When you think of rum, many associations come to mind ranging from sugarcane (its base ingredient), rum punch and Caribbean islands, to drunken sailors and swashbuckling pirates. Whilst it’s a drink that is enjoyed worldwide, the rum industry has a murky past. In the 1600s when rum production started to become popular, those who benefited from the industry did so through unsavory means with the exploitative labor of enslaved Africans.
So, what happens when in 2020, five siblings of West African descent decide to start a premium alcohol brand based on strong cultural connections and good times? The award-winning, golden spiced Étän rum is born.
Speaking to the co-creators Étän a strong sense of community, sisterhood and proud ownership is clear. The following Q&A with one of the sisters, Caroline Fosang, is an exciting insight into the origins, family values and ideas of the brand which has already done so well in just three years since its inception.
Dr. Byron Cole: Would you tell us about the origins of Étän Rum and how the idea for this venture came about?
Caroline Fosang: Our parents knew how to throw a great party when we were growing up. The love of a good time with family and friends with a good drink in hand, followed from this. We all have a similar mindset and love spending quality time together. It was during one of these get togethers that we started reminiscing and that led to talking about creating a rum and brand that reflects us and our unity as five sisters but also celebrates our Cameroonian heritage. Et voila! The concept of 5 was born, Étän.
Étän, means ‘five’ in our parents’ language ‘Munga’ka’ which is spoken in Bali – a village in the northwest region of Cameroon.
Cole: Étän is inspired by your family’s heritage and your love of spiced rum. How did you manage to blend these influences into creating a unique and award-winning golden spiced rum?
Fosang: Firstly our mother, a strong black woman, who is the Queen of us, continuously inspires us in the way she leads her life, her work ethic and her fierce independence. Best of all, her never ending love and support keeps our ambition alive and drives us forward to aim high.
Secondly, our late father, who was a fun-loving gregarious character, always had a knack for business and owned several businesses in Cameroon. He traveled around Europe and South East Asia always looking for the next opportunity, instilling in us that hard work was always rewarded and should be toasted with a good spirit.
Together they always encouraged us to be the best versions of ourselves with that old cliché ‘ the sky’s the limit’. They have been instrumental in forging our sisterhood, and we have ensured we work collaboratively given our common goals and aspirations. It’s sometimes hard to put an individual opinion to one side but it is so important to recognize when there is a better idea offered which ultimately is best not just for the individual but for the business as a whole. So every day we motivate, elevate and celebrate one another and without this, there could be no Étän!
Cole: Rum is traditionally associated with the Caribbean and Latin America. What made you choose to create a rum brand with Cameroonian influences?
Fosang: Our love for sugarcane! We have very fond childhood memories of our holidays to Cameroon where we would visit our extended family in our parents’ village called Bali, in the northwest region of Cameroon. A typical day in the village involved heading to the farm first to harvest crops such as corn, maize and groundnuts, before thinking about any other activities for the day.
The 5am start wasn’t our favorite experience to say the least until we discovered our grandparent’s sugarcane plantation next to the farm. This was our newfound joy! And it didn’t take us long to become experts in gnawing off the sugarcane skin to reach the ever so sweet soft stalks within.
Now we’re grown, we really enjoy socializing together and having a good drink (responsibly). Drawing from the above, the seed was planted and it was a no-brainer that rum was the place to go. And here we are. While we are currently importing our base rum from the Caribbean, we hope to distill our own rum using the family’s sugar cane, to create an array of rums including one we’ll peg as ‘Five’, Cameroon’s first British-inspired spiced rum.
Cole: Étän Rum is known for its perfect harmony of five botanicals. Could you share more about these botanicals and how they contribute to the rum’s distinctive flavor profile?
Fosang: The five botanical spices we carefully selected for this unique flavor profile include fevergrass, orange peel, cassia, ginger and vanilla which can all be found in and around West Africa. The distinctive aroma of fevergrass combined with orange peel provides the citrus notes of the rum, which is nicely balanced by the delicious sweetness of cassia and vanilla and then an added sprinkle of ginger to ensure the rum packs a spicy punch! An all-rounder smooth and sophisticated spiced rum.
Cole: Winning a Silver Award at the London Spirits Competition 2021 is a significant achievement. Can you tell us more about the journey to this recognition and what it means for Étän Rum?
Winning this award was a big deal for us and that illustrious shiny silver sticker on our bottle is something we are very proud of. Once we had perfected the liquid, brand identity and audience, it was a no-brainer to reach out to the rum ambassador, Ian Burrell, for his honest opinion on Étän. Months later, we were also impressed to learn he was the rum and drinks expert on Channel 4 Sunday Brunch, when he asked us if we would like Étän to feature on the show – a wonderful opportunity we took with both hands. The panel described Étän as shockingly delicious and gave us rave reviews.
