Massachusetts Beverage Business


Article By: Liza Weisstuch

Somewhere, the ghosts of colonists are smiling.  The spirit that the New England settlers not only consumed by the punch bowl, but produced in great volumes and used as currency, is undergoing a major revival.  But this resurgent interest is hardly a rush for rum and colas or a nostalgia-driven longing for piña colada paradise.  It’s a fast-growing understanding among distributors, retailers and bartenders, and, hence consumers, that rum can be as diverse as whisk(e)y or wine and as seasonally non-specific as beer.  As Pete Wells, the dining editor of the new york times, wrote in a story that graced the cover of the Dining section on December 1, “A small rum rebellion may be starting in the cocktail world, exemplified by places like the Tar Pit and Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, which also begins pouring this month.  The rebels are inspired by the staggering variety of well-crafted sugar cane distillates on the market.  Nearly as staggering are the bargains some of those bottles represent, compared with high-end whiskies and brandies.”  From value brands to the top of the luxury continuum, from sailing enthusiasts to sports fans, brand managers are reaching out to consumers far and wide, shattering the image of rum as a pool side indulgence and ramping up its urban street cred. 

The Great Recession was no obstacle in any company’s long-planned design to unveil new products.  In 2OO9, Diageo released Captain Morgan 1OO Proof and in the summer, they expanded their ready-to-drink line with Captain Morgan-branded Long Island Iced Tea.  Tom Herbst, their Marketing Director of Rums, said they’ve both been a huge success for the brand and done a lot to strengthen the trademark.  Additionally, the brand launched a 4O-pack – a 1.75 handle of Captain, which is forty 1½ ounce servings, packaged with a 2 liter bottle of cola.  In December they released Captain Morgan Lime Bite, made with their original Silver Spiced Caribbean rum and natural lime flavor.  On the luxury end, Diageo’s Ron Zacapa Rum, a Guatemalan spirit launched in 2OO8, recently introduced its XO in a few markets, though it hasn’t arrived in Massachusetts yet.  According to Connie Reyes, Diageo’s Brand Manager for Premium Rums, it’s a blend produced by the solera method (which is common to the Sherry industry) that’s similar to their 23-year-old marque, but the components’ ages range from between 6- to 26-years.  It’s finished off in French cognac barrels, yielding a dryer drink.

The Appleton Rum distillery in Jamaica, which has been distilling rum for 26O years, has directed efforts at expanding the availability of Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old and Appleton Estate Reserve, a blend of 2O different aged rums that mature in oak barrels, that had only been available in a handful of markets until 2OO9.  “We focused on two products over past year, having seen that there’s a premiumization of the entire rum category,” said Jo-Ann Craner, Senior Brand Manager for Appleton Estates, which is from Kobrand.  “There are premium consumers of single malts and small batch bourbons that have started to turn toward higher end, complex, rich rums.  We’ve started to focus on that consumer using our Appleton Estate Reserve.”  Coruba, another Jamaican rum in the Kobrand portfolio, just launched a line extension of flavored rums.

Malibu Rum launched the latest of its flavors, Malibu Island Melon, bringing the total varieties to five – plus the original coconut.  Sheila Senhouse, Senior Manager of Rums for Pernod Ricard, explained that, in tandem with the new product, Pernod also launched Malibu Reef Check, a limited edition, vivid seascape package of Malibu’s flagship rum.  According to Senhouse, they partnered with Reef Check, a Malibu-based charity that monitors reefs around the world and gathers data to monitor and save them.

Following the introduction of their strawberry rum, Bacardi USA added another player in April 2OO9: Dragon Berry, strawberry rum infused with dragon fruit.  “It’s the first time anyone has taken a mainline base flavor and infused it with a super-fruit,” said Joe Santos, Brand Director.  It was one of the top five flavored rums before it was in the market for a year.  “Dragon fruit is something no one’s tapped into yet.  Massachusetts is a big market for us and it’s done well.  The local sales team has done a great job activating.”  He added that the next addition to their flavored rum line will be ready for the market in April.

Bacardi Global Brands also unveiled a new spiced rum: Seven Tiki.  The Fijian spiced rum rolled out in California and Florida in June.  Massachusetts is one of their next markets.  The rum takes its name from a South Pacific folktale about seven canoes that set forth from the island to find new land; each was guided by a different Tiki god.  It’s made with water from volcanic aquaphors and spices, like Madagascar vanilla bean and sun-baked Indonesian nutmeg.

