Rum's New Directions

The association of rum with relaxation and good times is rooted in two things: most rum is produced in warm climates (the Caribbean, Central and South America) and liquor companies often market their brands that way. Scan the rum section of any liquor store, and you’ll see a whole lot of palm trees and pirates. But rum’s  “vacation in a glass” reputation has evolved to become a backbar “staycation,” holding its place on menus year-round. Check out these rum recipes at

Much of this excitement has to do with the revival of Tiki and other classic rum cocktails. But as Frank Cisneros from New York City’s Cienfuegos points out, rum’s heightened popularity also has to do with the influx of rum styles available: “People are starting to realize that rum is one of the most versatile mixing spirits. It's one of the few spirit categories that spans the range of styles from unaged, dry, blended, funky, sweet, to very aged. It can be expressed in so many ways and is so much more versatile than, say, whiskey, which has much narrower applications. Coupled with the fact that most rums are a relative value when compared to other spirits, particularly whiskies and brandies, and I think you'll see people using it more and more in all sorts of cocktail applications. “

Drink Trends: Shaken, Swizzled and Sipped

The now ubiquitous Mojito seems to enjoy a steady place on menus across the country, with creative variations using fresh fruits, herbs and rum types to keep customers interested. At Philadelphia’s Rum Bar (winner of the Nightclub & Bar 2012 Cocktail Lounge of the Year), Adam Kanter has seen a resurgence of the Daiquiri instead.

“Everybody seems to want to recreate Ernest Hemingway's preferred Daiquiri of choice — which I do, too,” Kanter says, “but I would love to see bars coming up with their own spin on the traditional Daiquiri.”

Adam Kanter

Adam Kanter of Rum Bar in Philadelphia, the Nightclub & Bar 2012 Cocktail Lounge of the Year.

Silver or white rums like Bacardi Superior, Cruzan and Don Q (the volume of which was up a whopping 15.3% to 219,000 9-liter cases last year) continue to do well in these drinks.

The Tiki cocktail trend (or “faux-tropical” as Allan Katz from Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles calls the drinks) continues to grow with bars coast-to-coast recreating potent blends of rums and tropical juices. “With the boom of classic cocktails, we saw an opportunity to revisit rum drinks the fun way, with the likes of the Mai Tai, the Zombie and the Pain Killer. We wanted to get away from the sticky sweet versions we have seen for years and approach with updated liquors, fresh ingredients and some fun. They are fun drinks after all,” explains Bar Manager Gary Hermanson from RumBa at the InterContinental Hotel in Boston.

Bartenders also have expressed a renewed interest in aged rum styles that hold their weight in a complex cocktail just as well as when simply sipped. Juan Campos, U.S. brand development manager of Brugal Rum says, “By and large, the biggest surge we’ve noticed recently is in premium sipping rums and consumers’ curiosity about the idea of sipping rum.” The brand’s new extension, Brugal 1888, offers a dry style of rum aged in toasted American White Oak Casks, then transferred to specially selected Spanish Sherry Oak cask for a secondary aging.

If the process sounds similar to whiskey, it is. Kanter thinks this phenomenon is a nice direction for boutique rum brands. He notes Plantation Rum finishes their rums in Cognac Ferrand barrels, Ron Zacapa and Dos Maderas finish their rums in Pedro Ximenez Sherry barrels and Murray MacDavid uses dessert wine barrels for finishing. The availability of unique aged rums makes it easier for bartenders to use the various styles in cocktails. And the cost, as Kanter points out, is a relative value compared with most aged whiskies.

“A 7-year-old rum could be the equivalent of a 21-year-old scotch due to the Caribbean heat tripling the effectiveness of the oak barrels,” Kanter says. “The price of a 7-year-old rum is in the $20-30 range. The price in a 21-year-old scotch is well into the hundreds.”

Katz has seen a broad demographic of rum sippers at Caña over the past two years, as well as a growth in the segment he finds most exciting. While a variety of brands do well at his bar (Don Q, Zacapa, Smith & Cross, Banks, Plantation), aged rum accounts for the lion’s share of his sales. “It’s just more interesting and versatile,” he says.

Tom Herbst, director of marketing for rums at Diageo also recognizes that dark, aged rums are growing. “The recent whiskey renaissance in the U.S. has sparked a renewal of attention for brown spirits, and rum is beginning to be considered by many adult consumers as a sipping spirit, not for use exclusively in Tiki cocktails or classic rum cocktails like the Mojito.” Diageo has introduced Captain Morgan Black Spiced rum to compete in sipping rum space, as well as evolve with their core Captain consumer.

Rum Old Fashioned

A Rum Old Fashioned, courtesy of Frank Cisneros of Cienfuegos in New York City. For the recipe, click here.

Spice is Nice

The undisputed king of the spiced category at 6.28 million 9-liter cases, Captain Morgan now has to defend its throne against new entrants like Bacardi Oakheart (which did 140,000 9-liter cases in its first year) and Cruzan 9. Further nipping at the Captain’s heels is the hip and tattooed Sailor Jerry brand and lower-priced Admiral Nelson Spiced rum. Both brands saw strong growth in 2011 at 16% and 3.9% respectively.

Herbst says Captain Morgan is now seeing a resurgence in on-premise business after the economic downturn caused more consumers to drink at home. With an aggressive on-premise marketing strategy featuring the Morganettes brand ambassadors, Captain Morgan is focusing on activities that tell the story of the real-life brand icon Captain Henry Morgan. They also are branching outside the “Captain and Coke” bar call with new drink recipes.

The launch of Captain Morgan Black Spiced rum is a big step for Diageo. Herbst explains, “As the Captain Morgan target consumer continues to evolve and expand his interests, we recognize that Captain Morgan needs to evolve with them. Our recent campaign ‘To Life, Love and Loot’ was the ideal way to introduce the world to a more mature, multi-dimensional Captain.” The liquid is described as a bold, dark spiced rum with rich clove spice and premium cassia bark. The smooth finish is created by double charred blackened oak and is best enjoyed on the rocks, similar to a fine whiskey.

Flavor Explosion

Like vodka, rum flavors have continued at a rapid pace, with Bacardi having successful launches of brands, including Rock Coconut, Torched Cherry and the upcoming Wolf Berry, that feature built-in bar call potential. Coming off of a 5.6% increase last year according to Impact Databank, Pernod Ricard has introduced two new line extensions to the Malibu rum family — MalibuRed, a higher-proof tequila and rum hybrid with endorsements by R&B star Ne-Yo — and the citrus-infused Malibu Sunshine. Most bartenders use the flavors to experiment with both complex and simple cocktails, offering their customers a broader range of drink choices.

Ready for Rum

The so-called rum renaissance is enjoying a 1.3% growth as the spirit category’s second largest player. And regardless of the season, both bartenders and consumers have found a place for rum in their cocktail repertoire. Expect to see more dark and aged rums nudge their way next to whiskies as palates evolve and demand increases. But don’t dismiss the white, flavored and spiced rums as they also continue to innovate. Whether mixed with cola, hand-shaken or muddled, rum is ready for another big year.

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