Heavy on the botanicals and easy on the eye and the planet, Honest spiced rum is the brainchild of old friends Dave Lincoln and Luke Jones.
Like so many of the best things around (ahem, Ensemble), the idea for Honest came about during lockdown. While Dave was at home in Auckland and Luke in London, the childhood mates decided to create a unique spiced rum with spotless environmental credentials and a focus on design.
The origin story
After meeting in year 9 in Auckland, Dave and Luke both went to university in Wellington, working various bar jobs. It was here they first developed their taste not only for high-end spirits but also for the industry as a whole. Both did the classic UK OE (via various bar stops in Europe, of course) with Luke staying on a couple of years in London after Dave had returned home.
When lockdown hit last year, a pop-up ad for a liquor still on Luke’s phone dislodged a random moonshiney thought in his brain – what about having a go at making their own rum?
He immediately sent a text to Dave to see if he was in, and then patiently waited by the phone for two weeks, growing more and more sure that Dave mustn’t be interested. He’d nearly given up hope when he woke on a Saturday morning to a pages-long response from Dave, outlining the start of a business plan and his ideas about flavours and aromas they could introduce to their rum. And thus, conception was achieved.
The pair spent the next six months on opposite sides of the world, researching the industry, developing their branding and working on a plan for the sales and marketing, both of them drawing on their experience in these fields.
The important next step was to find someone with expertise in distilling, with Dave and Luke keen to work with another small business.
Chancing upon a boutique distillery in Takapuna – also run by two mates in a stroke of synchronicity – the pair were ready to start building the product.
With Luke still stuck in the UK, Dave worked with the distiller to come up with six samples based on the flavour profile they had agreed on.
When Luke exited his stay in MIQ, Dave was waiting to pick him up from the quarantine hotel at 9 o’clock in the morning with six samples of their new rum burning a hole in his car upholstery.
After a white-knuckled blind taste test in the backseat of Dave’s car, Luke picked the same sample that was Dave’s favourite. Thirty minutes out of quarantine, at 9:30am, Luke was half cut and they were ready to go into production.
The flavour profile
Dave and Luke knew that orange peel was always going to be in the flavour profile. Tonka bean, however, came late to the party.
Not liking the overplayed, overpowering vanilla that is in so many other spiced rums, the guys were looking for something with a bit more punch. These wrinkled little seeds are a conversation starter too, given its rarity as an ingredient in this part of the world.
Sitting alongside clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, the six botanicals used take centre stage on the label so that when people do tastings they can search their taste buds for the flavours – with a group of six people, it’s likely that each person will pick up on a different botanical.
While most rum isn’t made to be sipped, Honest has a focus on the arma as well as the taste. Says Luke, “we spent a lot of time making sure that when you open the bottle, you get a whiff of a really nice aroma”.
Rums are usually created to be in a cocktail or with a mixer, but the pair wanted to make something that sits almost between a spirit and a liqueur. Dave enthuses, “it’s almost like a whiskey in the way that you can have it neat or on the rocks – it’s changing the way that people drink rum”.
This isn’t your old rum and coke. “We wanted to add a level of sophistication to it.”
Stepping lightly on the Earth
The environmental ethos behind Honest rum isn’t just paying lip-service to a trendy fad: Dave and Luke are deeply passionate about doing business in a way that treads as lightly as possible on Papatūānuku, and their commitment to sustainability was to them as important as the product itself, right from the start. If they couldn’t do it in an environmentally conscious way, they didn’t want to do it at all.
Not many alcohol businesses focus on this side of things, but Dave says “it’s something we’ve always talked about and are passionate about in our personal life and wanted to ensure that if we are bringing a new product to life, we had to be sure that we weren’t impacting the environment. It had to be a product with purpose, not just a product for profit”.
This principle has been there from the start, and the pair already have plans to expand and develop the brand's environmental values through various initiatives.
The bottles truly are a thing of beauty, tossing them in the bottle bin on bin night would be a sin against the design gods.
Carbon neutral and plastic-free
Honest is proudly carbon-neutral and plastic-free, by design. During the planning stages, Luke spent many hours while in London talking to A Plastic Planet to understand how to become certified as plastic free.
They then invested considerable time with the label company in NZ making sure that the labels didn’t have any plastic in them and that they were the most eco-friendly products possible.
The label is 100 percent certified recycled paper, made from repurposed waste. Similar research went into the caps, which are wooden tops and natural cork.
In fact, the six months spent apart was largely spent working out how to produce a product without impacting the environment, and causing the least amount of waste, down to the boxes used and the paper tape on them.
Okay, where can I try this rum for myself?
You can find Honest available at various bars across New Zealand, and popping up in liquor stores nationwide. For a full list of stockists and suppliers, head to drinkhonest.co.nz, and make sure to follow them on Instagram too.
This content was created in paid partnership with Honest rum