Brugal Rum, produced at the largest distillery in the Domincan Republic, grew by 29% in 2OO8 and similar gains were projected for 2OO9, according to Rod Simmons, Brand Manager for Shaw-Ross International Importers.  He added that Massachusetts is a very important market for Brugal, as it’s the fourth largest in the US.  That has been reinforced now that the company brought its Extra Viejo (extra aged) marque to the US.  “The decision to launch Brugal Extra Viejo in the US was prompted by consumer demand,” Simmons said.  “There have been numerous inquiries from tourists who had the pleasure of drinking Extra Viejo while on vacation and wanted the opportunity to buy it stateside.  Another factor was the growing popularity of premium sipping rums.”

After eight months of working on recipe formulation with Polar Beverages, the Gosling’s brand brought its own ginger beer to the marketplace in May.  “We got to the point where we could say: this makes the ultimate Dark ’n’ Stormy,” said Malcolm Gosling, President and CEO of Gosling-Castle Partners.  A diet variety arrived a few months later.  Both are produced at the Worcester-based plant and will soon be available in every state.  To hear Malcolm tell it, the sodas were developed to offer the general consumer a means for making quality Dark ’n’ Stormies, the popular drink that Gosling’s trademarked.

According to Rich Cardoza, Manager of Murray’s Liquors in Newton, the Gosling’s brand’s decision to develop and introduce a branded ginger beer is proving an incontestable success.  In a way, it helps communicate the message to consumers that the Dark ’n’ Stormy is entirely owned by the brand.  (Even though the mixed drink is trademarked by the brand, it’s still not uncommon to see a Dark ’n’ Stormy mixed with other rum brands.)

On the fast-growing rhum agricole segment, there’s news from Rhum Clement.  In 2OO3, the company bought Rhum JM, the smallest producer in Martinique, and helped make its three rums – which has three styles: Blanc, Gold and VSOP – available outside Martinique.  Now it’s in 4O countries around the globe.  According to Ben Jones, Managing Director of Clement USA and a descendent of the Clement family of Martinique, Boston is one of the top five markets for the product.  The two brands have always had separate estates and separate production facilities and that will be maintained, however in 2O1O, Rhum JM and Clement are jointly launching a new sugar cane spirit.

With rum’s increasing popularity and the growing number of brands on the shelves, big drink companies are employing creative, aggressive ad campaigns.  That involves executions in every media outlet – from print to television to the ever-expanding online world. 

Pernod Ricard launched its “Radio MaliBoom Boom” campaign, featuring Barbados personalities MC Wonder Full and DJ Bernhard, who broadcast from a small, scrappy outpost on the island.  They produced a total of three executions in 2OO9.  Senhouse said the company plans to leverage them much more in the future.  So far the program has been comprehensive, with a website – –  and viral videos that talk about the DJs and how they came to the Malibu brand.  Those have been available on the site and have been running on Hulu and Fox TV’s website.  “It gets the buzz going and gets people talking.  We have banner ads on web sites determined by target market.”

“Radio Maliboom Boom” figures prominently on the brand’s Facebook page, which had 115,49O fans and counting as of mid-December.  We talk about new recipes on the page, get feedback, hear about people’s favorite cocktails.  We’re learning a lot about what Facebook can do for our brands.  It’s a two-way conversation: we inform them about the brand, and they respond directly to you at same time.”

When Diageo’s highly visible “Got a Little Captain in You?” campaign wrapped up, the company that positions its brand as the rum for fun-loving, irreverent personalities immediately launched the “Calling All Captains” campaign on television early last year.  Targeting 21- to 25 year-old men, it’s been running since, and included a Halloween bit and two spots for the holidays.  Herbst explained, “There are 12 spots on national TV and local spot buys in sports – MLB, NFL – and on prime time.”  The Captain Morgan team is ramping up its social networking street cred, too, not least because the brand’s demographic spends a lot of time in cyberspace.  The official website had 181,815 fans in mid-December.  “We find that the Captain consumer is extremely web literate – who grew up using the web.  Whenever we post on our Facebook page, we get a lot of response and dialogue,” said Herbst. 

In the fall, Barcardi broke its new “Spirit of Bacardi” campaign.  The first TV spot in October aired during the CBS’s “Island” and ran through the holidays.  Santos said, “Next year, we’ll roll out a few more executions.” He noted that they’ll also leverage it on the web through online media placements and banner ads to support activities.  In 2O1O, he added, they’ll be working on visibility on social networking and mobile as well as traditional media placements. 

