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The Spice is Right

Posted on  | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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La Bamba Cocktail by Piero Rodriguez of Zengo [photo by Jenny Adams]

Given the numerous unusual products released in the past few years, it’s not often that folks in spirits world are surprised by a new launch, but the recent announcement of a version of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum finished in Sherry casks did raise eyebrows. More importantly, though, it marks a significant signpost in the expansion of the spiced rum sub-category, more of¬ten thought of as a party drink for post-graduate frat boys.

It’s been a remarkable few years for spiced rums, as the category has been stretched with brands boasting higher proof, different flavor profiles, a range of price points and some groundbreaking imagery. Case in point: Kraken, the fast-growing rum that recently grabbed consumer and advertising industry attention with its remarkable three-dimensional billboards in Chicago, the Kraken itself slithering its giant tentacle into an apartment to grab a potential customer.

Both activities are part of the continuing efforts by brands to stand out in an increasingly crowded field, which of late has been led by a flotilla of nautical characters. Captain Morgan, Admiral Nelson’s, Sailor Jerry, Blackheart and Blackbeard have all enjoyed success, giving spiced rum an edgier, more rebellious image than that of milder white rums still favored for Cuba Libres, piña coladas and simple tropical concoctions. Of course, just because a rum’s name links to sea-faring does not mean it’s any less authentic than other rums. Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum is a perfect example of a serious flavored rum portfolio—spiced, vanilla, coffee, mango and coconut—that has shown tremendous growth since its founding on the island of St. Kitts in 2002.

“Spiced rum in the past five years has definitely taken on a lot of innovations and there has been a explosion of brands,” says Toby Whitmoyer, vice president, brand managing director of Bacardi’s rum portfolio that launched their spiced expression Oakheart in late 2011. “The leaders of the category are struggling to continue to grow with the many brands coming in. We see an attractive opportunity to expand the category and we expect continued innovation.”

The innovation seemed limited to price, proof and the incorporation of additional flavors until the announcement from Captain Morgan, already with nine line extensions that include premixed cocktails (Long Island Iced Tea), high proof (Black) and mixed flavors (Lime Bite).

“Our robust innovation agenda contributes to our growth, which is how the limited edition Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish came to be,” says Diageo’s Tom Herbst, vice president and U.S. Captain Morgan brand director. “It’s a rich and flavorful take on the brand’s signature blend. Our overarching goal remains to become the number one rum brand by 2015.”


It’s that activity along with other new brands that has pushed spiced rum so far so fast; without its growth in 2012, what was essentially a flat year for rum might have turned negative, according to recent data. Rum, the second largest category after vodka, grew just 1.5% in 2012, to nearly 25.5 million cases, according to numbers provided by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, while brands like Kraken, Sailor Jerry and Oakheart showed double- and triple-digit growth last year.

The innovation is fine with people in charge of fast-rising spiced rums, including Sailor Jerry, says Ken Reilly, category marketing director at William Grant. “A rising tide lifts all ships, and the fact that consumers are discovering spiced rums through a lot of strong brands differentiated in the segment bodes well,” he says.

That tide is rising with loads of new spiced rums entering the market: this spring, Malibu debuted a low-calorie, 30% ABV spiced iteration with a light spice, smoked vanilla, and cinnamon flavor profile targeted to female consumers. Following the launch of the George Clooney-partnership Caliche Rum last year, the latest celebrity rum comes from singer Kenny Chesney, who in May launched in 32 markets Blue Chair Bay Rum in three expres¬sions: white, coconut and coconut spiced.

And earlier in the year, the Gallo folks turned their hands to rum with Shellback White and Spiced. “Millennials are engaged in the category and over-index with rum on a dollar contribution basis. However, they move to other spirits perceived to be more sophisticated as they progress in life,” says Gerard Thoukis, senior director of marketing for Shellback. To gather them before they graduate to other brown spirits, Shellback Spiced was developed to be smooth, easy to drink, sweet and fruity, with a less vanilla characteristic prominent in many spiced rums.

