Rum Rebellion

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Rum has been very popular for the last few years, but is it maintaining its grasp on the market? Jamie Allan investigates.

Rum is a versatile spirit lending itself to a broadness of appeal across age and gender. While white rums are light in flavour, making them a good substitute for vodka, golden rums mix well while still packing a punch, much like a good entry level bourbon. Meanwhile, the top-end premium rums can be enjoyed like a good whisky, neat or with ice.
Research by Halewood International also indicates that consumers view rum as both a winter (63%) and a summer (54%) drink, ensuring the spirit’s year-round popularity, and the increase in rum brands across Scotland’s back bars is indicative of the spirit’s growth.
Adam Murphy is the General Manager of Bos’n in Aberdeen, a newly-opened bar that specialises in rum and rum cocktails with 50 specialities behind the bar. While acknowledging rum’s status as a bartender’s favourite, Adam comments, “I think rum appeals to the public because it offers something different from the norm, people are really embracing its versatility and our rum cocktails outsell even beer.
“We host rum and chocolate tastings every Wednesday, they heighten awareness of the category as a whole and show just how versatile rum is. Bartenders come to our bar quite a bit and sample the full range, but we’re very much about introducing the public to a drink they may not know much about. As a category it has grown a lot over the last few years, and the public are coming round to that.”
Brand Manager for Brugal Rum, Sarah Bell, also highlighted the importance of on-trade staff in spreading the word about rum to their customers. She said, “I think bartenders tend to migrate towards rum because of the spirit’s heritage and authenticity. Its versatility in cocktails and mixed drinks helps too of course. Bartenders have really helped us grow the brand in the Scottish on-trade, they tend to be very knowledgable and are happy to recommend Brugal to their customers, being as it is the number one selling rum in the Caribbean.”
Yet although golden rums have been embraced by bartenders and are currently enjoying an increased share of the rum category, Sarah believes that there is still some work to do on broadening consumers’ rum horizons.
Says Sarah, “When working with consumers, a lot of what we focus on is education, not only on our brand but the rum category as a whole. We’ve just completed a sampling campaign in Glasgow and Edinburgh, going in to some of the best cocktail bars and allowing consumers to try Brugal. A lot of people have quite a narrow view of the category, and when they taste it they are often quite surprised. It’s about presenting the spirit in a new, more premium way to rum objectors.”
One of Edinburgh’s hottest new spots for cocktails is Juniper on Princes Street, where they have opted for Brugal as the unofficial house rum of choice. Deputy Food and Beverage Manager Ifan Marasco told DRAM, “We’re not tied to pouring contracts at Juniper, and although we have Bacardi Superior to hand if a customer name calls it we prefer to leave the choice up to the bartender. Brugal is the one we get through the most of, it’s really well-rounded and works brilliantly in cocktails and long drinks. Also, with so many premium, sipping rums available we’re seeing a real surge in interest amongst our customers, and we sell more neat rum than we do whisky.”
It’s worth noting however that although high-end bars such as Juniper may be seeing an increase in consumers enjoying rum neat, 95% of consumers still drink the spirit with a mixer, with leading brands such as Havana Club and Bacardi predominantly enjoyed with a mix. Although on-trade volume continues to drop year by year, the white rum category still accounts for almost half of the market share, largely in part to the continuing popularity of Bacardi.
Yet Bacardi aside, white rum sales continue to drop. Ian Sanderson is General Manager of the Tiki Bar in Glasgow and President of the Glasgow Rum Club, and he has witnessed a recent shift in focus away from white rums. He said, “ Brands are now moving away from their white rum variants and promoting gold rums as their house pour choice, primarily because of consumer-led trends. Bacardi aside, there’s no financial backing behind white rums, which makes it very difficult for bars to pour with them.”
Distill has one of the biggest collections of rum in Glasgow with over 100 brands featured, and Assistant Manager Abi Clephane told DRAM that Angostura is their pouring rum of choice. She said, “Angostura is our house pour rum, and we have the full-range on the back bar. The brand really lends itself to the full spectrum of rum drinking, from mixing the Reserva and 5yr in long drinks and cocktails or enjoying the 1919 or 1824 variants as sipping drinks. The 1824 is a personal favourite, it makes a brilliant Treacle cocktail.”
Dark rum remains an often overlooked component of the category. Negative stereotypes about dark rum are proving hard to shift, with the sub-category generally associated with older drinkers and men at sea. It remains heavily male biased, with 65% of dark rum drinkers being men. Understandably, brands are starting to fight back against this perception.
James Wright, International Sales and Marketing Controller for Halewood, who distribute and promote Lamb’s Rum, comments, “Dark rum is in decline, but that has slowed. It’s seen as an older person’s drink, but people have a high recognition of the brand and are loyal to Lamb’s because of the heritage and provenance. It’s an exciting time for Lamb’s, and it’s nice to have a brand that people already know and trust.“
Another dark rum brand looking to shake up the image of the category is O.V.D. who, despite being the best selling dark rum in Scotland, are looking to challenge bartenders and consumers’ understanding of the brand. Last year they launched a cocktail competition encouraging bartenders to re-imagine the category by utilising it in their original libations, in a bid to dispel some of the pre-conceived ideas people may have about the brand.
