#rumfamily : Cleo Farman

Next up in the #rumfamily series is an interview with Cleo Farman, managing director of Diablesse Rum. We met Cleo at the Manchester Rum festival last year. Cleo is down to earth, very passionate about her rum and the brand and is clearly using quality rums in the blend. Everytime we meet we are swept up in the Diablesse whirlwind!

Please start by telling us a little bit about you and how you came to launch a Rum brand.
I was lucky enough to work in the Caribbean during the 90’s and that’s when I fell in love with the place and the rum (after the best daiquiris ever!)    I then went on to open a small group of bars in Manchester, UK, and was fortunate enough to work with some very knowledgeable and skilled individuals which fueled my interest.  I learnt a great deal about the category and was able to try out many of the rums that we had on the back bar (and order lots more) and learn where they were from and what made them different.

Having owned bars for 14 years I needed a change so I took the decision to plunge head first into launching my own rum brand.   I tapped the brains of some great industry experts, trying different rums and learning the do’s (and much more importantly the don’ts!) of rum production.   I then set about doing my own blend, trying different samples of rum from all over the world and blending them together on my kitchen table to see how they tasted – this was done with the help of Main Rum in Liverpool and their help was invaluable.  

This took a year of trial and error – sending it out to bars, restaurants, chefs and trade shows to get people’s objective opinion at every step.   I did this with both the blend and the clementine spiced rum as it was important to launch a brand that wasn’t based purely on my own taste & opinions.   It was frustrating at times as just when I thought I’d got it right, my market research would show differently!   Eventually I ended up with the two rums I’ve launched now and they seem to be going down pretty well!   The whole journey so far has been the most amazing, scary, frustrating and rewarding thing I’ve ever done – I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt and all the brilliant people I’ve met along the way.    It’s true what they say about the ‘rum family’ it is truly a very supportive friendly one! 

About the brand

I always wanted to do a Caribbean rum brand as personally I believe it to be the birth place of rum,  the distilleries there have so much history and heritage and I wanted a brand that had that had good provenance and authenticity.   I chose to do two very different expressions:  firstly the golden blend which combines an 8 year old Bajan pot & column still rum from Foursquare Distillery,  a 4 year old Jamaican 100% pot still rum from Worthy Park and a 3 year old demerara rum from the Enmore Coffey still at the Diamond Distillery in Guyana.    All these are excellent rums the latter being made in a wooden column still the only one of its kind still in operation in the world today!    The blend has no added sugar, caramel or colouration and is aged in ex-Bourbon charred oak whisky casks giving it a delicious, well-balanced, smoky, dry finish with a touch of natural sweetness.   The rums in the blend are so fantastic I wanted them to speak for themselves without the need for any additives.

The second belongs to the spiced/flavoured rum category and is my clementine spiced rum.   It’s zesty, bright and is the only clementine rum in the world!   The base rum is 100% single origin demerara rum from Guyana and is flavoured naturally with clementine, pimento, cinnamon, vanilla pod, star anise and ginger.  There are no synthetic additives or chemicals in the blend.   Both rums are bottled at 40%. 

I couldn’t believe it when I found the name ‘Diablesse’ as it fits the brand so perfectly.   It took a very long time to get a name that reflected not only the authenticity and provenance of the rum but the fact that this a female owned rum brand that aims to be more female inclusive than some others.   Very often rum branding can be quite masculine & bullish sometimes depicting gods of the sea, pirates or sea captains so I wanted to find something more female orientated and this approach has also carried  through to the serves we’ve created for it and the overall feel of the brand.   Diablesse is a powerful female figurehead that exists in Caribbean legend & folklore and represents female empowerment.  Said to be incredibly beautiful she was a demon due to her dealings with the devil and this gave her a cloven hoof.     Legend has it that she roamed the Caribbean by moonlight seducing men into the forest never to be seen again.  Perfect!

I also wanted to be innovative with the brand – the serves that we feature on the website are unique and really quite different, challenging the ways some may typically perceive how you can drink rum.   To do this I work closely with an award-winning bar tender who comes up with some truly outstanding concoctions!

How has the Covid 19 Pandemic impacted on me and the Diablesse brand

At first it was awful, sales slowed right down and I was very concerned indeed.   My main focus had been on getting the brand into the on-trade and growing it that way,  so Covid 19 has forced me to think completely differently and change my strategy both short-term and long term.    The immediate and obvious low cost way to drive sales has been to embrace social media.    I decided to try and connect directly with the people who would be buying my rum and also to connect with those that hadn’t yet tried it, so I decided to do live cocktail sessions on Facebook that people can do easily at home during lockdown and this has worked really well.   I’ve never felt so out of my comfort zone ever!   But I forced myself to get on with it and so this is now a weekly thing on Diablesse Facebook every Friday and it seems to be working!     I don’t take myself too seriously and connect with all those that tune in by answering questions live,  providing facts about the rums and the cocktails I’m making and also giving away prizes every week.     I’ve actually grown to really like it now and it’s good to see everyone! 

Online rum tastings have also been an excellent way to connect to new audiences, I recently took part in the first ever European online rum tasting which was great fun!

I have invested in some PR to get the brand out there with some spring serves to do at home AND it recently featured on Sunday Brunch!  A very proud moment.   

What is the best thing about having your own rum brand?

Apart from the fact that I love rum where do I start?   Firstly I can’t believe it!   I have to pinch myself sometimes – it’s fantastic after all the hard work that I’ve put in and the immense learning curve I’ve been on that it’s doing well and that people really seem to like it.   I love that people love the branding and I love it even more that they love the rum itself.    It’s great to be on a continuous learning journey, discovering more and more about different rums and it’s fantastic to meet so many interesting people in the rum family.    I can’t wait to get stuck into my next expression! 

What is the worst?

When you get side swiped by something completely unexpected like Covid 19!   Plus I could always do with extra funding – I’m so impatient!

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the start of my journey?

EVERYTHING!   Seriously I can’t tell you how steep my learning curve has been and if I’d known even half of what I know now it would have been a lot easier!   But then it wouldn’t be so rewarding if that was the case would it?   Apart from that you find out what you need to find out at each stage, I’m quite glad otherwise it would have been pretty overwhelming,  I always research every step carefully so I’m happy with finding out what I need to know when I need to know it.

What is the best way to enjoy Diablesse?

I love it neat over ice – especially the Caribbean blend, but it has to be in a Daiquiri,  both are great depending on your taste but my preference is the Caribbean blend – it’s amazing in a Daiquiri!    I also love making Sours with the Caribbean Blend and a chocolate orange Negroni with the Clementine Spiced Rum is amazing!    Plus if you put them both together they make the best Old Fashioned.    Apart from that I am always looking to develop more innovative unique serves, trying new ingredients and using the rums in different ways – the serves on the Diablesse website are pretty innovative and amazing (if I do say so myself).

Do you have any plans to expand the range?

Absolutely but if I told you I’d have to kill you!   I have lots of plans but these are based on the financial viability of how and when you produce what, and the audience for that expression and subsequent return, my ultimate goal is to get into cask strength, small batch aged rums with different finishes – very exciting but also rather expensive!  And maybe even one day my own distillery … but that won’t be this week.