On the other hand, Oakheart is being positioned as a sippable rum that’s more refined and mature, with a slight smoky flavor profile. Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish aims for complexity was well, showing notes of oak, sherry, vanilla, caramel, dark cherry and cocoa with a slight floral undertone.

While females make up half the spiced rum demographic, the volume is greater among young males, and that’s where two brands owned by Heaven Hill, Admiral Nelson’s and Blackheart, operate, says company spokesman Josh Hafer. Blackheart appeals to those seeking higher proof and an edgier image, while Admiral Nelson’s consumers are more price-sensitive and less into premium imagery.

As the spiced choices increase, re¬search reveals that consumers think of spiced as simply dark rum, which encourages brands like Sailor Jerry to eye competing for drinking occasions with highly branded whiskies and other brown spirits. It’s even showing up in cocktails, as Diageo’s Tom Herbst points out. “As mixology continues to evolve and diversify, the demand for spiced rum has increased steadily,” says Herbst. “Overall, consumers are becoming more receptive to brown spirits, which includes spiced rum, whether in cocktails or enjoying on the rocks.”

So, high proof or low, strong or mild, bold or easy, premium or value, spiced rum buyers have a range of choices. And that’s likely to continue as the category stretches; it’s clear that right now, spice is right. “Spiced rum is a significant segment of the overall rum category and its going to continue to expand, and there will continue to be innovation whether it’s marching up through different tiers of aging or proof or flavors,” says Whitmoyer.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which the heightened attention to spiced rum spills over into flavored rums. Bacardi has happily extended into multiple flavors—some, such as Dragon Barry, quite exotic—as well as lower-proof ready-to-serve cocktails. Brands Jumbie Bay and Caribaya have forged identities that keep their tropical flavors and imagery front and center.

Vanilla rums, in particular, seem poised for attention, as they straddle the spiced and flavored categories. Notable vanilla expressions include Pink Pigeon, an Anchor Distilling Co. import from Mauritius, tinged with vanilla, nutmeg and orange peel. And direct from Madagascar, the world’s most famous vanilla supplier, comes Dzama. This line includes multiple bottlings; Dzama’s 80 proof, $35 vanilla expression has a whole bean in every bottle.


Spiced rums may be the current volume drivers, but when the palates of rum drinkers mature, many refined and complex pleasures await them. The trick is, getting consumers to understand what good rum really is.

Rum consultant Luis Ayala believes the search for breakthrough spiced brands has led the industry down a narrow and wrong path. “Rum has not been considered a ‘serious distillate’ due mainly to the spiced and flavored rums that dominate the industry,” says Ayala. “For every consumer who enjoys sipping aged rums neat, from a snifter or other specialty glass, there are hundreds of consumers who mix spiced rums without regard to the quality of the neutral alcohol they are drinking.”

There’s no lack of brands or presence—for one, Appleton in the past few years made a big point of showing their aged expressions as sippable as whiskey. Says Brand Manager Katherine Lewis, that’s where the customers are: “Going beyond the rum consumer—tapping in to the aged brown spirit consumer, who appreciates aged tequila, single malt Scotch, bourbon, etc., we’ll speak to them with a message that emphasizes liquid quality and premium lifestyle.”

The movement is definitely there, says Bacardi’s Toby Whitmoyer: “We definitely see interest in dark and aged rums picking up, for us with Bacardi 8 and Reserva Limitada. But rums haven’t been premiumized at the rate of other spirits.”

Some brands are aiming more actively to correct that. Cruzan will roll out its Dis¬tiller’s Collection this fall, with Cruzan Estate Diamond Light Rum and Estate Diamond Dark Rum joining Cruzan Single Barrel. Mount Gay just launched Black Barrel, the only Mount Gay rum finished in charred bourbon barrels, and made with a higher proportion of double distillates.