The St. Croix rum Cruzan, owned by Beam Global, announced the launch of “The Legendary Rum of St. Croix” this past August.  It showcases the Caribbean island, its people and the spirit that’s been produced there since the 18th century.  “Ad images have no actors or sets and feature Crucian people in their natural elements.  Key consumer markets include waterfront areas in the United States and the Caribbean,” Pryce Greengow, general manger of mixable for Beam Global Spirits & Wine, explained.

“Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most powerful forms of endorsement.  We work with fans of the Cruzan Facebook page to provide them with innovative cocktail recipes and the latest brand news,” said Greengow.

Appleton has been focusing its advertising campaign in a number of national publications, like gq, esquire and golf digest, as well as trade magazines.  Craner said the brand has been getting involved with the spirits and cocktail blogging community and they’re in the process of developing the American website for the brand.  It’s slated to go live early this year.  “Once we have that up and running, we’ll be expanding how we interact with people through the internet,” she said.

 Tommy Bahama Rum also maintains a Facebook fan page and Twitter account.  “We’re launching a new promotional newsroom that will be more for the trade and media than for consumers, but we will make it accessible to consumers, which will link to Facebook and Twitter,” “ said Julie Byrne, Marketing Brand Manager.

Matt Carroll, Chief Marketing Officer at Patrón Spirits International, said that like all brands in the their portfolio, Pyrat Rum continues to post growth.  Before the year ended, he said that the company anticipates 2OO9 ending at 6% growth for the year, worldwide.  In Massachusetts, he specified, Pyrat is up 12% YTD.  He attributes much of that to consumer engagement online.  “We’re supporting the brand with a new interactive and highly engaging website – – that we’re happy to say is one of the leaders in the industry in terms of number of visits, page views and average time on the site,” he boasts.  “We’re also reaching consumers through sampling at various events, tastings and other high-profile gatherings.  For trade, we’re advertising in some trade publications, and our field staff and distributors actively educate bartenders, mixologists and retail store owners about the brand.”

As it’s been said: knowledge is power and many brands are channeling resources into educating bar staffs and consumers alike about their rum’s heritage and best uses.  Those pedaling aged rums are finding better results from educational programs and promotions than white rums, not least because a huge segment of the mass market associates rum with cola or slushy blended drinks.  While many believe it will take a while before it takes off on a mass scale, the understanding that rums can be sipped neat or on the rocks is starting to gain traction, especially among the premium dark spirits consumer.

“Education has always been a core component to brand-building,” said Byrne of Tommy Bahama, which launched in 2OO7.  “A lot of tools we’ve created recently feature our master distiller in Barbados, Richard Seale.  He’s fourth generation at the distillery and we try to utilize him much as possible.” The rum is distilled at Foursquare Distillery, and Byrne explains that a recently produced video can be brought into on-premise accounts and played on a laptop or screened for distributors.  In it, Seale walks viewers through the distillery, which has been around for over 8O years and is the last family-owned distillery in Barbados.  Byrne, in fact, believes the company’s budget is better spent on sampling and promotional efforts, both on- and off-premise, than on traditional advertisements, which they’ve done plenty of in the past.  “For on-premise, we’ll do a staff training and educate them on the brand’s background, on the product itself and drinks we’re making that night.  In some instances, we’ll do straight sampling.” Their programming, of course, is targeted.  Because of the brand name and its tropical nature, they’ve had a lot of success with outdoor accounts, spots with rooftop bars or dining, and beachside establishments.  Often, Tommy Bahama’s on-premise events involve an extravagant event kit with giveaways, recipes and display items.  Spokes models will talk about the product and offer premium swag.  Byrne said that straightforward but highly structured tastings will be a big off-premise initiative in 2O1O.  “We’ll pass out specific cocktails in the store and educate on the product.  It’s typically done by our sales staff and spokes models. 

Greengow at Beam asserts that education has been an enormous focus for the brand, and the payoff is evident.  “A growth driver for Cruzan in 2OO9 was our brand education initiative, ‘Rumology’ – the science of what rum is and what differentiates Cruzan in the rum category.In addition, we have grown our Cruzan ambassador program to include both on- and off- premise consumer education on enjoying the brand through mixing and sipping,” she said.

