21 Mar 2019
How rum is made at Mhoba
Robert Greaves © Sven Musica/Phonix Capture

In an exciting first for South African artisanal rumMhoba is on the verge of being exported worldwide. We chatted to Robert Greaves, master distiller, to find out how he makes his exceptional rum, and why it’s worthy of shipping abroad.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty – and to give you an idea about all that goes into producing Mhoba Rum – it’s worth noting that all 10 expressions are both estate and agricultural rums. The first term means everything – from growing the sugarcane to bottling the rum – is done on the farm, while the second term means the rum is made from sugarcane juice, as opposed to molasses. All except one are also pure single rums, meaning they’re 100% pot stilled (on a single estate).

Step 1: Growing and harvesting the sugarcane

Greaves grows his own unique sugarcane varietal on his farm (soon to be accredited as the first fully organic sugarcane in SA.) Once it’s ready for harvest, he and his team cut and detrash the cane by hand, removing the tops and leaves, before shedding it in a manually operated machine. 

Step 2: Pressing the sugarcane

Greaves presses the shredded sugarcane in a hydraulic press of his own distinctive design, capable of producing 1000–4000 litres of pure juice daily. The bagasse (leftover pulp) is either made into organic fertiliser for the cane fields or burnt to generate heat for the stills.

Step 3: Fermenting the sugarcane juice

The freshly squeezed juice is now added to a fermentation tank, and a local yeast is added. Assisted by the warm, ambient temperature of the local climate, fermentation takes 1–3 weeks, depending on the rum style.

Step 4: Distilling the wash

The fermented liquid – called a wash – is now moved to two identical stainless-steel-and-copper pot stills, also made by Greaves. The primary distillation in these stills produces robust, flavourful rums with a lower alcohol content. Secondary distillation in a third, smaller pot still makes lighter, easier drinking rums. It takes about a day to produce concentrated rum batches of around 100 litres.

Step 5: Blending and aging the rum

At this point the rum concentrate is a clear, ‘new-make’ spirit. Greaves checks it for taste and aroma to decide if it’s destined for aging or not and which of his 10 expressions it’s best suited for. From here, the process for each rum is slightly different. Some rums go straight to bottling, some are blended first and some are casked (blended or not) and left to age in the maturation cellar.

Step 6: Bottling and boxing the rum

Bottling is as manual as the rest of the rum-making process. The rums are funnelled into bottles, and then labelled – again, Greaves designed most of the labels himself, and they’re all printed and engraved on site. Finally, the rums are packaged into individual boxes (also cut and engraved on site) and assembled to make the final boxes.

Watch the full process below.

Mhoba Rum is available nationwide.

This post first appeared on Food24 on 21 March 2019.

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