Some other fairly young brands with complex flavor profiles and super-premium positioning, such as Banks and Atlantico, have pegged their growth to the bar community and consumers who a few years ago might have gravitated to Zacapa, the dark and rich Guatemalan rum. Atlantico, in particular, is one to watch; on top of the star power provided by Enrique Iglesias, the brand has two expertly crafted sip-worthy expressions: a solera-style Reserva and Atlantico Private Cask, a blend of small-batched rums aged up to 25 years.

The allure of being regarded as a sipping rum is clear, although these rums themselves are not. Gosling’s, whose Black Seal Rum made the Dark and Stormy famous, scored a coup when Caribbean Journal named Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum their 2012 Rum of the Year.

Based on its name and packaging, Viz¬caya VXOP borrows a page from Cognac to declare its commitment to sippability. Made with fragrant sugarcane juice fer¬mented and aged in oak barrels, Vizcaya VXOP emerges with a thick texture and deep flavor profile that includes notes of spice, butterscotch, honey and caramel.

Rhum Clément, perhaps the best-known rhum agricole sold in the U.S., to that end has mostly been promoted in high-end cocktail bars and brown spirit lounges, and recently has increased its expressions to include a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old. Soon, according to managing director of Clément USA Ben Jones, the company will add a white rum made from a single-varietal sugar cane a single cask aged in all French oak for eight years.

Other brands too have focused on the cocktail crowd, like Venezuela’s Santa Te¬resa. Says Commercial Director Henrique Vollmer, “Santa Teresa has effectively demonstrated that its aged expressions are worthy of sipping on their own and can go head-to-head against the finest whis¬kies and brandies.”

There’s an array of rums, like Panama’s Ron Abuelo and Nicaragua’s Flor de Caña, that offer more refined and in¬teresting aged expressions, but building interest for super- and ultra-premium rums has always needed a big push from one of the major players to establish consumer awareness of rum as a quality beverage. As Ayala says, “The premium and super-premium segments have the most potential, and those distillers who are able to deliver a good quality/cost offering at these levels will see their businesses grow.”

• RUM 101 •

Rum is made from sugarcane byprod¬ucts—such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice—which are fermented and then distilled. After distillation, the spirit is aged in oak barrels. The following points cover variations of the final product:

Light rum (sometimes called silver or white), named for its clear appearance, spends little time in barrel and emerges with a milder flavor profile marked by general sweetness. Most light rums hail from Puerto Rico and are ideal for mixing in cocktails.
Golden (aka amber) rums are aged longer and disply a darker hue as well as some wood character.
Dark rums are typically aged for three to 12 years in barrel and take on both a darker color (described variously as red, brown or black) and stronger flavor with hints of spice or molasses. Commonly produced in Haiti and Jamaica, dark rum is more likely to be enjoyed as a sipping rum, and is used in cooking thanks to its richer flavor.
Spiced rums gain character through the introduction of actual spices while the rum is aging. Most of these rums are darker in color and are based on golden rums; spices may include include baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon), ginger, rosemary and pepper. Cheaper expressions are made of white rum later darkened with caramel.
Flavored rums are infused with differ¬ent flavors. Common fruits used are tropical (banana, coconut, pineapple, mango) and citrus (orange, lime). Vanilla is also used quite successfully. Typically 80 proof or less, flavored rums can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or as an ingredient in cocktails.

Rum usually has about 40% alcohol (80 proof); however, many expressions are bottled at a higher strength. Among the best-known examples is Bacardi 151.

Rum grades used for designation depend on where the rum was produced. Generally, premium bottlings feature higher prices due to longer aging and higher standards. They are often enjoyed straight.

**cover cocktail**

PORT ROYAL PUNCH, courtesy of Captain Morgan
2 (46 oz.) cans pineapple juice
24. oz of mango juice
1 (750 ml) bottle Captain Morgan
 Original Spiced Rum
4.5 oz. grenadine
3 oranges, sliced thinly
 and quartered
3 12 oz. cans of Sprite

Combine all ingredients in a punch
bowl or large pitcher and stir.
Serve in punch glasses filled with ice.
Serves 25.


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