It’s the time of year when rum sales tend to soar, but bars and restaurants are having a hard time stepping customers up to the better stuff these days.
For some reason, rum hasn’t enjoyed the same sort of premiumization occurring with other categories in the spirit resurgence. It’s not because there aren’t some terrific super- and ultra-premium rums out there. Rather, it seems that the traditional marketing of rum as the casual, easy blending spirit that goes with anything from soda and juices is fixed in most consumers’ minds; there’s no reason to spend more for rum.
Long dominated by the enormously popular Bacardí and Captain Morgan, the overall rum category still lags behind most other spirit categories in both volume growth (even though it’s second only to vodka) and price.
Some operators, however, are making the effort to make it known that rum is special and worth exploring. A great example is The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix, AZ. Co-owner and director of the spirit program Dwayne Allen has made rum the centerpiece in his beverage alcohol program. While there are as many as 150 rums to choose from, that’s it – no vodka, no whiskey, no tequila…nothing but rum.
Jamaica-born Allen says he was destined to run a rum-focused bar. “Rum courses through my veins,” he says. “I knew rum long before I knew what it was in terms of a spirit, as a ubiquitous part of Jamaican culture. As long as I could remember it was there – in food and drink, for medicinal purposes, all the way until I had my first rum punch.”
At Rum Bar, he’s working to go back to the days when that’s what Jamaicans called any local drinking establishment. “My grandmother still refers to any bar as a rum bar,” he says. “In her younger days, that’s what they were specifically called because that is all they served.”
Allen emphasizes that serving only rum is not a gimmick but rather a central part of the place’s food and drink. The drink menu is organized into categories suitable for appetizers, entrees and desserts. And he doesn’t just let the many rums gather dust; at Rum Bar, flights are in fashion. For example, he might create a flight based on age, highlighting the changes that occur in Guyanese rum El Dorado aged at 5, 10 and 15 years old. Or he might offer three rums made in Spanish-speaking countries – say, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Served with tasting cards as a guide and to showcase various flavors and attributes, the flights, priced according to the individual rums included, serves as a perfect entry point for neophytes.
“What we’ve discovered is that this is the easiest way to transition people into drinking quality rum, to take them from a point of no knowledge,” Allen says, noting that since a flight is only 1.5 ounces in total, it’s not the same as a commitment to a full drink with an unknown brand.
It’s a method that worked wonders for the tequila bars in the early part of the century looking to stand out as more than just Margarita-villes. The rum category is crying out for more operators to do the same with the cane spirit.