A day in the life of Australia's youngest rum distillers

Natasha Christian

Imagine working hard to create something, only to be forced to wait five or more years to see if it was actually worthwhile.

It’s a feeling Ryan Passmore and Blaire Newland have had to get used to.

The incredibly patient pair are Australia’s youngest rum distillers, behind West Australian brand Canefire.

Ryan, 32 and Blaire, 29 teamed up a few years ago – determined to break the mould that considered rum a craft for only well off retirees and established brands.

For Ryan, the rum business ran in the family – he took over the reigns from his father four years ago.

“I’ve been working in the industry since I was legally allowed to. When my parents opened up this place ten years ago they needed someone to open up the bar,” he said.

It's a waiting game for a rum distiller, many of these barrels won't be ready for at least 5 years. Photo: Supplied

“I was never locked into thinking I would be a distiller for the rest of my life… It’s where the dial landed”.

“Four years ago I took over full time and Blaire came a year or two after – it was a bit of a mess,” he said.

In the beginning, as an 18-year-old behind the bar, he said he found it difficult to convince veteran rum drinkers to try something new.

“We were the pioneers of boutique liquor. I wasn’t taken seriously when we first started,” he said.

But age isn’t the only hurdle both Ryan and Blaire have had to face.

They’ve also found it difficult to break the public’s perception of rum.

“There’s a lot of social stigma, it has a bit of a reputation for being ‘fight juice’ and ‘a blokes drink, a lot of that stems from one demographic and one product,” Ryan said.

Ryan and Blaire can be found at The Great Northern Distillery in WA. Photo: Natasha Christian

Compared to other rums targeted at partygoers, Canefire is considered more of a drink for ‘relaxers’ – it’s not made with molasses and has less sugar than other brands. It also doesn’t have the sickly smell that can be off putting to some.

“If you see someone drinking in a chair and relaxing they’re probably drinking our rum,” Ryan said.

Despite this Canefire remains a rare find in Western Australia, yet to crack the Australian liquor market.

It’s found at the Great Northern Distillery in the Swan Valley, just outside of Perth, and can be bought in a few local pubs.

“Australia’s idea of rum is limited. Bundy rum has shaped the mentality of what rum is, but when you look on a global scale it’s far more diverse,” Blaire said.

“We want to challenge Australia’s perception of rum.

“It’s an exciting time for us as Australia doesn’t have a huge boutique distilling industry so we’re at the forefront at the moment".

Unlike a pub, the distillery has unusual conditions attached to their liquor license.

“Our license is a producer’s license, when it was issued by the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor they put conditions on it which allowed us to pour three drinks per person, per day, no more than 15ml and we cannot mix the drinks,” Ryan said.

“It was bizarre, we got it the day before it opened”.

But instead of causing a fuss, the pair decided to embrace the strict regulations.

“I never wanted to run a tavern, we’re a rum company not a hospitality operation,” Ryan said.

For tourists, the distillery is either the first or last stop for those exploring Swan Valley wine country.

“Our drawcard is our proximity to the city (Perth). There’s a shuttle that picks people up and takes them wherever they want,” Ryan said.

The distillery also lived next door to a chocolate factory; something Blaire felt was the perfect pairing with a nice glass of rum.

“I tend to go with spiced nuts or chocolate covered pretzels, the sweet and salty taste goes really well with the rum,” he said.

Ryan and Blaire aim to change the public's idea of rum. Photo: Supplied

But what the tourists don’t usually see is the amount of work that actually goes into running a rum outfit.

“A lot of people have this ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory image in their head,” Ryan said.

“I try not to dispel it too much, but the truth is there’s a lot of cleaning and a lot of waiting… it’s a 12 hour process.

“You also don’t get to see the fruits of your labor for years to come.”

The walls of the distillery are currently lined with about 150 rum barrels, all containing different types.

But not all will make it to the public tasting plate.

Out the front of the distillery in Swan Valley, WA. Photo: Supplied

“We produce a lot but not a lot actually go to sale, it’s a case of ‘wait and see’,” Ryan said.

The constant need for patience is something that would take its toll on most business owners, but for Blaire and Ryan its just part of the rum life.

If all goes to plan, that patience will lead to their rum becoming a household name one day.

For more info on Canefire and The Great Northern Distillery visit canefire.net.