Dark Rum

07 June, 2013

“Undeniably there’s a feeling among the drinks industry that rum is going to be the next category to break through in terms of spirits. You can see that from investment levels.”

Awakening markets

It is also obvious in terms of the markets that rum is starting to awaken. There are pockets of Latin America where Geary says rum is taking over from local spirits. “In Chile rum is larger than Pisco and that’s happening in Peru. It’s all down to quality and fashionability.” 

Asia, too, is front of mind for many rum brands when it comes to growing sales. Brugal 1888 won the inaugural Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit competition just months after its launch in Asian markets and Geary says Brugal is doing some “seeding work” in China, where there is a already a heavy focus on Cognac and whisky.

Campari’s Gonzonato says: “There is still a lot of opportunity in the ‘traditional’ rum markets, but I believe Asia is ripe to adopt a rum ‘culture’ per se. But I see this in the higher end areas such as aged rums, which positions our company perfectly for this growth opportunity.” 

Over at Diageo, Samantha Reader, global category director for rums and CEO of Zacapa, points to the trend towards connoisseurship as a result of a focus on increased consumer education “from rum brands and the passion of the bartending community – they act as advocates and ambassadors every day, sharing their knowledge and expertise with inquisitive consumers.”

She adds that specific serve suggestions are made for all the Diageo rums. “In the case of Zacapa 23, it is best served simply over a single large lump of pure clean ice so that the beautiful rich liquid isn’t over-diluted by ice melt.  

“Zacapa XO should be enjoyed neat to fully enjoy the richness and depth that the ageing in French oak Cognac casks gives this rum. The choice of glassware is also important to optimise enjoyment and enhance the ritual – for Zacapa XO we’ve developed a specific glass with Riedel to ensure none of the amazing nose is lost.”

While the focus of development at the top end is clearly on building dark and golden rums’ premium credentials to allow them to sit shoulder to shoulder with Cognac and whisky, rum is never going to lose its sense of fun to be drunk with mixers, which remains at its heart and is key to growing consumption among younger consumers. 

Reader says: “Of course cocktails are important and our mixologists and brand ambassadors are always experimenting with new flavours and techniques to bring to life the quality and flavour of the liquids. 

“But often, simple is best – just highlighting the top notes of the rums as in the case of Zacapa Estilo Viejo:  Zacapa 23, Angostura bitters, Angostura Orange bitters, sugar syrup stirred in a rocks glass and garnished with an orange twist.  

“And cocktails that reflect the birthplace of the rum will always work – not just from an authenticity perspective but by making use of ingredients and flavours indigenous to the rum’s origin, which create perfect taste partnerships.

Shared view

This is a view shared by Pernod Ricard Havana Club global marketing director Nick Blacknell, who says that rum’s “party perception certainly suits Havana Club’s identity – it embodies the authentic Cuban culture so it’s fitting it keeps that persona”.

He continues: “Rum’s popularity is due to its sweet and accessible taste, which is highly mixable, especially with cola, and also because it is perceived as a cool and informal spirit. Havana Club’s success in these markets is due to its wide range of rums, from Havana Club 3 Year Old to Máximo, satisfying all types of consumers.”

And, like Appleton, the brand is on a mission to educate consumers, having developed marketing campaigns highlighting its authentic Cuban identity, such as the Nothing Compares to Havana Campaign, which includes TV, print, billboard, and cinema advertising, as well as online activity and PR support.  “It epitomises the essence of Havana by reflecting the true values of the city – humanity, spontaneity and creativity.” 

Blacknell says: “We have also implemented a brand education programme, which is aimed at bartenders and influential members of the on-trade and conducted by brand ambassadors in key markets around the world.

“We have a strong cultural global communications platform called Havana Cultura, dedicated to embracing the brand’s Cuban heritage and promoting Cuban creativity in all its forms. Havana Cultura is brought to life through a website as well as cultural projects and events around the world.”

Indeed, of all the spirits, rum is the one which appears most synonymous with its place of production.

Gonzonato elaborates: “If a country has a rum culture, that is where the people really embrace the local brand, then usually the brand is perceived to take on the personality of the people who drink it. In addition, in the case of Appleton, the brand is also an extension of the people who work at Appleton and who produce the product. Therefore you will find that when people think of Appleton they tend to think of the brand as being passionate, friendly, social while also standing for craftsmanship at the highest level.”

With the heritage and authenticity of a Scotch, rum’s easygoing, fun side makes it unique among spirits and accounts for its huge diversity.

It is learning and maturing – in more ways than one – but it’s never going to hang up its party shoes.

As Ian Burrell says: “The party atmosphere will always be there. The serious side is for connoisseurs who are fine spirit drinkers, not necessarily  serious about rum. That is where it has an opportunity to grow.”

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