It's time to Think Rum - interview with Peter Holland
Rum has been the ‘next big thing’ for as long as we can remember at Drinks Retailing. So, we caught up with Think Rum ambassador and all-round rum expert Peter Holland to find out if rum’s time is finally here.
What are the wider trends in the rum category? And where’s the excitement coming from?
From a geeky point of view, we are bringing more and more rums to the UK from parts of the world that a lot of people don’t necessarily associate with rum-producing nations such as Cape Verde, which was famous for grog.
And maybe where some of the mainstream brands had to step back a little bit over the past couple of years because they were effectively in a closed-down state, that gave a little bit of space for others to do a bit of shouting. Now the bigger brands are back, they are spending money again, which is also really cool.
Then there are independent bottlers at the top end. There are opportunities for people to explore the weird and the wonderful in ever-increasing volumes as well as simple blends. It all elevates the conversation about rum, rather than just playing on the “we’re pirates” clichés.
What about spiced rums?
Rum spirit drinks, including spiced rums, are definitely on the up – particularly for this market. There’s regionality – every major UK town seems to have its own spiced rum brand – and there is potential for some of these brands to get their message right and be discovered more widely.
In lots of cases, they are not making the spirit, they’re buying it from a rum merchant, so it’s a very scalable operation. But others will remain small and not grow beyond their visitor centre.
What challenges does the category face?
Rum as a category was always driven by price. It wasn’t as well respected as other categories and people weren’t looking for the best stuff, they were looking for the best price.
But now you’ve got local brands that are distilling in the UK and they’re not afraid to put a decent price point on it. Two Drifters in Exeter is doing some really good stuff. There are a lot of distillers here in the UK making really good product. They’re young so they don’t have the aged stock, but the next five to 10 years will be really cool.
Rum has been the ‘next big thing’ for a while, what’s driving its success now?
I almost want to say there’s a weariness from other categories. I’m going to split rum and spirit drinks, including spiced and flavoured rum, because I think spirit drinks have all the potential that was associated with the gin boom. And there’s a crossover demographic as well.
There’s genuinely a sense of exploration and we are doing more to educate across the board. There’s a lot more confidence from an importer, distributor or retailer point of view. There’s confidence to put good stuff on the shelf.
I started blogging in 2008 and people were saying rum’s the next big thing but we are there now, Phillip Schofield was talking about it on TV, so it’s in the mainstream. Rum is a diverse and flavour-driven category.
There are genuine markers for quality – character or spirit and genuine age statements. And these are more readily available these days. And we have literally an equivalent for every other spirit category. We have something in the rum world that matches up to aged whisky, or a gin equivalent, for example.
The Gargano classification is a good place to start. It gives you a framework to look within. If you haven’t got on your shelf something from within each of the positions on the chart, then you’re potentially missing an opportunity to engage and upsell.
Having rum from different locations is cool, but try not to have overwhelmingly the same style. For example, have the main multicolumn distillations, have traditional rum from Antigua, single blended – Foursquare, Mount Gay, and Appleton.
And have the pot still only – something from Guyana or Jamaica, not forgetting agricole and sugarcane juice rums. That gives you a range of styles from cask-driven right through to rum spirit and in a short space of time, you can build a retail shelf with 16 to 20 bottles that cover the world of rum.
What do retailers need to be wary of with rum?
There’s this risk of equating price with quality, so retailers will need to do research. Right now, though, there’s so much out there online that it’s much easier to find information. Retailers such as Gerry’s or The Whisky Exchange are very knowledgeable on rum, and events like Think Rum are so important when it comes to education. I’m genuinely excited about rum’s future.