The Boozy Backstory: Equiano – Decolonizing Rum

By / Wine + Drinks / August 21st, 2023 / 1

This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022-2023 print issue of Quench Magazine.

Every once in a while, you taste a spirit so great it makes you feel a little bit sorry for all the other spirits.

Equiano rum is one of those. And it’s not only that the liquid is spot-on, it’s also that the entire project is brilliant. Equiano is a thoughtful contribution to the “decolonization” of spirits that manages to put slavery at the centre of the rum story, celebrate African-Caribbean heritage and culture and, at the same time, raise money for contemporary anti-slavery efforts.

Ian Burrell and Aaisha Dadral | courtesy of Equiano

Co-founded by Aaisha Dadral and Ian Burrell in 2020, Equiano is the world’s first African-Caribbean rum, a reference to both slave routes and Burrell’s Afro-Caribbean heritage, which has made this a deeply personal project.

“I was born into rum,” says Burrell, who, in 2007, founded RumFest, which is held annually in the United Kingdom. “My parents are Jamaican, so I had my first sip of rum when I was about four days old. It’s always been a part of my blood, my DNA, my culture.”

“But one thing that was never taught to us was that the Africans who were enslaved built the rum industry, but never profited from it directly.”

Although things are slowly changing, rum companies have mostly glossed over the role slavery played in the history of the industry. Burrell and Dadral decided to correct this omission by creating a trans-Atlantic rum that’s blended with spirit from both Mauritius and Barbados. It’s named after Olaudah Equiano, a pioneering abolitionist, political activist and memoirist who bought his way out of slavery in the United States by selling, among other things, rum.

“When we decided to create Equiano, it was to tell that story,” Burrell explains, “But not so much the troubles and strife about what it was like to be an enslaved African. It’s more about the celebration of accomplishment, of empowerment, and of perseverance. A lot of great things came out from the darkness of the enslavement of Africans and the rum industry is one of those things.”

The project also manages not to feed into the rhetoric that frames slavery as a thing of the past. The Equiano Foundation supports efforts to abolish modern slavery with a donation of a share of all profits to Anti-Slavery International (ASI)—one of the oldest anti-slavery organizations in the world. ASI’s roots can be traced back to an 18th century group that was aligned with Olaudah Equiano, himself.

“I’ve got to a stage now where I’m starting to think about how we can leave our footprint,” says Burrell. “One of the reasons we created Equiano was to be able to raise money and create a foundation to elevate.”


Burrell says he loves to drink Equiano “Light” (a reference to the colour, which has a light golden hue) in a simple Daiquiri. The other expression is Original, a dark aged rum.

  • 2 oz Equiano Light
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz agave nectar (not syrup)
  • Orange or grapefruit twist

METHOD: Shake rum, juice and nectar well, over ice, for 30 seconds. Strain into coupe and garnish with a citrus twist.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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