We had sold about 250 bottles within a few months of our soft launch in August 2020 (during a period of lockdown) so we knew it was a beautiful tasting rum, and to have that confirmed by the Channel 4 Sunday brunch panel was mind blowing. It made us really tearful and made all the hard work feel so worthwhile. During the show, our website crashed with the volume of orders pouring in. Guess what? We had sold out! Nothing has been as bittersweet as this, and we knew right there, being London ladies, we had to enter the London Spirits Competition.
To our amazement, we won silver with 86 points, 4 points off gold! To win such an award solidifies that we have a rum which can hold its own. Safe to say gold is definitely on the horizon, watch this space.
Cole: Your slogans are ‘Rum To The Power Of Five,’ ‘Five Heads Are Better Than One,’ and ‘A Perfect Harmony of Five.’ How do these slogans reflect the essence and values of Étän Rum?
These slogans perfectly sum up the coming together of us five sisters and the five botanicals used to make this high-quality premium rum that can be enjoyed by people all over the world. The concepts of the slogans pertain to our family’s beliefs and attitude, firmly set out by our parents and refer to the extent to which our familial relationships are valued within our lives.
Cole: What sets Étän Rum apart from other spiced rums on the market? How do you see it evolving in the rum industry and the wider drinks market?
African girl power! Étän rum is an African inspired twist on rum which is known to be Caribbean and traditionally very masculine. Here, you have the first rum to be spearheaded by five professional women, sisters in fact. Also the five carefully selected spices blended in this rum gives it a je ne sais quoi (French for ‘I don’t know what’: a pleasing quality that cannot be exactly named or described) which makes it stand out from the rest; not to talk of our bottle which is stunning and distinct.
It is a premium spiced rum which can be enjoyed neat as a sipping rum but also as the base in an array of delectable cocktails (not just with cola as an Étän libre!) making it versatile, hence why we believe we’re on to something in the rum industry and wider drinks market.
Could you describe the taste and character of Étän Rum? How would you recommend enjoying it, whether on its own, with a mixer, or in cocktails?
Étän is smooth, spicy and not too sweet therefore enjoyable as a sipping rum. However, its versatility lends it to many cocktails and the botanicals add several dimensions to household cocktails.
One of our favorites is the Bali iced tea and although encompassing four spirits, Étän holds its own with the ginger and fevergrass pushing through and adding that extra little oomph! We create a lot of our own cocktails and you can check these out here.
Étän Rum is described as keto and vegan-friendly with no added sugar or additives. Can you share more about its nutritional profile and its appeal to health-conscious consumers?
Étän is a 40% abv golden spiced rum which has been distilled without added sugar or use of animal products. Étän Rum focuses on the natural sweetness and spice found in the rum and botanicals.
This clearly addresses the sugar/calorie intake issue drinkers have with darker spirits, making it a keto-friendly rum as its nutritional profile sits at 0 across all areas, with only 66 calories per 25ml, coming from only the alcohol itself. Health-conscious consumers and everybody else can enjoy Étän over and over again, without any guilt.
Beyond its premium quality, how does Étän Rum reflect the cultural diversity and heritage that are increasingly important in today’s market?
Étän is synonymous with our heritage and that was always the aim, so consumers looking to invest in products which not only meet the quality mark but provide authenticity in its offer, led us to weave a golden thread of our heritage through all aspects of Étän.
Additionally, as culture operates in the mind, we ensured our choice of botanicals and Étan’s visuals (which many don’t know is a stencil of West Africa, and a five point star where Cameroon sits) reflected our African heritage and cultural importance of family – with the five point star representing the five of us. Furthermore, we are embodying our femininity and celebrating this in an arena heavily represented by men.
Étän’s bottle shape also speaks to this by moving away from the cylindrical typical bottle and introduces a rum that is, fashionable, fervent, flavorsome and formidable – just like our African culture and heritage. We welcome everyone to take a sip and enjoy!
The name Étän means five in Munga’ka. Could you elaborate on the significance of this name and how it ties into the brand’s identity?
The significance of the name Étän is huge. Unique, memorable, cultured, empowering and unified. Étän encapsulates five strong-minded, professional, working women with an unbreakable family bond, bound together by our heritage and our love of a great spiced rum.
Our parents language, ‘Munga’ka’, is spoken in Bali in the Northwest province of Cameroon Étän means five. Bali was the former center of a kingdom and is known for its palace and its regular festivals, the perfect backdrop for a golden spiced rum. Étän encompasses the five of us and the five botanicals we use and ultimately, it will be our legacy.
Cole: In what ways do you plan to showcase Étän’s credibility in the rum industry and continue to establish it as one of the best-spiced rums?
Étän’s credibility has been highlighted by the annual London Spirits Competition, which judges spirits according to their quality, value for money and appearance, and claims to “single out and shine the spotlight on those spirits brands that consumers really want to buy.” A spokesperson for the competition said, “To be an award winner, you need to have top quality spirits that offer both the trade and consumer great value for money, and you will need to look good and truly stand out on the shelf and on the back bar.”
We can all attest Étän offers just that, and we are over the moon that the London Spirits Competition recognized this in its annual award. So in pushing Étän forward, we are constantly working on brand awareness and business development to bring the best of the best.