5 Minutes with… the co-founders of Equiano Rum

Aaisha Dadral and Amanda Kakembo on Equiano Rum’s unique liquid, its fascinating heritage and the relationship between the two

Food and Drink 13 Nov 2023

Equiano Rum co-founders Aaisha Dadral and Amanda Kakembo

Equiano Rum co-founders Aaisha Dadral and Amanda Kakembo

What values does Equiano share with the writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, after whom it was named?

Equiano was an exceptionally brave abolitionist who changed the status quo of the 1700s. That bravery and commitment to challenging establishment is something you see in the Equiano Rum Co; from being a world-first to the make-up in ownership of our business – being majority female and BIPOC owned and run. On a more personal level, Olaudah Equiano was an entrepreneur in the truest sense. He audaciously negotiated the terms of his liberation and taught himself to read, write, count and trade in spices and rum to change his own life, and that of the many of us who followed him. His commitment to freedom and equity are values we hold dear and that run through everything we do at Equiano Rum.

How does Equiano Rum follow the journey Olaudah took?

Like Olaudah Equiano, Equiano Rums start life in Africa. It travels to the Caribbean, ending up in Barbados where the liquid is blended, bottled and shipped to the UK and the rest of the world. Olaudah was born and kidnapped into enslavement in Africa – modern-day Nigeria – and travelled to the Caribbean and beyond, aboard naval ships. Eventually buying his freedom, Equiano settled in the UK – the place the Equiano Rum Co calls home – where he wrote his autobiography before travelling around the world petitioning and lobbying for the freedom for all people.

What role does location have in the process of making rum?  

As the world’s first African and Caribbean rum, the uniqueness in liquids from each location plays an important role in our blend. In Equiano Original the African component, from Mauritius, is tropically aged in ex-cognac barrels, which offers a natural sweetness to the blend. In Equiano Light, we’ve introduced fresh sugar cane juice rum from Africa which adds a grassiness to the blend. And Barbados produces some of the best rums in the world, so we feel honoured that it’s a key component in both Equiano Original and Equiano Light.

Equiano Rum
Equiano Rum

Equiano is the world’s first African and Caribbean rum, and its production involves both Grays Distillery in Mauritius and Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados. How are their values in keeping with your own?

Equiano rums are multi-award winning. That’s in large part a result of the shared commitment between Grays, Foursquare and Equiano to produce exceptional quality blends. Collectively we’re committed to elevating standards in the rum category too, in both recognising its history and working in ways that ensure the industry does better and in better defining what rum is in order that discerning drinkers learn more about the diversity and richness that rums add to their spirits repertoire.

What role do they each play in producing Equiano and its flavour profile?

Foursquare is currently the best distillery in the world, making our liquid exceptional and the Mauritian liquid adds the natural sweetness and interesting flavours coming from the cognac casks.

 Does the absence of added sugars and spices contribute to the liquid’s identity?

Both Equiano Original and Equiano Light are all-natural. The process of adding sugar to rum was and, in some places, is still commonplace for even the biggest rum brands in the world. Its absence in our blends results in 100 per cent true rum, which we’re very proud of. That along with no added spice definitely contributes to the liquid identity.

What kind of cocktails does Equiano lend itself to most?

The biggest cocktails in the world are rum cocktails and Equiano works beautifully in them all! Equiano Original makes a brilliantly refreshing, zingy Gold + Stormy with ginger ale and orange and lime slices to garnish. Equiano Light is perfect for a classic Daiquiri or elevate it a touch with pineapple juice and a champagne float to top it off. Beyond those, we love Equiano in a mai tai, mojito or rum old fashioned. To be honest, the list goes on, as rum also blends well with other spirits.

 Equiano annually donates a certain percentage of profits to freedom and equality projects. Which projects have you been supporting recently? 

We have been supporting Anti-Slavery International, the oldest human rights organisation in the world, since 2021. Their work is incredibly inspiring and to date our grant has helped change the lives of over 17,000 people around the world to live a life free from modern-day slavery.

What is the brand planning for the future?

More exceptional rum being enjoyed around the world! More unique blends from Africa and the Caribbean. More limited-edition blends. And more support of emerging African distilleries as we venture beyond the 30 countries we’re in today.

You have both worked in the music industry previously. Has that influenced anything at Equiano?

I think working in any business, there are always good learnings to take away and there are aspects of a business that are the same whatever the genre. We do often make comparisons though, you are ultimately building a brand, whether that’s an artist or a product.  Selling records or selling bottles is the end goal, and creating brand awareness. And both are a lot of fun.

Where are the best places you have each enjoyed a drink of Equiano?

The Connaught in London. Attaboy in Tennessee. Paradiso in Barcelona.