Visiting MHOBA distillery

Heyho :slight_smile:

yesterday I had the chance to visit the Mhoba distillery in South Africa and wanted to share my impressions, since I thought it was a really impressive. Please excuse if some of my information is not 100% correct. I am writing this down from my memory. Enjoy! :grin:

First of, unless you use google maps, there are no signs leading towards distillery once leaving the main road, but you can assume there must be something rum-my, because there are some sugar cane fields around. The place looks quite industrial with trucks and machinery. Besides the distillery taking a rather small fraction of the area, this place is actually a mining and processing complex for magnesium, all belonging to one person. On some historic pictures one could see the development and expansion of the area, which looked like it consumed a lot of green places. In the end I had the feeling that the rum distillery seemed more like a side-project or “hobby” to the owner of the place. Funny in my opinion. You will shortly learn more about the green production of Mhoba rum, I wonder if this is supposed to balance out the definitly not so green aspect of mining. But never mind, let’s get started with the visit.

Once arrived at a small parking lot, we were heartily welcomed by Shaldon, which is one of the supervisors of Mhoba distillery working very closely with the owner on anything regarding rum production, from blending to cask selection. The owner himself was unfortunately not available, but the visit was easily arranged via mail two days before. Shaldon began showing us the distillery and explaining the process of making rum in detail, while answering our questions. Very nice!

Of course rum starts with growing sugar cane. They’re using two types of sugar cane originating from South Africa (one would give less juice, but have higher sugar content). There is even an official research institute around working on the plants to make them more resilient to pests. Depending on the type of sugar cane, harvest is around once a year, but every ten years the fields need to be recultivated before sugar cane can be planted again. This is due to plant growth rate decreases over time and yield will shrink. All their cane is grown organically and no chemicals are being used. They even separate their rum-cane-fields from other cane-fields to keep the pureness and avoid contamination. Harvesting is done by hand, like almost anything at Mhoba.

To get the juice from the cane, these guys built their own machines. Actually, an older versions can be viewed, but the one being used these days is far more advanced.

The complete process is done in one machine construction:

  • The cane is inserted by operator and choped and cut by rotating knives
  • An operator would then fill a cylinder with the chopped cane
  • A press squashes the chopped cane with around 13 tons of force
  • Juice flows out (I was allowed to taste it while flowing out) and is collected in a tank
  • The content will be later pumped over to the fermentation tanks

Around 30% of juice stays within the chopped cane (industrial machines are able to get around 90% out of it), which is why they keep working on improving the machine. The leftovers are then either dried and used as fuel for the distillation process or are being composted.

The crazy parts starts at the fermentation stage, because you all know that Mhoba rums tend to have Jamaican-like ester flavors. Two types of wash are made: one that makes a lighter rum and one that makes heavy rum. The latter has a far longer fermentation period up to ~30 days. Now no yeast is being used, it’s all wild fermentation. The yeast is actually growing naturally on the cane and will then start the fermentation once left alone in the green tanks. Every by-product during the making of rum (e.g. dunder), which could potentially develope additional flavors, is added to the wash for the sake of experimantion, sustainability and flavor generation. Nothing added except natural by-products, they recycle everything during the process. I think this is really cool. If I recall correctly, the heavy rum is used more on their french cask releases or the ones they do with IBs. Basically anywhere where you find the high ester content. The content of the tanks looked and smelled nasty. Imagining part of this is what love so much to drink seemed crazy to me :sweat_smile:

You can also see a big black stove on the picture, where oil is heated up. The hot oil is being used to heat the close by pot stills. For more information on distillation, aging, tasting and future of the distillery, I will do a second post in the upcoming days. See you soon :grin:


Continuing with the distillation process where they have three pot stills operating. They’re something I have never seen before, because it looks really simple and that’s for a reason: the pots are self-constructed. But don’t get fooled by the outer appearance, the inside of the pots is covered with copper. As mentioned in my previous post hot oil is used in the bottom part of the pots to transfer heat to the wash and start evaporation of alcohols. The temperature in this room was unpleasantly hot, I couldn’t even be there for a minute. To condesate the vapor rising inside the tube on top of the still, water is used for cooling. These stills are able to allow what Shaldon called reflux meaning the condesated distillate can flow back into the pot. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the exact reason when and why they would do it. Double distillation was also mentioned, which must be an experimantal thing they sometimes do. By the way, overpressure valves are available but not really needed because the process runs at normal pressures.

Anyways, what comes next I found super unusual and special as well. Once the distillate starts running out of the still they would catch every 15 litres in big glass jars (to be more precise it’s called demijohns). The room next to the super warm still room contained many of these jars, all filled with distilled liquid and labelled with precious information. Due to the intense but not so comfortable smell of highly concentrated distillate in that room I felt like we couldn’t stay there long neither, because otherwise we turn drunk at some point :rofl:

As mentioned earlier, at MHOBA experimantion is key. Every 15L jar is tasted and rated individually and then decided which jars should join their ways into a barrel. With a specific goal in mind they blend these jars and as soon they are happy with the blend barrels come into play. So blending is done before aging. As a result, every release they do this way is a single barrel release and a unique rum blend, as far as I interprete.

