Is This the Next Big Spirit Movement?

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Last year we introduced you to Cody Fredrickson, Whisky Specialist at Scotch 80 Prime steakhouse inside The Palms. Why did we make that introduction? Because Fredrickson oversees a $3 million whisky inventory.

On the surface, that’s crazy and cool. Scotch 80 Prime offers about 500 whiskies with prices that range from $14 to over $7,000 per two-ounce pour. The restaurant got their hands on 33 Macallan Vintage Fine and Rare expressions that date back to 1937.

But it’s more than just a cool, compelling story. The steakhouse invested heavily in two moneymaking trends: whisky and premiumization. We all remember the bourbon boom. We remember the rye boom. We can recall the American craft whiskey explosion. We watched Japanese whisky become so popular that distillers in the country couldn’t keep up with the demand for vintage expressions. Rare, vintage Scotches have always, it seems, been in vogue.

Operators and data firms witnessed a shift in consumer behavior driven in part by whisky. Super-premium whiskies were—and still are—popular among consumers. In fact, super-premium spirits in all categories are the growth drivers.

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That growth leads to today’s introduction. Not to a person but to a spirit category that many experts agree is poised to have a very lucrative moment. Everyone, meet dark rum.

For reference, the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) defines super-premium as bottles priced at $35 or more at retail. In the rum category, super-premium grew by close to 30 percent last year. The following examples are popular super-premium rums:

  • Bacardí Gran Reserva Diez (Puerto Rico)
  • Santa Teresa 1796 (Venezuela)
  • Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)
  • Zacapa 23 (Guatemala)
  • Flor de Caña 18 Year (Nicaragua)
  • Papa’s Pilar Dark 24 Rum (United States)
  • Plantation XO 20th Anniversary (Barbados)
  • Mount Gay Extra Old (Barbados)
  • Brugal 1888 Ron Gran Reserva (Dominican Republic)

Each of the above expressions retail for no more than around $70. However, many distillers craft limited, small-batch expressions that can command several hundred dollars per bottle.

It now appears that super-premium dark rums are ready for their time in the spotlight. This is likely due to several factors coming together, including the resurgence of rum-driven tiki culture; the never-ending quest for consumers to “discover” what’s “new” and what’s next; and a desire for dark spirits drinkers and aficionados to become educated in a category that has been skipped over in favor of whisky and Cognac.

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Of course, this interest in super-premium rums will come as no surprise to the proprietors of such rum havens as BlackTail in NYC (2018 Nightclub & Bar Cocktail Bar of the Year), Hale Pele in Portland (2019 Nightclub & Bar Tiki Bar of the Year), Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco (2011 Nightclub & Bar Cocktail Bar of the Year), Sugarcane in Las Vegas, Miami and Brooklyn, Rumba in Seattle which has a rum map to help guests explore. Such venues are far ahead of the competition, meaning their well positioned to profit from the coming Dark Rum Boom.

It seems that collectors are already keenly aware of the coming explosion in dark rum popularity. VinePair reported that bartender and portfolio specialist Jan Warren has seen bourbon collectors “liquidating their collections, and buying rum.”

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Such a revelation is important for a few reasons. First, jumping on a profitable trend toward the middle or end of its lifecycle means an operator is playing catchup. Their early-adopting competitors are perceived as knowledgeable and the place to discover what’s new. Second, costs can increase and already pricey sought-after, small-batch bottles can be hard to find and come with inflated price tags. Third, watching what collectors are shifting and what they’re snapping up can help forecast coming trends. If collectors are selling of whiskies to get their hands on rum that lends real weight to the belief that dark rum is about to blow up.

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