A few weeks ago, someone asked me about which spirit would be the ‘next whisky’. By that they meant, which spirit would come out of the shadows in a similar way that whisky started to do about ten years ago? Whisky has become the ‘new Cognac’. My prediction skills have never been good, but after some discussion we came to our conclusion – rum.
Whisky and rum have a lot of similarities if you think about it – both are distilled from a raw product that has been fermented with yeast, molasses in the case of rum and grain in the case of whisky, and then aged in oak casks for a maturation period. Both also have a diversity of styles.
Rum, like whisky before it, has long been seen as a drink for an ageing population or simply a mixer and cocktail ingredient. Add scenes of pirates swigging from the bottle in movies and you have a misinterpreted drink. Is now the time for rum to stand up and be counted, and for consumers to appreciate fully the quality of products on the market?
Whisky finally began to shake its old fashioned image in the mid 2000s and this was driven by education, brand stories, heritage and history of the distilleries and liquids. This, along with innovative new products and ones designed to appeal to a younger and wider audience of drinkers, has helped the whisky category achieve the worldwide growth and position that it has today.
Rum is made around the world but has a deep heritage that is engrained in the culture of the Caribbean and Central America in particular. Whisky is similarly intertwined in to the fabric of Scottish, Irish or American society and history. Can the rum companies pull on this history and the stories from their individual brands to promote their products to encourage new consumers?
Many of the rum distilleries are older than their whisky counterparts across the world. For example, Glenturret, which is Scotland’s oldest that is still in production, began distilling in the Highlands in 1775. Bowmore on the famous whisky island of Islay was established in 1779 and Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee has just celebrated its 150th anniversary after starting in 1866.
For example and to compare, Appleton Estate in Jamaica was officially founded in 1749. Records show evidence of rum production on the site even earlier than that, maybe even as far back as 1655 when the estate was set up after the English captured Jamaica from the Spanish.
Appleton Estate seems like one of the key candidates that could push this potential drive of the rum category forwards. It is one of few places to grow and process the sugar, separate and ferment the molasses, distil and then mature the rum all on the same site.
They are historically innovative having been at the forefront of experimentation in the 1940s to develop their rums to fill a void. This had been created by a combination of Prohibition in the USA, which had all but eradicated American whiskey from the market place, and World War II that saw much lower whisky production levels in Scotland.
The current Master Blender, Joy Spence, was also the first woman ever to hold such a role in any spirits category in the world when she was appointed in 1997. Next year, she celebrates her 20th anniversary and 35 years at Appleton Estate in total.
So, what is stopping people buying a bottle of rum and sitting down to sip and savour it like a fine Scotch single malt? Can rum be the ‘new whisky’, the same way that whisky became the ‘new Cognac’? The products, history and manufacturing methods are so similar, so is it simply a matter of perception that rum cannot be consumed this way?
When talking with Joy Spence a couple of weeks ago, she felt that it is rum’s time to shine and for Europeans to follow the Caribbean way of drinking it neat or with some ice. She sees no reason as to why the category should not grow and that it was important for rum companies to look at how whisky achieved such growth with the use of consumer engagement.
With most rums at a cheaper price level than the equivalent whisky or other dark spirits, especially those products with ages stated, it seems that with a good marketing push an increasing number of consumers could be converted. Having not sampled much rum in the past and then getting guided through the different styles by the legendary Joy, I think I will be one of them.