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February 22, 2023

Mad Monkey rum is out of the barrel

Adelaide’s own dedicated rum maker, Mad Monkey Distillery, has released its first barrel-aged rum – the culmination of a three-year journey and the start of what its producers hope will be an artisan rum revolution.

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  • Words and pictures: Ben Kelly
  • Image 1 L—R: Mad Monkey Distillery founders Scott McCarthy and Alec McDowall.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to envisage premium cocktail bars around Australia soon stocking more bottles of local rum than the ubiquitous pirate and sailor-themed labels that have been popular with consumers for decades.


Mad Monkey Distillery
6 La Salle St, Dudley Park 5008
Wed—Thu: 12pm ’til 5pm
Fri—Sat: 12pm ’til 9pm
Sunday: 12pm ’til 8pm


Adelaide distillers Scott McCarthy and Alec McDowall had this, and the Australian gin industry’s rapid growth, front of mind when they founded Mad Monkey Distillery about three years ago.

Scott and Alec first met at a distilling conference at Seppeltsfield in 2018 and bonded over a shared passion for the craft that went far beyond making amateur moonshine.

They became business partners, and the pair now has a dedicated rum distillery and cellar door at Dudley Park, just a few kilometres north of the Adelaide CBD.

This summer, Scott and Alec bottled the limited-release Mad Monkey Barrel Aged Rum – the achievement of a long-held goal for the business.

“In legal terms, we can finally say that we’re selling rum,” says Scott.

Like whisky, Australia has a legal requirement that a spirit must be barrel-aged for two years before it can be called rum, so, until now, Mad Monkey’s core products have been referred to as “cane spirits” – one of which took out a gold medal at the 2022 Tasting Australia Spirit Awards.


Nestled in an industrial corner of suburban Adelaide, Mad Monkey’s distillery features a cellar door converted from an old warehouse office space, lawned garden with tiki huts, a wood-oven pizza van, and even an orchard and a beehive.

The pair has invested hundreds of hours’ work, in addition to their day jobs, to get the distillery and cellar door off the ground. It’s been a process of turning a passion into an occupation, and in 2022 they finally reached the point of relinquishing their full-time jobs.

In their warehouse and distillery, the limited-release Barrel Aged Rum has been sitting on oak for more than two years in a 120-litre Barossa Valley red-wine cask.

Starting with molasses sourced from sugarcane grown in New South Wales, the Barrel Aged Rum was fermented, distilled and aged on-site.


This first release of only 185 bottles retail for $175 each, half of which are already sold. There are another 25 barrels of rum in storage, with new releases to be rolled out in the coming months.

“During COVID, we started laying down barrels every so often to build our maturation program and, as we start to scale, we’ll be looking to lay down barrels more quickly,” says Scott.

“We’ll be looking to build infrastructure to scale up production from there.”

While the rum has developed flavours during maturation solely from the barrel, Alec and Scott’s other cane spirits are infused with a range of flavours.

An on-site orchard grows lemons, grapefruit, pears, nectarines, and dai dai.

“We’ve started producing a series of spirits that we want to infuse with the fruit from our orchard,” Alec says.

“Some of the fruit we use for cocktail garnishes, but we want to develop a purpose for every tree that’s out there and make use of that beautiful orchard we’ve got on site.”

On-site beehives also come into play, with the aim to start harvesting wild yeast from the bees.

“While bees are foraging pollen and nectar they’re also picking up a mixture of bacteria and wild yeast, bringing that in from the surrounding area,” says Alec.

“We’ll end up culturing that and using it for fermentation, so the flavours that will be produced by that yeast will be from our own local terroir.”

Having worked previously as a brand ambassador for Seppeltsfield Road Distillers, Scott has a grounded understanding of the spirits industry and says he can see a gap in the market for artisan rum.

“It’s a niche spirit, but from listening to the people across the industry, rum – especially Australian rum – is going to be the next flavour of the month,” says Scott.

“When Alec and I first started talking, there weren’t many rum distilleries in Australia at all; now there are dozens.”

The pair has received inquiries from venues interstate wanting to stock their rum, but the game plan is to first “win at home” by building relationships with Adelaide retailers, high-end cocktail bars and venues.

“We’re three years in, and we’re really excited for what we’re going to produce in the next three years,” says Scott.

“We started a business to create change within the industry – not just try and make money – and showcase what South Australian distillers can do.”

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