Think Rum is a convergence of enthusiasm from some, a desire to learn from others, and everything in between, finds Think Rum ambassador Peter Holland

With every passing year since I left my previous world (outside the industry) it becomes a little harder to retain the viewpoint of the customer – the person buying a drink at the bar or a bottle from a retailer. 

While the industry quite rightly hopes to make a profit margin, I continually yearn for the category of rum to be seen for what it is: a diverse wonderland of production styles and flavour profiles ripe for exploration. A balance to be struck. 

This year’s panel discussion was perhaps a little spicier thanks to Dawn Davies MW and her cautionary mic-drop moment regarding category boom, with the bust being the over-saturation of flavoured expressions. First gin, and now rum. This comment may have led to a slight blush on my part as I was acutely aware of the large proportion of flavoured rums hoping for a favourable showing in the cups of the buyers. USP, price point, and flavour all count, right? 

The panel discussion flipped between the need and desire to educate, moving beyond the mainstream, and how to enjoy rum in mixed drinks, the importance of the bar world to sales and the significant observation that people need their hands held when it comes to exploration. 

Our unique category is as diverse as all the other categories put together, after all. But the real issue I am concerned with is preserving the upward sales trend. Whether you have a bar or a retail outlet, it doesn’t matter – the goal is to stock items that will sell, albeit with varying levels of hands-on, educational involvement. Nobody needs shelf-warmers. Nobody needs dust-gatherers. And, while I may have been guilty of using gin as a point of discussion, we can learn much from what’s gone before us to make informed decisions. 

Many consumers are talking about flavoured rum, and brands are rushing to sate that need. But the long-term success of the category will not be built on spirit drinks. As I type this, I feel like I’m giving flavoured rum some validation that it belongs in the rum family. And at the risk of sounding like a purist (which I am), it would be better to mentally separate authentic rum from rum spirit drinks as they are products with different production methods and flavour profiles. They are entirely different animals. 

Do you have a balanced selection? Does your sales team understand the genuine differences between bottled expressions? Do you want to have something beyond the mainstream supermarket offerings? It’s important to have a selection of flavoured rums, be they spiced, botanical or a single/dual flavour combo. 

But you also need to be there for your loyal customer base. Have you got something to pique their interest when they grow weary of their usual tipple? I guess the answer isn’t so complicated, but it does rely on a little effort from your end. If you want a balanced offering of crowd-pleasers and geeky go-tos, then you will need to educate yourself, and plenty of us are willing to help.

MASTERCLASSES

Think Rum 2022 played host to masterclasses covering the latest developments in the rum world, from sustainability to improving consumer understanding of the category. Rachel Badham reports

Kicking off proceedings was Trailer Happiness owner Sly Augustin, who suggested that drinking rum might not be as straightforward as it sounds. In his How To Drink Rum session, Augustin dissected the drinking journey, from choosing a rum that ticks all the boxes to creating serves that let the spirit take centre stage. 

Augustin highlighted the need for simple serves for the category to flourish. Noting the Zombie cocktail as the most popular rum drink in Trailer Happiness, Augustin said that for rum to boom outside of the on-trade, consumers need to be educated on serves with fewer ingredients. 

“We need to move away from the idea that everything you make with rum has to have loads of ingredients and five different kinds of fruit garnish,” he said. “Rum needs to appeal to people who want easy-to-make drinks,” he added, referring to gin and tonic as an example of a simple drink that spotlights the spirit. 

For Augustin, educating non-rum drinkers is one of the most important steps for the industry to take in broadening the reach of the spirit across the on and off-trade. 

Following Augustin’s masterclass was Homegrown Talent, a view of the UK rum scene with Lewis Hayes, director of The London Bar Consultants. “In 2016, there were no rum distilleries in the UK,” said Hayes. “I’ve now counted 27 active ones.” 

However, Hayes believes the UK’s focus on sustainability is what sets it apart as a rum-producing country. Mentioning producers such as the carbon-negative Two Drifters distillery, Hayes said: “For many UK producers, rum is acting as a vehicle of positive change. When you think about why many UK rum producers started out, it’s often because they want to see the world becoming a better place and they want to be part of that movement.” 

Turning to social responsibility as part of rum’s sustainability strategy, Hayes explained how rum’s history has been intertwined with slavery and the commodification of tiki culture. He said “forward-thinking marketing” is needed to address negative perceptions of rum and engage modern drinkers. 

And as consumers become increasingly conscious of sustainability, both Hayes and Augustin emphasised the role that green credentials play in propelling the industry forward. He said that good practice is vital for rum to succeed on the UK scene, with consumers gravitating towards brands that “invest in sustainability”. 

The exciting potential of the category was an overarching theme in both masterclasses as Think Rum set out to answer the oftenasked question: is rum the next big thing? 

For Hayes, the “ageing potential” of UK rum presents exciting opportunities for the category, as rums older than five years have yet to be produced in the UK. “UK rum is happening, and we all need to engage with it to help the category grow,” Hayes said. 

“I have no idea where rum is going, but it’s very exciting.” 

Both Hayes and Augustin said that challenging perceptions of rum is paramount for the category’s development. Augustin added that the rum industry needs to actively dispel myths around the spirit, such as “rum is overly sweet”, to prevent miscommunication with consumers and encourage new rum drinkers. 

Think Rum concluded with Peter Holland’s masterclass on gold-winning rums from this year’s International Spirits Challenge.