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Taste Test - Illegal Tender Rum Co’s Spiced

Exploring the realm of Australian craft spirits, our Taste Test series learns not only about the drinks themselves, but where they’ve come from and the passion of the distillers who create them.

Just outside the coastal town of Dongara, some four hours north of Perth WA, is the Illegal Tender Rum Co distillery. It’s the actualisation of owner-distiller Codie Palmer’s lifelong dream.

It’s also home to a swathe of awards, which includes the winner’s medal at the 2021 World Rum Awards. Not bad for a distillery that only started out in 2015.

About Illegal Tender Rum Co

Illegal Tender truly is the product of Codie’s love of distilling. It’s a love that, as he puts it, “goes from passion to obsession.”

And it’s the attention to detail in everything that comes from Illegal Tender - no corner cut nor limit untested - that shows in its spirits.

The distillery’s Spiced is the product of endless trialing. In fact, it follows recipe #328 - the previous 327 not cutting the mustard. And the 20 botanicals that give this dynamic spirit its depth were pared back from a whopping 36 different ingredients.

To that end, Codie created Spiced by individually distilling the potent essential oils from each of the botanicals then adding each one from a dropper bottle to the distillate, meticulously counting each drop.

As for the distillery’s name, this comes from another of Codie’s passions: the history of rum and its impact on modern Australia.

Early colonial Australia had little use for actual money. Rum, however, was much more in demand.

It quickly became the commodity that people would trade and work for, and the ruthless Rum Corp - the marine division sent to police the new colony - acted as bank and taxman.

In 1808, Governor William Bligh declared rum to be ‘illegal tender’ in an attempt to ban the drink and put a stop to the young colony’s love of the spirit.

It didn’t work.

The famed Rum Rebellion saw him deposed and packed off back to England. But Bligh’s words gave a name to Codie’s dream.

About the bottle

In line with both Illegal Tender’s coastal location and its proximity to colonial history, Spiced’s label has a beautiful old world feel to it.

The gold on black, the ornate details and of course the romping tall ship, no doubt full of rum for the colony, tells its own tale.

Style and botanicals

First, it must be pointed out that this is not a spiced rum. Australian law insists that to be called rum, the spirit must be aged in barrels for at least two years, and Spiced has only seen the inside of a cask for four to 12 weeks.

However, it’s very much in the style of a spiced rum.

The time this spirit spends in casks is purely for colour - a rich warm caramel - from the ex-Margaret River Shiraz French oak barrels.

Everything you taste is either from the dark brown cane sugar base spirit, the copper from the still or the botanicals in the spice. There’s no added sugar or artificial colour.

Of the 20 botanicals, five are from native Australian plants: lemon myrtle, quandong, wild rosella, wattleseed and Kakadu plum.

Tasting notes

There are a few points of difference in this and all of Illegal Tender’s spirits that are interesting.

First, using dark brown cane sugar instead of the more common sugar cane molasses (which is cheaper) gives a completely different base flavour to other rums.

It tells even in the aroma, which has a sense of that dark brown sugar. There’s also a rich ripe plum smell along with black cherry and Christmas cake.

The aromas lead cleverly into the flavours too, which also release a little vanilla. Citrus and dryness combine with the sweetness to balance things out, and the medium-length finish lets a nutmeggy spice play over your palate.

Secondly, Codie has blended his botanical mix for Spiced so that no one single ingredient shines out. This creates an over all homogenous flavour that makes it difficult to identify individual spices.

Finally, Codie has set this spirit at 35%ABV, which is lower than many craft spirits on the market. As he explained, this “allows the spices to do the talking rather than the spirit.”

Serving suggestions

This is a well-rounded, balanced spirit that drinks just like a spiced rum but with a bit of extra liveliness. It’s also less vanilla and cinnamon led, which many commercial spiced rums tend to be.

Codie assured me Spiced works well in an old fashioned, though with minimal bitters. Illegal Tender’s cellar door in Dongara also does a version of a Dark n Stormy with Spiced - the Dongara Stormy. You can see it being made here.

Our brand ambassador Just Abbey also recommends a Spiced mojito or for the tropical cocktail aficionado, try this creation:

45ml Illegal Tender’s Spiced

60ml pineapple juice

15ml Brookie’s macadamia wattleseed liqueur

A squeeze of Coco Real coconut cream

Shake it all up and garnish with a wedge of pineapple and Bligh’s tricorn hat!


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