The language of rum

23 July, 2020

In 2018, Master of Malt owner Atom Brands added another string to its bottling bow with the launch of That Boutique-y Rum Company (TBRC). Created in collaboration with rum consultant and educator Peter Holland, the range was said to “have honesty at its core” with a bespoke classification system that was “all about the process and the provenance, not the colour”. Taking inspiration from the Gargano Classification System (see box), the TBRC segments its expressions according to whether they are from a single distillery or multiple distilleries, and what types of stills were used.

“I want to normalise the conversation, to grow it, and not hide behind marketing BS; just share the details,” says Holland, adding that any new classifications need to be “simple” if they are going to stop consumers thinking in terms of colour. “If we stick with ‘white’, ‘gold’, and ‘dark’ then we may as well give up now. Anyone sticking to this – and I include the major retailers – then they are just grubbing around like a bottom feeder in a pond. It’s easy and it’s lazy and it has no sense of developing the category.”


The Whisky Exchange (TWE) was also inspired by the Gargano Classification System when developing its own code last year. However, in addition to segmenting rums by production method – adding ‘traditionalist’ and ‘modernist’ descriptors – TWE also uses broad flavour camps to help consumers navigate its offer. According to Dawn Davies, classifying rum by production method is a “long-term project”, and today’s consumers are likely to more easily understand flavour descriptors.

TWE’s six flavour categories are: light & uncomplicated; herbaceous & grassy; tropical & fruity; fruity & spicy; dry & spicy; and rich & treacly. Davies says TWE continues to use colour descriptors to an extent “because this is how the consumer continues to shop”, but she hopes they will be faded out in the future. “What we’re trying to say is here is the information that makes these rums so much more than those terms.”

Producers are also doing more to promote the category’s diversity by showcasing their own points of difference, stepping out from beneath the umbrella of colour. The portfolio of Diplomático, for instance, includes single vintage, cask strength and cask finished expressions. The brand also has a range of rums that highlights the different qualities of its three stills, consisting of: No.1 Batch Kettle, No.2 Barbet, and No.3 Pot Still.

According to Edouard Beaslay, consumer understanding of other categories such as wine, cognac and whisky is starting to transfer to rum. “Our terminology and production processes have similarities, so as consumers get educated in a specific category, they can apply this knowledge and interest to others,” he says. “We can all benefit from a more engaged and informed consumer.” Colombian rum La Hechicera is similarly seeking to bring new flavour experiences to drinkers. At the end of last year, the brand – which sources liquid for ageing and blending – launched a Muscat wine cask finished rum as part of its new Serie Experimental range, with a number of innovations planned for the future.

“What consumers seldom realise is how many spectacular rums resulting from well-conducted experiments never make it to market, either because the batch is not quite replicable, or it’s too costly to reproduce,” says Miguel Riascos Jr, co-founder and managing director of the brand. “Serie Experimental is our way of sharing those experiments, even if it’s in limited, numbered bottles.”

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