I must admit I’d not heard of this distillery prior to the excellent Scottish Rum Festival that occurred a week or so ago. Scottish rum seems to be very much a rapidly expanding industry and my eyes were opened to several products that I’d like to try, including Ninefold and Matugga. After hearing about this aged chestnut cask bottle though I decided to start here, with Fading Light from J. Gow.
The distillery is owned by VS Distillers and is based in Orkney, 10 miles to the north of Scotland, an archipelago of 20 inhabited islands and 70 uninhabited with a total population of around 22,000, half of whom live in the capital – Kirkwall. Although connected to Mainland Orkney by a causeway, the distillery itself is on the uninhabited island of Lamb Holm, a mere 0.15 miles in diameter!
Those dialling into the Festival were lucky enough to hear from the owner and founder, Collin van Schayk and get a glance of the distillery itself. Collin is not naive to the drinks industry; his parents are the founders of the 20 year old Orkney Wine Company, also located on Lamb Holm, on the same site. When his old man tried to convince him to join the business, Collin (in his own words) instead said he, “…stole half the building, put a still in it and started making J. Gow rum!”
He started distilling in 2016 following some input from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who helped raise funds for the equipment and marketing costs. Barrels were filled in April 2017 and the first release, J. Gow Spiced Rum came out in October 2017.
The distillery uses a 2,000 litre hybrid pot still (an iStill from the looks of the video) with the initial distillate coming off at around 65% for the pot distillate, 93% for the column. Currently there’s a 7 day fermentation period (presumably due to the much cooler temperatures) and they use a lot of the backset in repeat distillations to try to minimise waste and promote higher ester runs – there are several marques produced with plans for a portfolio of releases in the future, so exciting times.
At this point in time they’ve got 2 rum offerings on their website and a rum and raisin tablet which comes highly recommended (although I only found this out after I’d already ordered my bottle of Fading Light!)
Oh yes – Fading Light. Knew I’d gotten off track. Sorry.
Fading Light has a specific meaning in Orkney – “the glow of the sun that never truly sets in the summer, or the dying light of short winter days. Known locally as the grimleens, the eerie dusk in Orkney has inspired many tales of ghosts and spirits.”
And whilst we’re talking about name choices, J. Gow was named after a pirate born in the 1600’s who came to an untimely end after running aground nearby, being tried and then twice hanged. The reason for the bottle label starts becoming clearer now….
This is an aged rum, first released in 2018 and casked in chestnut for between 1-2 years, before being blended. An unusual choice, the only other chestnut cask I can find is for an entirely different spirit – Teeling’s Irish Whiskey. The reasoning behind this barrel choice was to promote increased interaction between the spirit and the wood; chestnut is more porous than the commonly used American oak – as an rough guide, the normal Angel’s Share in Scotland is 2%, in Orkney it’s 1% – with this rum it’s now between 9-11%. A not insignificant difference.
On to the rum!
Presentation – A clear bottle, cork stopper and a beautiful label design of a skeletal hand gripping a candlelit lantern with the distillery name embossed in the same gold that outlines the lantern and the light shining from it.
Nose – Nail varnish, pear drops, butterscotch, rotten banana and Cornish ice cream. In short, a decent gathering of aromas typical of a pot still product. No real wood influence, or rather the wood is very subtle, enhancing the smell instead of beating it into submission. I had a look at Wes Burgin’s review at TheFatRumPirate and he mentions a fermented yeasty note which I have to agree with – to me it’s a bit like the smell of brioche proving in a warm kitchen, if that’s not overly labouring the description.
Palate – As sweet as I’d hoped it to be, some pears with creamy vanilla aftertaste, milk chocolate and ripe banana.
Finish – Medium length, very slight heat and a bit of bitterness.
Scores on the door:
Value for money: 5/5
Notes: Scottish rum has DEFINITELY caught my attention. If this is the standard of product coming from north of Hadrian’s Wall, I’m bloody excited. Considering this is virtually a newborn in the world of rum, it’s a great product and one I’d recommend trying. I’ve yet to try it in a cocktail, but I’ll be following some of the recommendations on the distillery website – the Sunset Manhattan in particular looks like a winner.
How the rating system works:
It’s entirely arbitrary but I’ve weighted it towards the things that matter most to me when looking to buy a new bottle. Hence, the greater emphasis on taste say, compared with presentation.