Flensburg is a port town situated in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, nowadays advertised as Germany’s rum capital. In Norway, it has even given its name to a well-known dessert containing rum-soaked cherries and ice cream. However, to international audiences, the connection between a sleepy German coastal town and the Caribbean spirit can initially seem peculiar. This is explained by the shifting Danish-German border, which shaped not just the town’s economic, linguistic and cultural history, but also their rum, which continues to be an important part of the town's identity today.
Flensburg Harbour [Adobe]
How Flensburg became Germany's rum capital
Prior to the Danish-Prussian War in 1864, Flensburg was considered one of Denmark’s foremost harbours and trading cities, in some estimations playing a more important role for the nation's trade than the capital Copenhagen. Back in the 18th Century, the town was already experienced in spirits, with a large distilling industry producing brandy from German and French wine. This focus changed, however, in 1755 when Flensburg ships were given a charter by the Danish Crown allowing them to sail between the port and the Caribbean. Rum was imported, maturing during its sail to Europe, and then blended and bottled in Flensburg and the surrounding region.
In Denmark, it is often said that the Caribbean island of Saint Croix is the original birthplace of rum. While the exact origins of rum are lost to legend and myth, by the 1830s, Flensburg imports of rum from the islands of St Croix, St Thomas and St John topped one million litres per year. Both the islands and Flensburg became bi-words for rum throughout Northern Europe, showing the large impact they had.
Following the aftermath of the Danish-Prussian war, Flensburg was no longer part of Denmark, but became one of the most northerly towns in Germany. This presented a problem for the thriving rum industry, as access to the Caribbean trade routes that supplied their product was lost almost overnight. Regardless of this change in nationality, the rum houses in Flensburg were determined to keep their trade. They therefore pivoted to focus mainly on Jamaican rum, but were challenged again by high taxes on imports in the early 20th century. Their choice of Jamaican rum proved however to be a good one, as the strong, high-ester rums for which the island is renowned lent the rum perfectly to blending. This led to the creation of Rum-Verschnitt, a popular blend of "Flensburg" rum, produced from a high percentage of neutral agricultural spirit blended with water and the popular Jamaican rum.
Nordermarkt, part of Flensburg's Rum & Sugar Mile trail [Adobe]
The Revival of Rum in Germany
While only two Rum Houses remain at the time of writing (Wein- und Rumhaus Braasch and Rumhaus Johannsen), Flensburg was once home to over 300. If you're lucky, you can still find scarce examples from these historic names, such as Sonnberg, Schmidt and Nissen, on the secondary market, showcasing the city’s connection with Jamaican rum.
While legendary independent bottlers such as Velier and Samaroli get most of the credit for setting modern trends such as bottling rum at cask-strength, German bottlers played a part too. Labelling in Germany has traditionally been quite minimal, with a tendency towards simple artwork and gothic script. Although interesting German rums can therefore be passed over at first glance, it is possible to find early examples of high-proof rum bottlings from Flensburg independent bottlers such as Dethleffson and Berentzen Brennereien.
But what does the modern landscape of rum bottling look like in Germany today? Since the turn of the 21st century, there has been a spate of new companies aiming to bring the culture of rum production back to Germany. From rums produced in Germany from imported molasses such as Don Ruffin, Revolte or Grasbrook rum to producers, such as Spreewood Distillers, who are paying homage to the rum blending art used in the past, blending their own unaged rum produced in Germany with imported aged rums from the Caribbean.
The rum heritage of Flensburg itself has also seen a revitalisation and renewed interest. The Flensburg Rum Company brand was launched in 2019 by Oldman Spirits GmbH, with the aim of re-awakening interest in rum in Germany through heritage-linked quality rum blends and bottlings. Standout bottlings include the Versailles KFM 1991 Flensburg 29 Year Old.
Versailles KFM 1991 Flensburg 29 Year Old [Rum Auctioneer]
Despite this long and still-living history, Flensburg and its rum remain somewhat unknown beyond Scandinavia and Germany. Confusion regarding whether the town distilled its own rum appears frequently in English-language articles online, possibly due to the former practice of mixing Flensburg-distilled spirit with the imported, Caribbean-distilled rum. Today, Flensburg is home to a Rum & Sugar trail and museums exhibiting some of the oldest and rarest bottles still in the town, offering the chance to learn about early and contemporary rum heritage.
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