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A drink with… Steve McGarry, Sydney Rum Distillery

The CEO of Sydney Rum Distillery tells us about the distillery’s plans to project Australian rum globally, and to grow the company through acquisitions.

Steve McGarry, CEO of Sydney Rum Distillery

How would you describe the rum scene in Australia?

It’s very dynamic and moving very fast. In Australia we have a two-year age statement rule for rum, and that is becoming more of a restraint on the industry, particularly in that initial start-up phase. But there is a lot of creativity and innovation happening – there are a lot of world-class producers here.

Is there a particular style of Australian rum you’re seeing emerge?

We’ve got fantastic cane-juice-style rums, and molasses. Traditionally, we’ve got over 150 years of rum production history, back to the 1860s. I used to be the distiller for Bickford’s Group, managing Beenleigh Rum and 23rd Street Distillery. They had a similar production process, which was column first, then pot distillation. There are very few column stills on a smaller scale, but it’s a sign there’s opportunity for producers to innovate in several ways.

What attracted you to Sydney Rum Distillery?

I see the opportunity to take Australian rum global. The primary reason to join Sydney Rum Distillery was that 80%-85% of our production volume and focus will be on exports. We’re looking globally, and it’s exciting for me to see what we can do for Australian rum in Europe, the UK, North America and Asia.

Describe Sydney Rum Distillery.

We use the phrase ‘craft with scale’. From a volume projection of what we will produce, looking globally we plan to be in the top 25 global rums by volume. But we’re also very cognisant that quality comes first, and then we take Australian rum global.

What will your portfolio look like?

We are developing our first brand to be released not with an Australian focus, but with a broader South Pacific, Asia Pacific focus. It could be from Fiji, it could be from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia or Australia. We’re developing this as a blended product to showcase us as a non-traditional rum-producing region. Our second brand is 100% Australian.

What does your maturation programme look like?

The core focus will be exploration, and showcasing the Australian provenance of wine and fortified wine. So potentially, again, looking wider than just Australia, possibly bringing in New Zealand’s Pinot Noir, for example.

Will you make products for third parties?

We’re looking at 10%-15% of our volume being bulk exports of aged and unaged rum. With the relationships I have with bulk brokers and independent bottlers, there’s already quite some interest in going global, and with a fantastic bottling network in Europe, the UK, and the US.

What will be the production capacity at Sydney Rum Distillery?

We will be able to make 1.2 million litres of alcohol per year, and we will also have our maturation facilities in house.

Sydney Rum Distillery acquired Cargo Cult last year. How does the brand fit your planned portfolio?

It’s a very exciting brand in the Australian landscape of rum. The founder, Johnny Croft, has joined Sydney Rum as chief marketing officer. His background is with Brown-Forman in the Australia and Asia Pacific region.

He is already exporting to the UK, with distribution through Amber Beverage Group, and also in the Czech Republic. And the products are just great.

We are focused on organic growth and acquisition growth. We expect the distillery to be fully operational by early 2024.

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