Sugar Baron Craft Distillery makes such good rums, we had to find out more about the secret to their success.


We recently interviewed the Sugar Baron Craft Distillery to get some insight into this wonderful company:

Please tell us your names, a bit about yourselves, and your role in the company.

Brad O’Neill – Director & Head distiller at Sugar Baron. Brad is first and foremost a sugarcane farmer, spending his days tending to his soil and award-winning sugarcane crop. He is also the head distiller at Sugar Baron. After working in the wine industry in CT for several years, Brad made the decision to come back to the family farm in 2010 to try his hand at sugarcane farming after the untimely death of his Father, Roger O’Neill.

Marisa O’Neill – Director, assistant distiller & product developer, also heads up sales, marketing & finance for Sugar Baron. Marisa hails from the Cape, where she met Brad while studying at Stellenbosch University. Marisa has worked in various fields, but most notably in the hospitality sector. In 2007, she joined Emirates as cabin crew, based in Dubai. She travelled the world for three short but memorable years before hanging up her wings and joining Brad on his family farm in KZN, where they now farm sugarcane & run the distillery together.

Brad & Marisa got married in 2003 & have three children.

Husband and wife team, Marisa and Brad O'Neill

Please tell us when your company was founded and some of its history?

Before we even moved back to the farm, we often used to wonder about the possibilities of making rum from sugarcane. It was however only during a trip to Mauritius in 2014 that we realised that this could be a viable option for us. We focused on farming & expanding our family over the next few years, and it was only in 2017 that we seriously started researching the possibility of starting our own distillery and making rum from the sugarcane that we grow on the farm. We established Sugar Baron in early 2018, bought our first 100L stainless steel column still for product development, and started experimenting. After a long and drawn-out wait for our micro-manufacturing and other relevant licences, we finally launched Sugar Baron Single Estate Craft White Rum in November 2019.

The rum revolution has been predicted for many years. Do you think it is finally here, and tell us why?

We think Rum is definitely on its way up. There is still a lot of work to be done around educating the public on the various styles of Rum and what good rums really are and can be. Here is SA especially, we have only ever really been exposed to the substandard, mass-produced adulterated spirits masquerading as Rum. Once you’ve tasted a well-made, good quality rum or two, there is no going back to the cheap and nasties! Also, very few people know how many variations of rum there are – white rum, gold rum, dark rum, aged rum, spiced rum, botanical rum – rums made from sugar, molasses (aka rum industrial), fresh sugarcane (aka rum Agricole) – the options and possibilities are endless, and no two rums are created equal!

What makes your rum products unique?

What makes our products unique is the fact that we make our Rum from the best quality sugarcane grown & harvested on our farm. Freshly harvested, unburnt sugarcane is delivered to our distillery, crushed and fermented. Once the ferment is ready, we transfer it to a 800L stainless steel strip still for the initial distillation. The distillate from this distillation is then transferred to our 200L copper & stainless steel hybrid pot/column still for second distillation – here we do our cuts, separating heads, hearts & tails, and fine tune our product organoleptically by tasting, touching and smelling the distillate constantly as we go. The utmost care is taken to capture only the very best parts of the distillation to make our Rum!

Are all your rums fermented and distilled the same way?

Through experimentation, we have developed certain parameters wherein we ferment and distill our rum, so yes, it’s become pretty consistent.

What is your philosophy regarding the making of rum?

For an Agricole rum, the use of single varietal, mature, clean, fresh, unburnt sugarcane grown in fertile soil is essential.
You cannot distill a good rum from a bad ferment. The quality of a fermentation is key.

What are the different rums you have currently, and the differences between them?

Currently, we have two Rum products:
Sugar Baron single estate white Rum – a white rum made in the Agricole style, from freshly pressed sugarcane juice. We rest the rum in glass demijohns before bottling. Bold & punchy tropical flavour profile – the freshly cut sugarcane hits you on the nose as you settle into the floral, vegetal & tropical flavours on the palate. Perfect for sipping, over ice, or in a variety of classic rum cocktails.

Sugar Baron single estate barrel-aged Rum – this is a special selection of our rum, aged in a combination of French & American Oak barrels for at least two years in a subtropical climate. Hints of vanilla, toasted brioche, straw, honey & nuts on the nose, with a subtle citrus component and the Agricole characteristics still present. Dry in style, this is a rum full of complexity with a smooth, warm & lingering finish.

Where are your products available?

Online from our website at www.sugarbaron.co.za, and at selected on-and-off-con establishments in KZN, mainly. We are still in the process of establishing a distribution network that will eventually service the whole country.

Do you perhaps have some innovations in the pipeline?

We are always working on developing new products! We recently also launched a confectionery line consisting of Rum fudge, rum fudge sauce & vanilla extract made by steeping Ugandan vanilla pods in Sugar Baron single estate rum.

A more personal question, recall the most interesting rum you ever had, the occasion, and the memory.

When we were in Mauritius in 2014, we visited the Chamarel Rum distillery. There we got to experience Rum Agricole for the first time – we were blown away by how different it was to the more popular and pervasive molasses based rums. Light, floral, elegant and very enjoyable – we were hooked, and knew we had to pursue our own dreams of producing world-class Agricole Rums in South Africa!

Contacts: Marisa and Brad O’Neill

Email address: admin@sugarbaron.co.za

Contact number: (+27) 82 688 7581

Website address: https://www.sugarbaron.co.za/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SugarBaronCraftDistillery-426268171307867/

Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/sugarbaroncraftdistillery/