A few years ago Rum was flying, it was really taking off – led by the ‘Spiced Rum’ category and Sailor Jerry particularly. On the back of SJ consumers were more willing to look at golden or dark rums than ever before where previously it has all been about Bacardi to mix with coke consumers now realised you could buy something that tasted good and could be just sipped. It didn’t last, Sailor Jerry made one of the worst business decisions I have ever come across and at the height of their popularity did two things. They sold into the supermarkets (a good move for the brand) but at the same time they changed their recipe. Their existing customer base was outraged, bottles of ‘Original Recipe’ were like gold dust and if you discovered some on the shelf of a cash and carry and retailer would have been foolish not to snap them up.
Of course the sales and marketing teams at Sailor Jerry will tell you that they did their market research and that it predicted a rise in sales with a new recipe. They will also tell you that there was a significant increase in sales as a result of the new recipe. What they will conveniently forget to tell you is that during the same period the brand moved from an on trade speciality with retail availability limited to independent retailers to being stocked in all the major supermarkets. If that doesn’t increase your sales nothing will – but it was not ever because of the recipe change. What Sailor Jerry’s owner will never know is how many bottles ‘could’ have been sold with the same distribution plan and the old recipe – except that I am going to tell them – you could probably have doubled the sales you had in that first year. Whenever this was brought up with the brand distributors or owners they dutifully denied it and towed the company line – but this is pure blindness to the evidence from retailers and consumer interactions.
This damaged the whole rum category, consumers moved into some other styles and brands, spiced (Kraken) and golden and sales held on, but then gin came along and blew it away for new and exciting developments. Premium rum sales are still higher now than 10 years ago, and more and more consumers are getting to grips with what rum is and what makes some rum better than others. For the sake of the uninitiated there are some things worth knowing about rum.
1. White Rum can be totally neutral and unaged, in fact Smirnoff Vodka sold in South America is made from sugar cain and could also be called white rum….
2. There are some aged white rums that have a much fuller flavour these usually are aged for up to 4 years.
3. Dark Rums may not be dark for any reason other than food colouring. A dark rum could just be a neutral young white rum with caramel colouring added.
4. Golden rums usually get their colour from barrels, but it is worth making sure you buy something that you know has been barrel aged to ensure that again it isn’t just caramel.
5. Rums come in single estate/distillery versions/brands and blends similarly to malt whisky. There can be quality in both instances.
6. Age isn’t everything – and you shouldn’t believe every age on the bottle – ageing in the Caribbean is fast so ten years ageing can equate to 30 or 40 years in Scotland – and older age statements can or may actually be ‘Solera’ styles so made with blends up to the maximum age stated on the bottle.
As with gins there is a trick to picking a range, choosing styles that differ not only golden and white but also considering blends and single estate rums, heavy rich rums and light more citrus dominated styles.
The Top 10 then…..
1. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva – quite premium for Rum – around £40 a bottle this is the rum that when people taste it they love it. Whether they have drunk rum before or not it’s an immediate switch on. I listed this on a single taste from a meeting I hadn’t really chosen to take but this Rum was so good I ended up listing a number of products from the supplier in order to enable me to stock this one thing. Customers love it.
2. El Dorado 15yo – a rich sweet Guyanese rum I remember tasting this when I was learning about spirits – it’s the one spirit that stood out and with good reason. It isn’t cheap mind you and if you want a cheaper version look for the 12 year old or even 8 year old.
3. R. L. Seale’s 10 year old – another dark, gently sweet rum that is rich and warming. The packaging of this is brilliant too and aids any pirate like adventure. What’s not to like….
4. Flor de Cana 4 year old White Rum – for me this is the best white rum on the market bar none.
5. Flor de Cana 7 year old Golden Rum – a partner for the white it would be easy to call out the 12 year old Centenario but for me these rums are about a degree of subtlety and are more citrus and floral flavoured than the treacle and wood varnish of a Guyanese rum and so a slightly younger spirit works wonders – for me the 7 year old is the pick of the bunch.
6. Matusalem 15 year old Gran Reserva – exceptional value at under £30 a pop for what is a mature rum expression with plenty of quality.
7. Ron Zacapa 23 year old Centanerio Solera Rum – one of the most requested rums out there – this is also of the very highest order this is a blend of rums from 6 to 23 years old.
8. Pyrat XO – this is a blend of rums from across the Caribbean, and offers real complexity with depth of flavour and some highlights missing from other richer rums.
9. English Harbour 5 year old rum – winner of many prestigious medals (but then the rum category is filled with medals), this delivers a lot of quality at a really really sharp price point. One of the best sub £25 rums out there.
10. St Nicholas Abbey 10 year old – a super premium rum – only 10 years old – however with rum as I’ve said above age isn’t everything. Meticulous care and attention to detail in this traditional distillery that has been restored since 2006. The quality and finesse of this is breathtaking but then for a 10 year old spirit the price is relatively mouthwatering too.