When life gives you sugar cane, make rum
10:10 (GMT+2), Fri , 09 September 2016
Wilson Mathebula, Richard Rammutla (distiller), (back) Leslie Groves (sales and marketing manager), Cherease Smit (promotions), Yolandé Wessels (admin), Felicia Mhlongo (labelling) and Robert Greaves (owner).

A rum aficianado’s hobby of experimenting with sugar cane and wood slowly blossomed into the hugely popular Onderberg-based Mhoba Rum. The small factory is situated between Malalane and the Nkomazi Toll Plaza on the Chamotte Holdings premises and run by a group of passionate employees.

Robert Greaves, who is in the mining trade by day, was on holiday in Mauritius when the idea struck to use the local sugar cane to make rum. Greaves found that rum was made wherever cane is grown overseas and started wondering whether it could work in the Onderberg as well. “I have an entrepreneurial mind and am always thinking of business ideas. So I started doing research on rum and its production, and it took off from there,” Greaves said.

Thanks to the resources he had available due to the family’s established mining company, he was able to make his own equipment and started experimenting on the mine’s premises. Mhoba Rum is only made in small batches, as this produces cleaner alcohol and results in a high quality product.

The process starts with cane sugar being crushed and the syrup extracted, using a custom-built machine.
From there it is sent to the fermentation tanks where yeast is added. The room is kept warm at all times to allow the water, sugar and yeast to interact. All the tanks are fitted with airlocks to ensure no air gets in to render the process useless. At this point the mixture contains about eight to 10 per cent alcohol.

It then flows to the stripping still for the first of two distilling stages. Here the alcohol content raises to around 80 per cent as the impurities separate and are removed. Three batches are then combined and put in the final still, where the alcohol content raises to around 94 per cent. Pure white rum is then poured into glass casks, where it is aged.

Although the aging is traditionally done in wood barrels to create the spirit’s distinctive taste, Greaves has found that using their casks gives them consistently excellent batches. They import American White Oak, which is chipped and then toasted at the factory before it is added to the casks.  

Once the rum has been aged, it is diluted to 43 per cent alcohol using reverse osmosis in water. They have their own water filtration machine on the premises.

The rum is then bottled and capped, before being sent out to the various distributors. “If we do all the production in-house then we have better control over the consistency. The rum is also a proudly “Nkomazi-thing”, since we do almost everything here on the premises,” Greaves explained. 

The workshop staff also recently built a new cane burner that will use the waste from the cane crusher to run a brand new, bigger pot still. It’s not just South Africans and tourists that find Mhoba Rum delicious, judges at the Miami Rum Festival in the USA were also impressed with it. A South African rum import-export company took a few bottles of the rum along for an unofficial opinion and brought back some positive feedback.

“I want to make the craft affordable. We’re still teaching people what rum is and trying to build a culture of rum drinkers. We want to get the locals familiar with a proud Nkomazi product,” said Greaves. For more information on Mhoba Rum visit www.mhoba.com or contact them on  013-791-0000.


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