Words by Dan Warden
How does a father’s dream become his sons’ legacy?
Cornwall’s growing food and drink industry has, in recent years, seen the introduction of some truly inspired products, from brands who seek to innovatively celebrate the county’s rural and coastal heritage. A fine example are the rums – and now gins – being brought to the fore by the family team at Mainbrace, but in order to understand the products, we must first consider their history.
Richard Haigh, who co-founded Mainbrace along with his father and brother, David and Alex, comes from a financial background. “I studied maths at university,” he explains, “and then went to work for my dad’s company. We’re accountants, but we also deal with brand strategy and various branding items.” This side of the family business, it seems, has been key to the development of the Mainbrace identity. The sleek simplicity of the six-pointed star that is their logo, for example, is subtly reminiscent of a symbol with deep ties to alchemy, referring to the ‘joining’ of the elements – an idea that’s core to Mainbrace’s flagship recipe. Even the design of the bottle, which incorporates an elongated neck and oversized cork at the top, is suggestive of the quaffable liquor contained within.
The dream of creating their own spirit has, Richard explains, been in the family for quite some time. “Over the years, dad has met many people with similar stories; he actually knew the person who reinvigorated Plymouth Gin, and at the time, he thought that he wanted to do something very similar. And because it’s something that my dad has wanted to do for the last 20 years, I think it sort of rubbed off on me and my younger brother. So when we were at the Ferryboat Inn in Helford Passage, discussing the idea seriously for the first time as we watched the local gig club celebrate their session with a ‘tot’ of rum, our dad’s long-held pipedream suddenly became a serious idea for a business.”
So how did they go about getting the Mainbrace brand off the ground? “I knew quite a lot about the process of how rums are made,” explains Richard, “but what I didn’t understand is how the final product comes to life. Not only do you need to have a nice liquid that people want to drink, there’s also the whole process of turning that into a saleable product. Even then, getting it to market is a burden that I hadn’t really anticipated.” He cites simple things like labelling, lead times and licensing; the extensive paperwork that needs to be filled out in order to launch not only a new product, but the brand behind it. “I’ve become more knowledgeable of the various different aspects that go into all of this now, and so the speed to market for new products is getting faster and faster. When we produced the Navy Strength Rum, for instance, we cut down the process down to about four months, compared to the eight or nine that it took to get the first iteration of the Golden Rum to market.”
Mainbrace’s Premium Golden Rum – its flagship product – is, in fact, a blend of two rums from two distilleries in the Caribbean. One is itself a blend of three rums aged between two to five years from three different stills on the banks of the Demerara river in Guyana. Made specifically with Demerara sugar, this sweet style of rum has been made in the same way since the early 1700s. But the magic, Richard reveals, happens when they are blended with Agricole – a style of rum made on the French-Caribbean island of Martinique at La Favourite Distillerie, which Richard explains has a profile closer to that of whiskey. “We knew that these two styles hadn’t been put together in a bottle before,” he explains. “By adding the Agricole, it allowed a bit of cut-through from the sweetness, which gave the rum a bit more versatility in terms of how you can drink it.”
Now for a bit of history. You may well be familiar with the phrase ‘splicing the mainbrace’ – an old nautical term from a time when sail-power controlled the seas. It refers to sailors who, having successfully achieved the herculean task of mending the mainbrace rope in the heat of a battle by splicing it together, would be rewarded with an extra ‘tot’ of rum. Fast-forward to the inception of Mainbrace Rum by the Haigh family, and you have a name that not only reflects these traditions in the form of their luxe golden rum, but that literally celebrates the ‘joining’ element of the phrase’s origin. Blending two different styles of rum to make one perfect sip, Richard explains: “We were splicing two rums and then bottling them, a bit like splicing the mainbrace. That’s how we came up with the name.”
With two well-established rums well and truly earning their keep, what’s next? “What dad originally wanted to do was create a gin. Back when I was just leaving school all those years ago, he was telling me every day, ‘We’ve got to do a gin’, but I was too young. We just didn’t have the time or resources to really do it. Even when it came to it this time around, we all agreed that because there was something like 800 new gins going on the market in England alone per year, it wasn’t the best time to launch our own. But he really had his heart set on it,” says Richard, who also reflects that it does, like rum, tie very nicely with Navy tradition. In fact, he explains that when the daily rations were handed out, sailors would be offered rum or gin. “You could choose which you wanted, and if we were going to build our brand as ‘Mainbrace’, it was only fitting that we offer both as well.”
Now hitting the shelves and, surely, due to receive its own share of international awards, Mainbrace’s Cornish Dry Gin draws on the brand’s coastal heritage. The recipe includes three different types of seaweed, whose faint, umami salinity complements the zesty lemons and limes that are also used. “We wanted to instil some of the elements – the thoughts and tastes – that you might get from being in and around the sea,” says Richard. In fact, the coast and the marine environment are at the core of the Mainbrace ethos, and I learn that the business, this year, is proud to be partnering with Clean Ocean Sailing – a local charity that sails to remote and inaccessible places to remove plastic from the shoreline.
The communities that reside on the water’s edge, too, are fundamental to the brand, and Richard reveals that his father is actually a member of the local gig club. “This is the other side of the business – the embodiment of courage, teamwork and friendship. It’s part of the reason why we launched in the first place. As we sat watching the gig club celebrating and enjoying their ration of rum, we thought it was such a lovely moment and a really fantastic feeling. By combining, or splicing, these things together,” he finishes, “we feel that Mainbrace is for everyone who likes to be on or near the sea. It embodies all of those characteristics and keeps them alive, protecting them for the next generation to enjoy.”
50ml Mainbrace Navy Strength Rum
5ml Caramel Syrup
Garnish with an orange twist
50ml Mainbrace Gin
50ml Lime syrup
Slice of lime
50ml Mainbrace Gin
25ml Lilet or Vermouth
50ml Mainbrace Premium Golden Rum
25ml Fresh orange juice