OVD Brand Manager Paul Curry told DRAM, “Dark rum has a very distinctive taste profile and has traditionally been served neat or with a simple mixer. It has been marketed in the past as a traditional man’s drink. These factors have somewhat limited its appeal for today’s bartenders and drinkers, so we are now taking steps to encourage them to start to experiment with dark rum and discover just how mixable and versatile it can be. I see my job as starting to break down some of the pre-conceived notions about dark rum and begin expanding its appeal. O.V.D. has a strong and loyal following of enthusiasts who have been enjoying it for many years and know how good it is. It is now time to position it to attract its next generation of loyal drinkers.”
In his role as Mixxit Manager, David Miles works with bartenders across the UK, and he believes that the increased quality of rum in recent years means that the spirit is more relevant than ever. Says David, “The huge growth in rum that we saw a few years ago may have slowed slightly, but it’s still extremely popular in the on-trade and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. While there’s no doubt that gin is experiencing a surge in interest I think it’s come at the expense of flavoured vodkas rather than rum.”
Pointing to the maturation processes used in Scottish whiskies, David said, “Premium, higher-quality rums are very much the thing just now, with distillers learning important lesson from single malt whiskies. There’s now much more awareness of the importance of cask quality, and the ageing process is now much more rigorous than in the past. So many good bars now have premium, aged rums on their top shelves, to be lingered over and appreciated rather than mixed.”
There is a new rum range on the market, The Wild Geese, who have added the rums to their portolio of Irish whiskies. Packaged with a distinctive skull logo on the label, The Wild Geese rums have Golden, Premium and Spiced variants, each having a number of industry accolades to their name. Tom Ma from Protege International, who distribute The Wild Geese, said, “Unlike our whisky, the range of Wild Geese rums have very little to do with Ireland, being blended from aged Caribbean rums. It’s a new brand obviously, so we’re still in the stages of introducing it to bartenders in Scotland. We’re in the same price range as Captain Morgan’s and Bacardi, which is great value for money given the quality of spirit.”
Although one wouldn’t dispute the increase of interest in rums in city style and cocktail bars, I wondered whether more traditional venues displayed the same trends. Susan Munro of Tennent’s in Glasgow said, “We’ve noticed a lot more people recently buying spiced rum, primarily Captain Morgan’s Spiced though we sell a small amount of Kraken too. It’s mainly women who are buying it, with the guy’s preferring Captain Morgan’s Dark.”
It was a similar story at Edinburgh’s Haymarket, with Manager Derek Meechan observing the same trends. I asked whether the rebranding of Morgan’s Spiced to Captain Morgan’s Spiced had any effect on sales, but Derek said, “To be honest, I don’t think people noticed. They still ask for Morgan’s Spiced when they’re at the bar.”
David Miles believes that spiced rum will be the next category to continue the trend towards premiumisation, saying, “Looking forward, I think we’ll see a development of better quality, premium spiced rums, with more actual spice rather than a simple addition of caramel.”
Spiced rums sales continue to grow, with the category having always enjoyed more popularity in Scotland than the rest of the UK, perhaps because of our famously sweet tooth. With spiced rum now driving category growth, up 15.9% in value share, Lamb’s are now looking to make further inroads into the spiced rum market with increased brand activity of Lamb’s Spiced in the coming months. James Wright told DRAM, “Lamb’s Spiced works well in the on-trade because of its 30% ABV, as the duty saving helps drive profitability at the bar and consumer’s don’t appear to be put off by the lower strength.”
One brand that has been a driving force in recent years in the spiced rum category is Kraken. Backed by a monstrous advertising campaign (no pun intended), which saw the eponymous sea-beast take to cinema screens this June in a 30 second clip costing in the region of six figures, Kraken have made a concerted effort to be at the forefront of the public’s consciousness.
Scott McKenzie of Proximo Spirits said, “Kraken is performing outstandingly well, trade and consumers have a genuine love for the product and brand. We continue to support all sectors of the trade by using key branding opportunities such as murals, sampling, great advertising and POS.
“We have been working with our wholesale partners and Old Jamaica ginger beer to promote the Kraken’s premium key serve – The Perfect Storm with ginger beer and fresh lime. Kraken is a versatile spirit, so we’ve been working with DRAM to promote Kraken as a versatile cocktail ingredient with the sponsorship of the Cocktail Bar of the Year. The point of difference always lies with the taste – once the bartenders fall in love with Kraken, this passion translates to customers.”
One such bartender is Alisdair Shaw of Bath Street Palomino, who told DRAM, “Kraken’s a good quality product, which makes all the difference when it comes to recommending it to customers. For me it’s the best quality spiced rum to hit the market since the old Sailor Jerry, and people have really latched onto it. We sell roughly a case a week, which for a premium product is extremely good.”
Kraken have enjoyed much more success in their advertising than one of the brand’s spiced rum competitors. Diageo’s Captain Morgan has twice been censured in recent months for its advertising campaigns. After the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that a TV advert for the spiced rum brand linked drinking with “daringness and toughness”, a Facebook post that showed the Captain Morgan mascot “declare war on mid-week boredom” was adjudged by the ASA to imply that drinking the spiced rum would alleviate boredom.
Despite Captain Morgan’s issues with advertising both campaigns were clearly aimed at emphasising rum as a fun, accessible drink, and it’s these attributes that are perhaps responsible for the spirit’s enduring popularity with bartenders and younger drinkers. As Ifan from Juniper says, “Because rum was made purely for drinking rather than for medicinal purposes it’s always had a reputation as a party drink, which fits in nicely with the bartender ethos. It’s not a serious drink, it’s for sharing and having fun. Also, pirates drank it, which is obviously cool.”

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