Cabby's Rum maker reveals how coronavirus is destroying the alcohol industry

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A lot has changed since we last spoke to Moses Odong about Cabby's Rum.

As a black cab driver and self-taught maker of some of the finest booze in the entire country, he straddles two sectors that have been dramatically affected by Coronavirus.

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You might expect the situation to be all doom and gloom. But, while it's true that times are certainly harder than they might have been, the pandemic has also presented a few interesting opportunities for the charismatic distiller.

We decided to catch up with Odong to discuss how the current crisis is affecting the drinks trade and what the future might hold for one of Britain's most important industries. As ever with these things, the situation is much more complex than you might imagine.

Cabby's Rum and the Taxi Spirit Company

The official story of how Odong got his start is an interesting one. As he told us back in  2018:

"I've been a taxi driver for the last 10 years. About five years into driving a taxi, I decided I wanted to try learning something new.

"And I said, 'You know what? I'm going to set (a distillery) up.'

"It was a process. I thought The Knowledge was hard - this was intense."

However, it turns out that his distilling roots go much deeper than a passing interest in learning a new skill. As he reveals to me over the telephone two years later:

"I was born in Uganda. My Mum used to make local moonshine for a little mini bar, and it was me and my younger brother that were making it for her.

"All she said was, 'here's your instructions, this is what to follow - follow it to a T please, don't deviate from it'. Now, as an adult and as a distiller, the whole process has come back to me!"

Watch Moses Odong reveal how Cabby's Rum is made and the history of the Taxi Spirit Company:

It seems that this long-lasting passion for distilling has helped him get through what has been, initially at least, a very difficult period for the business. As Odong explains:

"At the start (of lockdown), I have to be honest, when the pubs closed, I buried my head in the sand."

He goes on to add:

"I'm having to rethink everything. The bars are closing, and (the ones that aren't) have a lot of brand loyalty - they're sticking to whoever's giving them a good deal and the big companies are cutting good deals."

Things look equally bleak for cabbies. As Odong tells me:

"We (the cab industry) are a modest luxury. You take a cab because you want to get somewhere, want to be by yourself... But if the hotels are closed, the restaurants are closed, where's the work?"

With all the confusion around the potential consequences of a second lockdown for both his passions, Odong concedes that it looks like "dark times are coming".

However, despite the difficulties within the industry, there are reasons for some optimism. Much of the Taxi Spirit Company's business has now switched from the bar trade to selling directly to customers, exemplified by the imminent launch of a new shipping partnership with delivery giants Amazon.

Interestingly, Odong credits this change in fortune to a wider cultural movement. As he explains:

"This whole thing with George (Floyd) happened and things have started to pick back up.

"People have now had the chance to actually sit down and do their research on products and brands, and our online sales have picked up as a result.

"Because of the whole situation, people are now being more conscious about what they are buying.

"Spiced rum is becoming the new gin"

In the midst of the wider societal reckoning around the Black Lives Matter protests, Odong also believes that rum itself is also experiencing a boon. Asked how he feels the appetite for rum compares to other spirits like gin and vodka, he reveals:

"London is becoming thirsty for rum... I would say that spiced rum is becoming the new gin... It's becoming a bar and home bar essential.

"One of the best bars in the world now is based in Islington and they're a rum bar."

To capitalise on this surge in popularity, Odong and the Taxi Spirit Company are looking to expand beyond traditional delivery markets. As he explains:

"Everyone has pivoted into this home delivery stuff. Homemade cocktails etc, we're going into all of that just to make sure that the business stays afloat."

This expansion also includes selling a brand new spiced gin, the recipe for which was accidentally created while Odong was experimenting with a spice blend intended for rum.

It's clear that these are uncertain times for everyone. But, thanks to the combination of flexibility and an increasingly mindful customer base, it looks like this isn't the end of the road for one of London's most beguiling small businesses.

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