Rum: Spiced and flavoured variants are picking up pace

Spiced rum producers have been studying the gin category closely for inspiration, and this now looks to be paying off.

UK distilleries in particular have carefully sought out natural and authentic flavours to help push the flavoured segment into a more premium space, while the mixing possibilities of rum – to rival the classic G&T – are also increasingly being explored.

And this has all had a positive effect on the overall rum category.

At the end of 2019 The Whisky Exchange says it saw rum grow faster than gin for the first summer in five years, with rum sales up 165% in the three months to October.

Majestic Wine says it added several rum lines – such as Rockstar Spirits, Plantation and Appleton – to its range before Christmas because of the growing popularity of this spirit and it reports that flavoured and spiced rum is driving annual sales growth of 30% in the category.

It is also seeing “really exciting developments” with higher- priced rums. Jack Merrylees, head of communications at Majestic, says spiced and flavoured rums are working well with the company’s customers.

“We have introduced grapefruit, pineapple and a number of vanilla or spiced styles,” he says. “They have all proven hugely popular. Of course, there’s a novelty angle – customers are eager to sample them in stores, but there’s a seriousness and provenance to them too.”

This “novelty” factor has, in the past, been frowned upon by some evangelists of premium, “unadulterated” rums, but is it now possible for flavoured and spiced rums to be regarded as premium products?

Over the past 12 months a number of new flavoured rums have entered the market and many of these have been positioned as more premium, with authenticity and, in some cases, a nod to sustainability too.

William Grant & Sons has now added a Banana Peel rum to its Discarded range, to sit alongside the existing Cascara vermouth. The rum is made from “discarded” banana peel and Caribbean rum, previously used to season casks for the producer’s whisky.

Calum Fraser, Discarded’s UK brand ambassador, says: “The rum category as a whole is premiumising. This isn’t limited to ranges with age statements. The exploration of this is only beginning. There are a number of fine examples of premium flavoured or spiced rums, which are being championed in bars, and that is filtering into the off-trade.

“We will see a rapid disruption to the traditional rum shelf over the next 18 months as consumers demand the opportunity to explore a wildly diverse category.”

GIN INFLUENCES

Majestic’s Merrylees says rum producers are clearly learning lessons from the gin boom.

He says: “Getting that sense of place, of craft, in the labelling and ingredients creates a product which people can’t wait to get in their hands.”

A clear influence from gin is the increased focus on ingredients, with the popular word “botanicals” now finding its way into the category. Brewdog Distilling is one producer that has segued into rum via this route.

Brewdog’s Five Hundred Cuts Botanical Rum, which was introduced at the end of last year, is made using 11 botanicals, including orange peel, lavender, Schezuan peppercorns, cinnamon, nutmeg, tonka beans, ginger, allspice and cardamom.

David Gates, chief executive of Brewdog Distilling, says: “We created this by using two mixing methods: redistilling the softer botanicals with the base spirit to create a spiced white rum distillate, then steeping the bolder flavours in the remaining white spirit for 14 hours. That way, when the macerated white rum and white rum distillate are combined, you are left with a more authentic, complex and layered palate, rather than a generic spiced rum with artificial colour and sweetness.”

Also going down the botanical route is Spirited Union Distillery, which recently launched the “world’s first white botanical rum”, Union Lemon & Leaf rum. It joins the producer’s existing Union Spice & Sea Salt rum.

Founder Ruben Maduro says: “We are seeing a clear trend towards high quality natural spirits with quality cues borrowed from gin. By introducing a range of fresh botanical rums, we are trying to tap into consumers moving away from gin and unlocking the gin and tonic moment in rum.

“In the past, flavoured and spiced rums have been value–driven with heavily sweetened artificial liquids. As consumer behaviour changes and bars and retailers are becoming more knowledgeable and quality driven, there is more room for premium-positioned infused rums.”

Gin has also helped to inspire a number of British producers, such as Brewdog, to explore the potential of rum.

Arlu Rum, which describes itself as “Caribbean born, Manchester made”, is one of many UK newcomers in rum. The range, from Alderman’s Drinks, comprises Arlu Rum Original Spiced, Passionfruit & Mango and Blood Orange.

The Duppy Share, founded in 2015 as “the first London- based rum company to launch in over 100 years” added Duppy Share Spiced in February with an exclusive listing with Selfridges. The newcomer is flavoured with pineapple and kola nut.

Founder George Frost says: “Spiced rum is booming in the UK, with sales topping 10 million bottles in 2019, and I saw a massive opportunity to create a spiced rum that focused on adding depth of flavour and complexity that consumers don’t usually get or expect from other spiced rums.

“Spiced rum has had a bad reputation in the past for being super sweet and packed so full of flavourings that you can’t even tell it’s a rum. We wanted to forge a different path to advance the category and show consumers how good a spiced rum can be.”

Another UK newcomer in rum is Lugger, which is now stocked in Waitrose. Lyme Bay Winery sources Caribbean rum which it ages in bourbon-charred oak barrels in Devon. The liquid is then spiced with nutmeg, orange peel and cloves, as well as vanilla.

RUM IN THE OFF-TRADE

Merrylees notes that Majestic staff have taken the energy and excitement of rum into their stores, following a company-wide tasting of rum for all of the retailer’s store managers.

He says: “Customers are eager to embark on their own mix and match experience, and it is something we can facilitate with our expert staff and in-store tastings to really create that sense of theatre.”

One of the notable rum success stories for Majestic has been Rockstar Spirits. Founder and chief executive Tom Hurst says: “Our first release, Pineapple Grenade 65% Overproof spiced rum is still our bestseller. Pineapple is the key flavour at the moment with lots of new entrants due on the market this year. My prediction for the next big flavour after pineapple is orange.

“However, I expect my more premium take on a more traditional spiced rum, Captn Webb’s Two Swallows Spiced, will overtake sales of Pineapple Grenade when our new national listing in Sainsbury’s goes live this month [March].”

Rockstar also has a cherry variant of Two Swallows and it promises NPD this year: Passionfruit Grenade 65% and Two Swallows Orange & Ginger.

Hurst adds: “Retailers can definitely offer tiered pricing in spiced and flavoured as more premium brands are being launched into the category. At Rockstar Spirits we use premium spirit from Diamond Distillery in Guyana, with all natural flavours, higher abvs and premium packaging that allow our brands to justify a premium upsell price point on shelf.”

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