Personally interacting with consumers has been a strategy Malcolm Gosling utilizes.  “We need to be creative and focused in how we promote and use marketing dollars.  First and foremost, staff trainings are extremely important.  I do consumer tastings and presentations.  Several retail stores have elaborate tasting rooms, so I go there and conduct a tasting with customers.  I do that heavily in Massachusetts.”

Herbst at Diageo said that because Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum is so well known, education around that brand is not a huge priority.  “Most of our education and engagement around new products – reaching out to gatekeepers and bartenders around the 1OO Proof to come up with new shots that will please consumers and help the bartenders make money.” For Diageo’s Zacapa, educational outreach is a greater precedence.  Reyes said the brand does particularly well at higher end restaurants and whisky lounges/cigar bars.  In those environments, and elsewhere, it’s important to get consumers to understand the solera aging system.  “It’s all about the art of blending rums of different ages and characters – younger and older rums that have been through charred bourbon and Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels.  The second piece is that it’s agedata high altitude.

Being 75OO feet above sea level allows the rum to mature slowly in those barrels, so it gathers more flavor from the wood.”

Appleton launched a multi-faceted, far-reaching mixology program in the last quarter of 2OO9 that entails brand ambassadors getting involved in various events, on-premise promotions and education for the on-premise trade.

There’s an in-store tasting component to the program that they’re going to expand on this year.  An event was held at the end of October in a private room at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square.  Mixologists from New York and Boston served cocktails that showcased Appleton Estate Reserve and Extra 12 Year Old.  “The mixology program’s main role is education and to spread the word on Reserve and Extra – hopefully that would lead to placement on cocktail lists.” She also noted that Appleton’s pairing initiatives have been more effective when sponsorships are localized, and even more so when the brand is tied to events that are related to food and rum pairings like Chicago’s Taste of the Nation.

Ben Jones of Rhum Clement is in the same camp as Tommy Bahama’s Byrne, finding that there are more discernable benefits to educational outreach than advertising.  “We’re getting more return in venues and outlets where we bring a lot of personally delivered education.  We tripled activity by doing in-store tastings at retail, rum dinners and cocktail seminars that bring influential retailers and mixologists together.  That way you get people trying different classic cocktails.  There are a lot of old cocktails that called for Martinique rum, and we dug up old cocktail recipes from the 192Os and 3Os that call for Martinique rum agricole.  So really, we’re more charged with building the agricole category.  That’s our first job.  Cocktails are still the equity delivery vehicle.  If you go on-premise, sales are five-times greater and partnerships are five times better if Clement is in a cocktail.”

Many education initiatives focus strictly on bartender training and outreach.  Santos of Bacardi explained the company’s new ‘Bacardi Belief’ program.  Under that auspice, they dispatch three Brand Master apprentices as ambassadors to travel around the United States and train bar and wait staffs, focusing on what makes Bacardi distinct.  “They talk about the label, the historical background, the master blenders.  It seeded about a year and half ago, but this past year was the first year we had a full set of people dedicated to it.  At first it was about educating the company and distributors, and this past year we expanded it to the trade.  We try to focus on places where bartenders have more time to interact with consumers, like cocktail lounges and neighborhood bars,” he said.  While the brand has relied on the staple drinks, like Bacardi and Coke, and capitalized on uber-trendy tipples, like the Mojito, for the past five years, now they’re widening their scope.  “A lot of great rum cocktails have a rich background, like the original daiquiri and the Bacardi Cocktail.  We have an additional focus on the Cuba Libre, essentially a rum and Coke with lime.  They promote using Bacardi Gold or Bacardi Superior.”

Tommy Bahama has gotten especially creative around bartender outreach with their introduction of the ‘Bartender Business Card’ program in 2OO9.  As Byrne explains it, bartenders are asked to develop specialty cocktails with their rum within the framework of a cocktail contest.  The company then produces a set of business cards for the winning drinks that include the recipe.  “In a number of markets we set up the program so we have the contest in one account and task the bartenders with creating the cocktail.  There are 4OO bartenders in the country who carry our business cards.  It’s available in Boston and implemented on a case-by-case basis.  It gets bartenders interested in using the brand and allows them to be creative.  It builds brand awareness with bartenders and consumers.  Through mixology contest, it allows us to gain new accounts.” Several rum brand managers are finding the festival circuit is a good way to reach an attentive niche market.  Tommy Bahama participated in a number of rum festivals, like the Ministry of Rum’s event in Chicago, San Francisco and Miami.  “It adds credibility to the brand and is great information/distribution tool,” said Byrne.

