Matugga Distillers: Scottish rum with an African Soul

Rum distillery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Scotland, and that’s a big part of why husband and wife team, Paul and Jacine Rutasikwa established their Livingston based distillery, Matugga Rum in 2018. The company produces a multi award winning range of distinctive, artisan rums from scratch using 100% copper pot distillation. Matugga’s products are distributed across the UK and EU from its family owned distillery in Livingston, Scotland. “This is a unique undertaking for the UK, as currently most companies involved in the rum business usually import it from the Caribbean or South America”, explains Jacine Rutasikwa.

“We have chosen the very hard undertaking of making it from scratch in a much colder climate and all the challenges that that brings”, says Jacine Rutasikwa

The company’s portfolio of rums is a clever fusion of the founders’ heritage – Paul was born in Uganda and Jacine has proud Jamaican roots. To date, Matugga distillers produce a range of rum styles, such as white rum, spiced rum and cask aged golden dark rum. These are all sold directly to the public via their online store. The couple also hold rum tastings, and tours of their distillery in Livingston, where you can enjoy some of their produce while learning about the rum making process.

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How did it start?

The idea for Matugga rum took seed in 2014, when the couple were due to spend Christmas with Paul’s family in Uganda. They had just had their first child and Jacine, who worked in corporate marketing was looking for ways to achieve a better work -life balance. “I wanted to spend more time with my daughter when she was still young” she recalls. “I felt bad going back to work when she was nine months old and putting her into nursery”. The couple spent 3 months in Uganda and “by the end of the three months we decided to start a business”, says Jacine.

That business was making rum. “I married into a beautiful Ugandan family and spent a lot of time in Uganda where I had seen lots of sugar cane”.”I was asking for rum and I was never able to get any. I found this very confusing and it got us thinking”. ’Why is there no rum coming out of Uganda, when there is sugar cane here?’ she says. “When we started doing our research, we couldn’t see any spirits that were linked to Africa on the world stage, and certainly not in the rum category. There was also a lack of representation in terms of black owners.  It became our mission to showcase Africa in the world of fine spirits but at the same time, we also filled a number of voids.”

“We had the idea to launch Matugga not having any experience in the sector”

Together the couple began to learn more about rum, while pondering how to make their own East African variety. “We had the idea to launch Matugga not having any experience in the sector” says Jacine, “We saw a gap in the market and went for it”. The rum represents an interesting duality between the UK and Africa, which no other brand was doing at the time. “The one thing that is spiced across East Africa is tea,” says Paul. “It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll find masala chai in all homes and restaurants around East Africa”, he added. “We therefore selected five spices from this – ginger, cloves, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon – plus the tea to go into our Matugga Spiced rum.” The couple also had the innovative idea for Matugga Golden rum. A smokey rum, which combines the flavours of whisky and rum, appealing to fans of both spirits.

“Our business went from selling mostly over weekends to an exporting business in less than 6 months”

They launched in August 2015, producing their flagship Matugga Golden and Spiced rums through a contracted distillery in London. “I was in charge of the tasting side of things and Jacine led the brand and design development” Paul reflected, “Between us we managed to put out a really good product which we launched not knowing how it would be received”. Matugga rum was showcased six months later at the London rum festival, where its bold and distinctive taste lead to the couple securing their first export contract with a French distributor. This early success gave Jacine and Paul the validation to consider running this business full time and on a bigger scale.

“Our business went from selling mostly over weekends to an exporting business in less than 6 months. It was at that point that we realised that we had something serious that needed our full devotion” Paul explained.

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Matugga rum

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Moving to Scotland:

“Paul being the engineer, I kept telling him that he’d make a great head distiller”, says Jacine. Already a self-confessed ‘sprits geek’, Paul was able to hold his own when discussing rum production and flavours with rum authorities but felt he needed a formal education to solidify his knowledge. “When we looked around at where I could get that education, it was only Scotland”, says Paul. They moved their family to Scotland, where Paul began to study for an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

“We didn’t know anyone and the only certainty we had was Paul’s place at university and the vision of what we wanted to create” explains Jacine. “Moving to Scotland was a huge change and dislocation between us and our big close nit families, but we could see that we could bring this vision to life in Scotland”.

visit matuggarum.com

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Matugga rum distillery:

Following Paul’s completion of his degree, the couple secured a facility in Livingston where they started production of Matugga rum in 2018, making it the first rum distillery in central Scotland. This was no mean feat, given the challenge of running a distillery and the lengthy process of obtaining all the required licenses. With Paul taking the reigns as master distiller and Jacine managing the marketing and branding of the products, this formidable team managed to persevere in order to achieve their dream.

One of the other challenges that they have faced over time, is having to change the reputation of rum from a commodity drink to something that can be as complex and classy as cognac or wine. The company achieves this with their inventive flavours. Recently they have introduced a new brand called ‘Liv’, a white rum who’s name means ‘life and living’ in the Nordic languages. “It’s very much our Scotland forward brand and highlights the natural produce of Scotland”, explained Jacine. It’s clear to see that Matugga is helping to create an identity around Scottish rum, therefore bringing leadership to the rum category in Scotland.

The ongoing situation with the global pandemic presents a new and challenging trading landscape for Matugga rum. At the beginning of the pandemic the company pivoted to making hand sanitizer to support the Scottish health Services. However, with the business environment continuing to change for Jacine and Paul, this has meant adapting to the situation by providing more digital experiences and focusing on the ecommerce side of the business. “In Scotland we are part of a network of distillers, which has been really helpful as we have learnt to adapt and bounce back as a community”, says Jacine.

Not ones to be defeated, the couple plans to continue pushing boundaries and innovating. They plan to strengthen the brand’s ties to East Africa over the next 3 years, by growing their own sugar cane in Uganda. This will be turned into molasses, which will then be transported to Scotland and used in the production of Matugga rum. Paul explained that “this will link Matugga and Liv to ‘Teebwa’, which means soil and climate of Uganda”

Visit matuggarum.com

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