The Whisky Show – the clue’s in the name. So why was it that during my visit there recently, people kept offering me rum, and I returned with a number of samples from the West Indies and Central America?
After some years of creeping success, it seems the premium end of the sector is set to come in to its own – and plenty are suggesting that the potential rehabilitation of Cuba into the American market will be the starting gun for a trend that could see an increasingly diverse range of premium rums receive the same sort of respect as single malt whiskies or tequilas do now. Experts point to the same diversity of tastes within the rum category, and argue that consumers have already moved past the dark, light or white rum segmentation.
We’ve been here before, of course. A few years ago whisky distillery Bruichladdich even attempted to match a range of West Indian and Central American rums with the taste profiles of Scottish single malt whisky.
But there is a feeling that the time is right, the consumer suitably engaged and the drinks of sufficient quality for premium rum to take its place in the sun. And with the added spice of a resurgent Cuba – and, more pertinently, the incentive for cash-rich Havana Club to win over the US – Cuban rum would seem to have a ready-made battering ram to lead its assault. And once the door is open, it’s game on for premium whisky in general.
So might it happen? I put four general scenarios before a panel of rum experts: Nick Blacknell, Havana Club marketing director; Karina Hermansen, Berry Bros & Rudd global brand director; Peter Holland, the Floating Rum Shack; Benjamin Jones, Rhum Clement and Rhum JM US director; Jordi Xifra Keysper, Beveland marketing manager; and Nadege Perrot, Modern Spirits brand manager.
This is what they said:
If and when Cuba starts trading internationally in rum it will take market share from existing producers
Benjamin Jones: When Cuban rum enters the US market, I believe it will make a great and positive impact for all premium rum. Initially it will take a little market share away from all brands, most notably Bacardi. The competition will be welcomed. Cuban rum will have a longer negative effect only against other rums that are similar in style, but in the long term the US rum market is growing only in the premium segments and is expanding now that the consumer is more familiar with the variety of unique regional styles of rum, particularly the heritage brands representing very distinctive segments of the world of rum. There will be a wide open door for other premium craft and heritage Cuban rums to enter the US market.