Brugal has also found benefits from exposure on the festival circuit, especially with the recent release of the Extra Viejo.  Simmons of Shaw-Ross commented, “Programming is focused on sampling at both on- and off-premise and trade and consumer education.  As an example, the brand recently participated in WhiskyFest NYC, which was deemed an excellent opportunity for the brand to reach premium spirits drinkers.”

“There’s a lot to doing the right kind of events, like WhiskyFest and Whisky Live,” said Reyes of Zacapa.  “You’re getting in front of consumers who already drink premium brown spirits, talking to whisky and cognac consumer.  When you think about the premium whisky consumer, that person is used to paying a higher price than they would for a rum like Zacapa.”  Reyes said Zacapa’s versatility as both a sipping and a mixing rum allows for a wide variety of events to reach consumers and trade.  In addition to being a presence at whisky festivals, the brand got involved with Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. 

It’s common knowledge that there’s power in numbers.  Many brands are finding that allying themselves with big consumer events or other products is a no-fail formula for boosting visibility and getting the brand into consumers’ hands.

Captain Morgan had one of the highest profile cross-marketing strategies last year when they partnered with Major League Baseball.  “For the post-game shows during the playoffs and the World Series, we worked with and created the concept of Captains of the Game – ‘Captain K’ for pitchers, ‘Captain D’ for a defensive players, and ‘Captain Clutch’,” said Herbst.  There were daily features of the picks on

Malcolm Gosling says that the yachting community is important to their brand.  It’s a connection that stretches back through history, as Bermuda has long been a destination for yachters, where they would stock up on Black Seal and sail back.  His great-great grandfather, Ambrose, was a commodore of the host yacht club during the first Newport to Bermuda race in 19O6, and to this day, the Newport to Bermuda is considered the most prestigious ocean yacht race.  “My great-great grandfather was part of initiating the race in 19O6.  He wanted it to be a social event once people reached Bermuda.  He assessed each member of the yacht club, and today, we play a big part in the social event in Newport.  Gosling’s sponsors a great deal of yachting events and regattas,” Gosling said.  Another massive focus for the company is golf tournaments.  Gosling explained the brand’s recently established partnership with IMG, a sports event management company.  “This has been proven to be up our alley.  Our overreaching goal is to establish the Dark ’n’ Stormy as the cocktail of golf.  We’ve found for many years it’s been the case in Bermuda where golf is popular.  They [IMG] were a good partner to accelerate awareness in the golfing community.” Gosling’s became a big part of tour events that occurred in Florida and Tennessee.  It was also the official rum of the Deutsche Bank Championship, which took place in September in Norton, Massachusetts.  During the event, Gosling introduced the Dark and Stormy Tavern, which was open to tournament ticket holders.  “That was a big tournament for Boston to have.  The top 1OO players attend.  I conducted several tastings at the tournament with people at various hospitality tents.  Massachusetts is undoubtedly our largest market, which is amazing given that it’s not one of the top three rum markets.” He attributes that to the proximity to Bermuda.  “There’s a great tourist base that has an awareness to begin with, so we’re capitalizing on that.”

Bacardi forged a new partnership on the cable airwaves.  “In the House”, a half-hour news and interview show on the Encore, is a House of Bacardi production, the first in the brand’s initiative to produce original programming that’s pioneering in a way that reinforces the spirit of Bacardi, said Santos.  The first episode, aired in early December, was hosted by Hollywood insiders Peter Bart and Peter Gruber.  Bacardi is also continuing a trend it dove into first in 2OO8: participating in a portfolio program with a national culinary magazine.  After finding success with food & wine on a spread about holiday entertaining tips, they partnered with wine spectator and bon appetite this past holiday season.  The portfolio collaboration between Grey Goose, Bacardi Rum, Dewar’s, Bombay Sapphire, and Martini & Rossi features recipes from each brand and home entertaining authorities.

Tommy Bahama continued its signature cross-brand efforts with the Tommy Bahama stores.  Since 2OO6, Sidney Frank Importing has owned the name and licensed it to the Tommy Bahama group.  The store and the importer work closely to build brand image.  Efforts include a series of in-store parties, including the outlet at Mohegan Sun, which draws many Massachusetts shoppers and has the fastest growing sales of any of the 8O stores around the country.  When the clothing brand, for instance, is promoting a new line of swimwear, they will host models and bathing suit fitters – and while consumers are suiting up for summer, they can enjoy a rum cocktail.

