You cannot be a self-respecting pirate without adhering to a very particular checklist: scraggly beard, bulging biceps, weathered skin, tattoos, missing limbs, fighting spirit, a filthy mouth and, of course, a bottle of rum.

In this respect, rum is the manliest drink imaginable. And the tough, nautical image of the spirit persists to this day: around two- thirds of rum drinkers are men.

“The reason rum has a male following is historical, with sailors travelling around the Caribbean,” says Alvin Haal, brand manager for Mount Gay.

“It has always been a male-dominated spirit, purely because of the nautical roots.” The off-trade rum market in the UK is worth £262 million, up 5% from last year, but volume sales are down 3%, according to the First Drinks Market Report 2012. The growth in rum’s value is driven by two key sub-categories: flavoured/spiced rum including Captain Morgan and Sailor Jerry, and golden rum such as Mount Gay.

While white and dark rum sales plummet, golden was up 11% by value and 5% by volume over the past year, while spiced/ flavoured moved up 29% by value and 22% by volume.

But if the rum category is to increase in overall volume again, producers of burgeoning golden and spiced/flavoured rums must do more to attract female drinkers.

In the UK off-trade, 65% of golden rum drinkers and 60% of flavoured/spiced rum drinkers are male, says First Drinks.

To attract female drinkers, brand managers such as Haal must cast off the image of rugged men passing around a bottle of rum while comparing tattoos and telling bawdy tales. And they have one word to instil optimism in everyone involved in producing and selling rum: Mojito.

A tall, fruity cocktail full of sugar and mint is about as far removed from neat shots of rum being gulped aboard ships as you can possibly get. “Mojito is by far the number one cocktail in the UK and it has an equal split between male and female drinkers,” says Haal. But while this may fill the on- trade with hope, cynics may scoff at the notion of consumers bothering to whip up Mojitos at home.

Haal believes this pessimism is unfounded. “More so than ever people are making cocktails at home,” he says. “Girls get their friends over and pass around a jug of Mojito, or people drink Mojitos or Daiquiris at a barbecue.

“The real push for retailers is to show the versatility of rum, which operates in many spheres – neat, with a mixer or within a cocktail.

“Versatility is its key benefit and retailers need to help push this message more.

“We need to educate consumers at the point of purchase and we also need to educate retailers on the benefits of rum and what makes it stand out above whisky and vodka.”

Violeta Andreeva, marketing manager at Captain Morgan, reiterates the message about rum’s versatility but says spiced/flavoured rum is already attracting many women.

“Like most other dark spirits, the fla- voured and spiced rum drinks are also predominantly targeted at male drinkers, so achieving a 40% share of female drinkers is already quite high relative to other dark spirit categories,” she says.

“This is driven by the really accessible

The real push for retailers is to show the versatility of rum

taste of the spiced/flavoured rum drinks – the sweetness, mellow spices and aromas and fantastic mixability with cola and other mixers.”

Over the past year spiced/flavoured rum sales fell by 15% volume in the on-trade, but Andreeva is not worried about the off-trade seeing a knock-on effect causing rum sales to drop in the take-home drinks market.

“The flavoured/spiced rum drinks are still one of the fastest growing categories and that trend will continue,” she says.

“The on-trade was challenging in the past year, but we are seeing signs of recovery and getting back to growth in the past three months, so we anticipate the growth in both the on and off-trade to continue.”

John West, marketing manager at Chairman’s Reserve supplier Emporia Brands, believes bartenders whipping up rum cocktails at trendy nightspots are key to driving off-trade rum sales. “This brings it to more of a female audience,” he says. “But

there is a lot retailers can do to drive sales of spiced and aged rum.

“White rum is down 4% over the past five years and dark rum is down 8%, but spiced rum is up 122%.

“We have been at Wine Rack making hot rum punch in the winter – equal parts spiced rum, apple juice and cranberry juice with a cinnamon stick – and a steaming cauldron of rum in-store really helps drive sales.

“People are prepared to make cocktails at home – growing sales of ingredients such as Triple Sec are a sign of that – and retailers can help customers know how to drink rum by selling it as a package with other drinks.

“Aged rum sales have also risen 168% in the past five years. Retailers should have a bottle of aged rum open so customers can taste it. Aged rum is as interesting as aged whisky.”

“We have a float at the Notting Hill Carnival, we are putting on consumer tast- ing events in London and had a rum shack at the London Foodie Festival.

“We are promoting simple cocktails that can be made at home and that appeal to men and women.”

Proactive rum ambassadors are deter- mined to see more women drinking rum and are using increasingly innovative tactics to realise this dream.

If they keep it up, pirates may have to find a new drink of choice.