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Behind the brand: DropWorks, Europe’s largest rum distillery

The stories you don't know about some of the world's best and little-known brands

The distillery can produce up to two million bottles per year. Photo: DropWorks
The distillery can produce up to two million bottles per year. Photo: DropWorks

DropWorks founder Lewis Hayes is on a crusade to change the “misunderstood” category of rum. “It has been seen as a byproduct, traded for slaves, seen as something that sailors drink and is drunk in a cocktail,” says the 37-year-old.

The industry expert has spent the last 20 years educating and informing bartenders, owners and producers on not only the difference between quality of ingredients across spirits, but now the science, history and how rum is made.

It has led to the pioneering Hayes launching DropWorks, hailed as Europe’s biggest rum distillery, in Nottinghamshire. With £1.8m investment, it has rented space to set up on the Welbeck Estate, which has a rich tapestry of history and is now helping local artisan businesses thrive on the edge of Sherwood Forest.

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DropWorks Distillery produces its rum within a 17,000 sq ft space, while it can also store ageing casks in a three-mile underground tunnel beneath the estate grounds, part of a labyrinth built by the 5th Duke of Portland in the late 1800s.

“We are going to shine a light on being a positive example for quality production,” Hayes says of his rum operation. “We want to be transparent and make it on a scale that people can afford to get engaged with. We are going to make the highest quality liquid we can.”

Lewis Hayes is pioneering rum production from Worksop. Photo: DropWorks
Lewis Hayes is pioneering rum production from Worksop. Photo: DropWorks

DropWorks will also have an open door policy. Head bartenders will be invited to blend their own products — the business using the distillery as a type of co-operative — and can change their cut points to form their own drinks or cocktails. It is also partnering with Heriot-Watt University to take on apprentices from their world-renowned brewing and distilling course, who can research rum with their small scale stills.

“There’s something rolling and there is momentum here like Britpop," adds Hayes. "It just so happens that us building DropWorks has coincided with a bit of a movement for British rum at the same time."

The company launched in May, opened its distillery in July, was three years in the making and, adds Hayes, around 10 years in planning.

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“Rum has always been my passion and is the most exciting spirit,” he says over lunch at Welbeck’s excellent Harley Cafe. “I’ve always known that it is the most diverse spirit category there is.

“There are lots of variables with rum. And what the consumer isn’t told is that the drink isn’t about pirates and sea monsters. It’s not even about a tropical environment anymore.

“You have to grow sugarcane in an environment which thrives, of course, but that’s the history. But we are making it nowhere near the sea from a stable raw material that you can ship anywhere in the world.”

DropWorks has a team of master distillers at is Nottinghamshire base. Photo: DropWorks
DropWorks has a team of master distillers at is Nottinghamshire base. Photo: DropWorks (Amy Anderson)

Hayes still owns several cocktail bars in London, with one stocking 800 sipping rums (without flavoured products). In 2017 there was only one distillery in the UK fermenting molasses, while this year that number is approaching 30. It is little wonder that Hayes believes a rum revolution is already brewing.

“The reason gin is in such a state is over saturation in a limited market space,” admits Hayes. “There is confusion and dilution of their own rules that they refuse to accept themselves.”

Meanwhile the rum sector — projected to grow over 5% heading towards 2027 — is still unregulated when it comes to flavourings and spiced rums, which leaves an advocate such as Hayes in a lofty position given his stance on education and learning.

“No one has ever said to drink rum neat and enjoy it for what it is," adds Hayes. “We can stand up with the finest brandies, the best whiskeys, the most exciting tequilas the world has seen.”

DropWorks are celebrating a new genre of British rum with the launch of its first product - Clear Drop Rum.
DropWorks are celebrating a new genre of British rum with the launch of its first product - Clear Drop Rum.

Added to its production, DropWorks has also launched distillery tours, and is looking to scale with back-end website management, marketing and sales teams, as well as UK-wide rum ambassadors.

DropWorks is currently focusing on the UK market, while it can produce two million bottles of rum per year and up to 10 barrels of rum a day with its hybrid molasses (sugarcane) and double retort still, the first of its kind in England.

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Hayes says: “It puts us in a unique position to lay down stock, to afford to price our product in a way that supermarkets should be able to use it and bartenders afford to use it. As opposed to gathering dust, they can put it in their cocktails.

“We’re not out to price war with massive corporates but as soon as bartenders taste our product side by side there is a huge dilemma in their mind at that point.”

Thus, DropWorks is eager to be at the forefront of change in drinking habits. “There’s an alternative in rum [as opposed to the bigger brands] that is quality and affordable,” says Hayes. “We are going to help teach people about it and have fun along the way.”

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