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Behind the scenes at Exmoor Distillery in Dulverton

Exmoor Rum <i>(Image: J.Ph.Baudey at Faydit Photography)</i>
Exmoor Rum (Image: J.Ph.Baudey at Faydit Photography)

There’s a certain satisfaction in pulling a cork stopper out of a new spirit bottle, the way it twists in one’s hand with a reassuringly audible squeak before you instinctively raise the bottle to your nose and inhale the contents with welcome anticipation. It’s one of life’s sublime pleasures and when the aromas exude the very fresh and unspoiled Somerset lands in which they have been created, it is in fact a moment to be truly relished. This is without doubt the experience you will have when you are first introduced to a nip from Exmoor Distillery, the home of quality spirits, made with ‘the spirit of Exmoor in a bottle’.

Nestled in a deeply wooded valley where the River Barle meets the River Exe is the earthy red stoned town of Dulverton. After crossing the oldest medieval bridge on Exmoor you’ll find Exmoor Distillery just a few minutes further along the road, perfectly situated on a site where the Smith family can draw water via bore hole. This exclusive water source comes directly from the Exmoor Aquifer, and is in part what gives their spirit selection such a unique taste.

Founded just six years ago it’s incredible to think how John and Nicola Smith, with their son Ben have achieved so much so soon. Nicola says, ‘John is one of those people who can turn his hand to anything. It all started in Sydney when we were at a gin festival, it was one of those sunny days where everyone is having a good time. We looked over the harbour and thought, we could do this, and so when we returned home, John got experimenting!’ Being an engineer, John set to the challenge methodically, and after 45 recipes, he was settled on what would become their renowned ‘Northmoor Gin’. Within two years Exmoor Distillery would receive international recognition by achieving a Double Gold and Gold Award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Priding themselves on making exceptional-tasting gin, the Smith family have continued to focus on quality and not compete on volume sales, Ben says, ‘ We rather sell less than sell a second rate product.’

Great British Life: Master Distiller John Smith. Master Distiller John Smith. (Image: J.Ph.Baudey at Faydit Photography)

Like a magician, John leans on the purpose-made bar in the Exmoor Distillery HQ and reveals his latest addition to the illustrious spirit line-up, a rich honey-coloured rum in what appears, at first, to be a blank bottle. With the glow from a pocket torch illuminating up through the base of the bottle, a mirage becomes clear, an Exmoor stag so synonymous with the brand proudly radiates his presence as if to announce the arrival of this, a much awaited, ‘Exmoor Rum’. ‘Our signature stag label is based on an original painting by local artist, Maurice Bishop. After ageing this rum for over three years we have now created a real premium product.’ says John. On limited release every month, Exmoor Rum has been aged in a combination of bourbon, madeira, sherry and new casks which enable John to blend the finished rum to match his stringent standards and create the premium product he shows me today. ‘The rum tastes absolutely beautiful. There are older rums on the market but I’ve not found one that tastes better. I’ve been instructed by Nicola to stop tasting it! She keeps saying, ‘Enough quality assurance tests, John!’ With no legal ageing requirement specified on rum, the Smith family decided to adopt the rules which are set for whisky in order to produce their premium product, ‘Most distilleries don’t wait long enough to age their products but we know that there is no short cut to quality. Similarly, a lot of ‘British’ producers are actually buying in Caribbean rum and adding local water, then claiming it is a local product. That’s not the case here, all of our spirits are made uniquely at Exmoor Distillery.’

Being such an exclusive and niche product, Exmoor Rum is priced at £120 per bottle and is already developing an eager cult following. One of Exmoor Distillery’s regular clients was privileged to try a preview sample and announced on Instagram, ‘WOW, this promises to be worth the wait…it is utterly delicious; incredibly smooth for a cask strength (62%) spirit, beautiful soft honey colour, wonderful hints of caramel and nutty notes with a depth of flavour that won’t disappoint. I can’t wait to get my first bottle!’

Great British Life: The barrels. The barrels. (Image: J.Ph.Baudey at Faydit Photography)

Exmoor Rum joins the esteemed collection of Exmoor Distillery spirits and is, if you’re quick, available to buy online on special release dates (, or by visiting the distillery yourself. Ben says, ‘We are open 7 days a week and fully transparent in our processes. We pride ourselves in the public visiting us at all times so that we can show them how dedicated we are to creating our premium spirits. Come and book a tour so that you can walk around the manufacturing area, prop up the bar, and taste-test our award-winning selections of gins, vodka and exclusive Exmoor Rum!’


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