Sugar Baron

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Sugar Baron has become a well-known name in rum circles, and is going from strength to strength. They are known not to rest on their laurels, and besides the two gold awards they achieved for their rum, they were also awarded a Double Gold award for their Rum Fudge sauce. We were eager to know more about these masters of their craft, and asked them some questions.
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Please tell us a bit about yourself, and your role/s in the company.

We are Brad and Marisa O’Neill, founders of Sugar Baron Craft Distillery and custodians of Seafield Farm.

Brad is first and foremost a sugarcane farmer, and is also the Head Distiller at Sugar Baron. After working in the wine industry in Cape Town for several years, Brad decided to come back to the family farm in 2010 to try his hand at sugarcane farming after the untimely death of his Father, Roger O’Neill. Sugar Baron is a tribute to Roger’s legacy, in loving memory of a father lost entirely too soon.

Marisa is Director of Sales, Marketing & Operations at Sugar Baron. Marisa hails from the Cape, where she met Brad while studying at Stellenbosch University. Marisa has worked in various fields, but most notably in the hospitality sector.

Please tell us when your company was founded and some of its history?

Before we moved back to KZN, to take over the running of Seafield Farm in Richmond, we often used to wonder about the possibilities of making rum from sugarcane. It was, however, only during a trip to Mauritius in 2014 that we realised that this could be a viable option for us. We focused on farming and expanding our family over the next few years, and we now have three beautiful children.

It was only in 2017 that we seriously started researching the possibility of starting our own distillery and making rum from the sugarcane that we grow on the farm. We established Sugar Baron in early 2018, bought our first 100L stainless-steel column still for product development, and started experimenting. After a long and drawn-out wait for our micro-manufacturing and other relevant licences, we finally launched our first product, Sugar Baron Single Estate Craft White Rum, in November 2019.

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Marisa and Brad O'Neill.
Please tell us about some of the unique features of your company.

Sugar Baron is all about family, fun and a little fermentation. Our story is one of a love of family, a love of hospitality, pure passion and an insistence on quality.

We are one of only a handful of distilleries in South Africa producing Rum in the Agricole style. We are purists at heart and in continuous pursuit to produce the best, unadulterated craft rum available.

Sugar Baron 900 Gold Rum
Sugar Baron Barrel-Aged Rum.
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Sugar Baron Rum Fudge Sauce.
What do you think are some of the unique products you have?

What makes our products unique is the fact that we make our Rum from the best quality sugarcane grown and harvested on our farm. For an Agricole Rum, the use of single varietal, mature, clean, fresh, unburnt sugarcane grown in fertile soil is essential. You cannot distill a good rum from a bad ferment. The quality of a fermentation is key.

Sugar Baron Single Estate White Rum: A bold and punchy tropical flavour profile – the freshly cut sugarcane hits you on the nose as you settle into the floral, vegetal and tropical flavours on the palate.

Sugar Baron Single Estate Barrel-Aged Rum: This is a special release rum, aged in a combination of French and American Oak barrels for at least two years. Hints of vanilla, toasted brioche, honey and nuts on the nose, with a subtle citrus component and the Agricole characteristics still present. Dry in style, this is a rum full of complexity with a smooth, warm and lingering finish.

Cherry Rum Liqueur: Our award-winning rum, infused with plump and juicy, premium quality Cherry Time™ cherries and natural cane sugar, produces this sumptuously rich and fragrant liqueur.

Stimela Cane Spirit: Our homage to the cane spirit of yesteryear, distinguished with our twist of today. Triple distilled through a pot and column still, we ensure a smooth and rounded take on an old friend.

Handmade Rum Fudge Sauce: An indulgent, handmade fudge sauce infused with Sugar Baron Single Estate Craft Rum!

Please tell us what is unique about your production/manufacturing process, and your philosophy around this.

Freshly harvested, unburnt sugarcane is delivered to our distillery, crushed and fermented. Once the ferment is ready, we transfer it to an 800L stainless-steel strip still for the initial distillation. The distillate from this distillation is then transferred to our 200L copper and stainless steel hybrid pot/column still for second distillation – here we do our cuts, separating heads, hearts and tails, and fine tune our product organoleptically by tasting, touching and smelling the distillate constantly as we go. The utmost care is taken to capture only the very best parts of the distillation to make our Rum!

Our entire philosophy extends from field to glass. For us, this describes how we do everything on site at Seafield Farm; from preparing the soil and planting the sugarcane, to bottling our rums, hence 'field to glass'. We believe that being in control of every step in the process is of utmost importance in ensuring we know exactly what goes into our products.

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What do you think is your distinct advantage or reason for your success?

We believe our success rests on the quality of our products. As makers of Rum Argicole, we are at an advantage due to the quality of our sugarcane. Our unique climate and fertile soils create a rich terroir producing premium sugarcane, used exclusively in Sugar Baron Plantation Origin Rum. 

Just as with sugarcane, it all begins with healthy soils and therefore a healthy crop being sent to the Mill, so the same can be said for the single estate rum we produce at Sugar Baron. We select only the very best single varietal plant cane to produce the beautiful golden, green sugarcane juice which is then fermented before being distilled. From this, only the best batches are selected to be aged, bottled and sent to market.

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What is the consumer demographic of your products, and what feedback are you getting?

We try to cater for a broad consumer demographic in order not to exclude anyone, but generally speaking, due to the small scale of our operation and high production costs involved in making our product, the end consumer price for our products is higher than that of your average mass-produced-and-consumed alcoholic beverages.

The feedback we have been receiving from customers has been really positive - once someone tries it, they generally come back for more!

How do you see your company or product on the global stage?

We’d love to establish a global presence. We are still working on this, and it is proving a lot more challenging than anticipated. Furthermore, we’ve had interest expressed from various segments of the international market, but due to the current scale of our operation, we’ve been limited in what we can supply. The only solution to this is to scale up and/or collaborate, and that is what we are busy working on.

In terms of global competitions - we were delighted that our Sugar Baron Single Estate White Rum won Silver in the 2021 London Spirits Competition, with a score of 86 out of 100 - the only South African rum to do so! More recently, at the Aurora International Taste Challenge awards in 2023, our Barrel-Aged Rum and White Rum both won Gold, and our Rum Fudge Sauce won Double Gold - an incredible recognition for us!


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In what countries can your products be found?

Currently, we make deliveries across South Africa, and can arrange international shipping for customers. You will find Sugar Baron rum products stocked at a range of liquor stores and restaurants across KZN, Western Cape and Johannesburg.

Please tell us if you have any innovations in the pipeline for the future.

We are always experimenting and working on developing new products! We have recently launched our Cherry Rum Liqueur, Stimela Cane Spirit, and are working on perfecting and re-releasing our Coffee Rum Liqueur.  

The rum revolution has been predicted for many years. Do you think it is finally here, and tell us why?

We think rum is definitely gaining popularity. There is still a lot of work to be done around educating the public on the various styles of rum, and how versatile, elegant, complex and enjoyable good rum is. Here in South Africa especially, a lot of people view rum as a cheap, low-quality spirit or associate it with sugary, tropical cocktails. Once you’ve tasted a well-made, good quality rum, there is no going back!

There are also so many variations of rum - white rum, dark rum, aged rum, spiced rum, botanical rum, rum liqueur - rums made from sugar, molasses, or fresh sugarcane (aka Rhum Agricole) - the options and possibilities are endless, and no two rums are the same!

Contact details:

Contact person: Marisa and Brad O’Neill

Email Address:

Contact Number: +27 (0)82 688 7581