Like many other white rums, Malibu’s sales spike in the summertime, said Sheila Senhouse.  So in addition to executing managed bar nights on-premise, Malibu’s partnerships center around summer activities.  Malibu was the official spirits sponsor of the American Volleyball Player tour, which hit 16 cities from April through September.  “We have Malibu activity going on during the games.  We sponsored two teams – one female and one male.  They were decked out with Malibu tattoos and there was signage throughout the courts and an inflatable Malibu bottle.  Consumers could come and play games with a bottle and ring-toss.  An AVP Malibu tent was set up and people could come in and have cocktails.  Then we sponsored player parties after the games, on-premise events where players come in and host.”

Even smaller brands are finding benefits in partnerships and sponsorships.  Ben Jones of Rhum Clement says that while the brand can’t jump on board with every partnership opportunity, he certainly considers it worthwhile to sponsor an event that’s for a good cause, like Women of the Congo, a charity event that featured Whoopie Goldberg.  “If it’s a good fit, we’ll do it for the visibility.  And it gets the product to consumers’ palates.”

“I definitely think rum has become a hot commodity, like agave was last year this time,” said Ben Sandrof, who works in on-premise sales for MS Walker.  “Now you can go to any cocktail bar in Boston and the bartender will not only want to talk about rum, but chances are, she or he has three or four cocktails to make you.  People are psyched about the daiquiri, the Cuban, hot rum toddies.  There’s a fair amount of first tier classic cocktails that are picked up by most places serious about cocktails.”  He also noted that he’s seeing a growing awareness of – and interest in – agricole rhums.  “They just broke out and became a popular thing,” he said.  MS Walker is working with a few of newer entrants to the Massachusetts market, like La Favorite and Neissan.  He said agricoles lend themselves to more terroir-like influences.

While many brand managers commented on how off-premise sales were doing better than on-premise in general, one brand noted that on-premise sales were flourishing.  Malcolm Gosling chalks his brand’s substantial on-premise growth to the popularity of the Dark ’n’ Stormy.
“That drink has played an important part in our growth.  It’s pretty satisfying to see Gosling’s as part of a venue’s initial portfolio.  In New England, it’s becoming a dark rum of choice in many establishments, and showing double digit growth,” he said.

The general trend on-premise is that consumers are gravitating toward aged rums, albeit slowly.  Bertil Jean-Chronberg, General Manager at the perennially popular Beehive in the South End, sees the emergence of aged rums echoing the trajectory of bourbon’s popularity, which, collectively, is part of a bigger movement.  “If you look at last 25 years, it went from Cognac to Scotch to bourbon to rum.  It’s an interesting trend because it’s not just a product, it’s a style of the product.  The same movement that started ten years ago with craft bourbon is what’s happening now with rum.  It’s interesting to see it start five or six years ago – you were seeing articles and then rums appeared that weren’t on the market before.  Sales of rum went up like crazy over last two years,” he said.  He’s added more craft rum to the Beehive’s inventory.  He also notes that Sailor Jerry became very hip and he uses it commonly in cocktails.

Interestingly, Jean-Chronberg has seen a lot of the rums in the smaller sub-categories, so to speak, do well.  He noted that Leblon Cachaça is doing extremely well.  It’s the base spirit in the house Caipirinha.  “It’s on the drink list because people love the Caipirinha.  It’s the new margarita.  We continue to see Clement Creole Shrubb, do well.  We use that in one of our popular cocktails, the Beehive Julep.”  He’s also seeing success with Kilo Kai, a spiced rum from Curaçao that launched in the fall.  The Beehive hosted a launch party on Halloween for the brand.  “Kilo Kai proves it’s possible to do some very high end quality spice rum at a competitive price,” he said.  It’s the spiced rum he keeps in the well.