We had to do a short walk to get to the store house, which was heavily secured. But what valuable good in South Africa is NOT secured with electro fences, barbwire and an alarm system? After travelling the country for three weeks, I was used to it. The actual store house was very big but only a small fraction of it contained shelved barrels. The smell in here was extremely good :heart_eyes:

What kind of barrels do they have here? What I remember:

  • American white oak barrels
  • Bourbon barrels coming from Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s etc
  • Red wine barrels coming from a South African winery near Capetown
  • Brandy barrels from South Africa (new experiment still in the making)
  • Sherry barrels (new experiment still in the making)
  • Eventually also whisky barrels from a South African whisky maker (not so sure right now)
  • Demijohns with small pieces of wood inserted (it’s something I heard wineries in South Africa would do as well. Felt like cheating to me on first sight, but it gives great taste, so what…)

I can’t remember if all, but at least some barrels would be opened, their insides be grinded and toasted. After pretreatment they are ready to get the preselected content of the 15L portioned distillate. Usually, they don’t age much longer than two years, because angle share can be up to 15% per year. Only a few selected barrels given to IBs (e.g. Velier versions or the extremely good Antipodes version RX13449) have seen longer aging. It’s not really the high humidity, which one normally finds in tropical regions, but more the extreme temperature changes during the year and even on single days. Mhoba is not located too far from the famous Kruger National Park and I expierenced myself that it can be really hot during the day, but at night the temperature drop drastically. Consequently, interaction between rum and wood is skyrocketed.

I was asked if I wanted to taste the rum directly from the barrels, but due to being short on time and not wanting to miss our plane, I had to decline this offer. Damn.

After walking back again we arrived at the tasting room which had a table with all the standard Mhoba range lined up ready for tasting. Again for time reasons I couldn’t taste them all, so I only went for the American Oak aged rum, older release of their French cask range (2019FC3), also an older release of the glass aged rum (2019GC1 having 65% with 100 bottles, which contradicts other bottle labels of 2019GC1 I found on RX and google :thinking: weird) and finally their white pot stilled high ester rum. Winner: glass aged rum. Much smoother than the other rums, which can be really rough on the tongue, especially when having no time to let them breathe.

In the background of the picture you can see a nice small rum collection of the distillery owner including some rare Foursquare ECS. Alone three closed copies of ECS IV Zinfandel 2004 stood in that shelf :smirk:

Very unfortunate that time was running short, but I decided to buy a bottle of the glass aged rum (I will open a bottle split or at least add it to my sample list) to support the distillery and say thanks to Shaldon for this highly informative and awesome tour.

But we are not done yet! There was a really peaceful looking new building next to the parking lot.

I was wondering if this is some sort of park to relax. How wrong! Mhoba aims to expand their capacities and this building is meant to host 7 or 8 new pot stills to increase their distillation throughput. Colored glass windows and doors shall be installed into the openings of the building - how nice it must look when finished. And how much rum they must be able to produce. I am really excited what kind of barrel releases are about to come, but I guess it will take a few more years until we really see the outcome of these expansion plans. On the last picture you can see a stone wall in the background where water runs down giving the scenery a relaxing vibe. This water comes from the cooling process of the pot stills and is naturally cooled outside by letting it run over the stones before it flows back to cool the distilled vapor. What the?! How cool is that…

So yeah, here my reports starts to end. In summary, Mhoba rum is 100% handmade, all machines are self-made by the owner being a mechanical engineer, no additives used and every by-product is recycled in the process. I was really impressed. And I really hope you enjoyed this report. It’s not my first visit of a rum distillery (been to Arehucas and Aldea on the Canarian islands, as well as Takamaka on the Seychelles), but this time I actually took enough photos to make some kind of report out of it.

Cheers :tumbler_glass:


Thank you very much! Amazing report, never seen pictures from Mhoba before and thanks for the detailed description.

:1st_place_medal:already thread of the month


Veeeery interesting, thanks for sharing your experience :+1::+1:


Green sewage tanks fermenting away in the middle of nowhere… why am I not surprised?

Awesome post, looking forward to the rest!


Very interesting and always nice to read those posts. Thanks!


Thanks for sharing. Cheers.


Großartiger Bericht! Bin auf die Fortsetzung gespannt :+1:t2:


Thank you for sharing! Will be interesting to follow :fire:


Thanks a lot Tim, really interesting !


Wow, thanks for the sharing :heart:


Second part available. Thanks for your great feedback :heart_eyes: If any questions remain, I might be able to answer from my memory. Please ask.


Danke für den ausführlichen Bericht. Genieße den Urlaub!!


Danke, Urlaub ist aber leider seit gestern vorbei :upside_down_face:


Schade, aber wie es aussieht hast du das Beste draus gemacht :wink:


great review, I enjoyed reading very much :star_struck: As for the distillery owner‘s room, I thought @Aussierumfan must have been there before and, confronted with all that nice rums, he must have forgotten to take his toy race cars with him :joy:


Thanks a lot Tim, very interesting Report. For those who wants even more information i recommend the Interview with the owner of Mhoba Rums on YouTube


Incredible report and superb commentary. Thank you for sharing!


:rofl: it must have something to do with living in the southern hemisphere :joy:


Extensive and interesting post! This forum is going to start to get a name for itself! :sunglasses: