any artificial flavourings or colourings. So this all comes entirely from organic and Fairtrade sourced botanicals.” It’s also important to note that whilst the idea came about by accident, the product itself has undergone rigorous development and testing. Finishing the recipe has been something of a work in progress, with several tweaks over the batches, something Alex confesses has only really been completed in the last 5 months. It’s taken a lot of work, tweaking and taste testing to get to the final liquid. There’s a lot to think about with the number of botanicals and getting those ratios right, but due to the double maceration, there’s also a lot to think about when it comes to timings. “We put our unaged Pilot rum in the still and make sure it’s proofed down appropriately. All of our dried and easily sourced botanicals go in the night before, and that needs at least twelve hours. Then in the morning we need to add the fresh botanicals that we use, which is our lemon, our grapefruit and our oranges. Then we run it super low and slow, it’s an eight to nine hour distillation. We make sure we get as much of the hearts as we can, but also a fair amount of the tails, as that’s where you’ll get the really nice, heavier oils coming through.” Alex admits there is little satisfaction to be found during this stage, as the final flavour is still an anticipation.

The final step is the post distillation maceration, where the liquid goes into the Jamaican rum casks, and cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods are put into macerate for five days. And, you can’t rush that, it’s always five days for every single batch. “For us it becomes a very anxious process. For those five days you just want to bottle it. You’re sitting wondering about the effects that are happening and you keep wanting to check it because it can go so wrong.” This attention to detail is trademark North Point and has resulted in a rich and interesting spirit. “We have some really heavier flavours in our spiced rum. But, it’s danced off with these light, bright spicy flavours on the top. The likes of cardamom, the star anise and peppercorns, so you have this interplay of sweetness of earthiness, and of spiciness. At the start it’s super bright, it’s like a firework going off and then you get this warmth coming in on the mid palate and then it finishes with the complexities of a whisky.” It is important to note here that this is made with the unaged rum. “We still have the Caribbean styled unaged Pilot Rum, sweet, light, versatile, it’s a very, very flexible spirit. So, it really just moulds itself to any botanicals and spices that come into it.”

Each distillation is running at about 200L a charge, despite the 500L capacity of the still, and this is to give Alex and the team more control over the process. Despite this, each charge contains 1000g of Fairtrade cacao, amongst other delicious things. “We also use a kilogram of dried banana chips. We do half crushed, half whole. Some of the botanicals are part crushed to access more of the oils and surface area. Have 21 different botanicals and spices, as you can imagine we have to go through a lot of trial and error. How do you illicit mouthfeel without getting too much spice? And how do you illicit sweetness without getting that sickly unearthiness to it.”

And, to think that they almost didn’t make the spiced rum at all. Alex admits he wasn’t a fan of spiced rum, and he didn’t want to make one. In fact, there was a point where he almost vetoed the project altogether. From the Terrys Chocolate Orange eureka moment, Alex conceded on a spiced rum, but on the condition that it was made via distillation, rather than all the flavour coming from what was added afterwards. “What also makes it really nice is we know exactly what goes into it, because we are weighing out every single botanical, every single spice that goes into it, down sourcing the coffee grounds from the right places, the four different types of orange peel that we have going into it, the lemon peel, the cardamom, the star anise, the different peppercorns and cacao beans (we put a huge amount of cacao into it), all the way down to, well not the smartest accounting thing we’ve ever done for costing, organically Fairtrade sourced vanilla pods.” This to me is another good example of North Point going the extra mile. If you know of everything that’s been put in that bottle, then you should know the quality. For Alex, everything that a distillery does from the point it gets the botanicals is one thing, and he acknowledges that are rums out there leading some great social campaigns, but it’s also very important to look at the processes those botanicals have been through before they get to you.

And, it’s clear that their attitude towards distilling has matured somewhat, even over three months. “For me it’s a maturity thing. It’s also redefining what a spiced rum is and the care that should be put into it. “Just because it’s a lower end of the costing market, or in terms of accessibility, it doesn’t mean that less work should be put into it.” It’s an interesting observation. “There is an inverse with every rum on the market with complexity and commercial viability. And if you can hit that sweet spot, then you have a product that can truly succeed. Don’t be complex for the sake of it, but also don’t be so commercial you’ve lost all of your character and you’ve forgotten about the amazing industry and art that we are all in. Yes, this is run by scientists, but before that it was run by artists. They didn’t really know the science behind it, they just knew the methods and they could taste it, feel it, know about it. That’s what I think we need to do, bring a little bit of that heritage back into distilling, whilst still applying the science.”

What can Alex add as his final thoughts? Of course he can, “The theme, I keep thinking is the spice of life. What you put into this makes the spirit come alive. It’s something that can be enjoyed entirely by itself neat like a whisky, or mixed with ginger beers and the like, it could also be enjoyed in cocktails. The cacao and orange zestyness of it makes for a really rich, indulgent, unencumbered flavour The spiced rum, for me, is the most complex to make, pre, during and post. But, it’s the perfect amalgamation between science and art.”

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Bernadette Pamplin

Bernadette loves rum. She set up a gin focused blog Under The Ginfluence eight years ago. Since then, her passion has naturally spread from gin, to rum and other spirits too. You can find work from her on Gin Magazine, Distiller Magazine, and Spirits Beacon, as well as content for  The Gin Guide.

She’s also the editor of Rum’s the Word, writing articles on rums featured in the box, as well as other rum related topics. Bernadette has built up six years experience in judging for events like Gin of the Year, World Gin Awards, Spirits Business Awards, Gin Guide Awards, IWSC and the American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits and works behind the scenes, assisting with organising and participating in panels for the Craft Distilling Expo.