It’s always interesting to get a sense of what a new, highly trafficked restaurant opens with on their bar.  Brahm Callahan is Beverage Director at Post 39O, the 35O-seat American restaurant that opened in Boston in October.  It’s owned by the Himmel Hospitality Group, which also operates Grill 23 in the Back Bay and Harvest in Harvard Square.  Before opening Post 39O, Callahan was the Beverage Director at Rialto and the Himmel Group’s now shuttered Excelsior.  He explained that in keeping with the concept of an urban tavern that offers refined American classics, he wanted to develop a drink list that guests could feel familiar with as the bartenders reintroduce them to classic spirits and cocktails.  “Rum is reflective of the rest of the spirits categories.  We didn’t go overboard, we wanted to be concise and thoughtful,” he said.  “As an urban tavern, we want to have more of a tequila focus with bourbon and whiskey but have strong rum, gin and vodka presence as well.  We have brands guests would recognize, like Bacardi, Captain and Gosling’s, and we mixed in sipping rums, like Pyrat.  Each was chosen to represent a certain part of the category – white, dark, spiced, sipping.” He hasn’t witnessed the sipping rums hit their stride with consumers.  He figures that perhaps because they’re a luxury product, people are maybe interested or curious about it, but they’re not necessarily flying off the shelves.  “I had a few more sipping rums at Rialto and Excelsior, and I did start to see the category expand,” Callahan said.  “We’re going to see it expand on the distribution side and see the general consumer’s reaction.

I think it might be too much to say it’s the next brown spirit although more mixologists are using varieties to create melding flavors.  I think consumers are starting to embrace it, but there’s lots more potential.”

But a lot of that potential is developedata bar’s prompting.  Rums are taking off in unlikelier places, like Irish pubs, in unlikely ways.  At the Kinsale, near Government Center, manager Bill Krott has been offering rum punches that he mixes up in small batches daily and serves warm throughout the winter.  They’re usually broadcast to guests with small table tents, which, of course, grab attention.  At The Asgard in Cambridge, which is part of the same Classic Restaurant Concepts group that owns Kinsale, more sipping rums have been added to the inventory.

Could it be that a more intimate spot lends itself to aged rums?  At Aquitaine in the South End, which has an eight-seat bar, General Manager Alexis Gelburd-Kinler says she can’t keep Barbancourt 4 year-old on the shelves.  “We had it in a cocktail that ran during summer season in our version of a beach cocktail,” she said.  “I started tasting that and other aged rums because I was getting people asking us for more unique rums.  I hadn’t explored sipping rums until this year.  Every bottle we have is well thought about – it has to be because we have such a small bar.”

She notes that the Don Q Cristal is another popular call. 

The explanation of the market condition has been something of a refrain nobody can ignore: consumers are going out less and entertaining more at home.  Still, the last few months have been challenging to retailers, thanks to the new sales tax instituted in August coupled with the general declining state of consumers’ personal finances.  However, many brands have quantifiable evidence that their rum performance is soaring and retailers say that rum is one category in which there’s been a pick-up. 

Ryan Maloney, owner of Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, said he’s increased his rum selection by about 15 percent over the past year.  “We find that people are looking at higher end stuff,” he said, noting that regular whisky drinkers are developing their interest in rums, which he infers may be a reason for people seeking out a better selection.  “People are graduating from some of the typical stuff out there and wanting to try bigger things.” Among the unstoppable successes are William Grant and Sons’s Sailor Jerry, a brand he’s done several promotions for.  He figures the higher proof and particular spices in the formulation help cultivate the cult following.  And on the topic of spiced rums, he’s seen a good deal of interest in the new Kilo Kai.  As far as mainstays go, he gives Gosling’s particular credit for good performance over the past year.  He attributes that to their new ginger beer.  On the sipping rum side, Maloney has seen great movement with El Dorado from Guyana, which has 12-, 15- and 21-year-old styles.  Because of the brand recognition, and its $17.99 price tag, he brought in El Dorado Golden Rum Cream Liqueur for the holidays.  Other brands that he has to keep restocking are Zya, Ron Zacapa and Mount Gay.  The sleeper hit of the year was Don Q from Puerto Rico.  “A lot of people who have been to Puerto Rico come in looking for Don Q,” he said.  They produce several varieties – Cristal, Gold, Añejo, and Grand Añejo.  He sold out of the Grand Añejo, which fetches $65, the day before Thanksgiving. 

Tony Iamunno, Manager at Downtown Wine and Spirits in Somerville, said rum is still relatively seasonal at his store, with performance better during the summer and moving from the fall into winter, as customers are understanding that rum can be a heavy warming drink.  Sales are picking up on smaller-production boutique rums, especially when it comes to aged rums.  “People are starting to ask more questions and recognize aged sipping rums as something to sip on after dinner,” he said.  Ron Pampero Aniversario and Ron Matusalem do particularly well in the store.  He also noted the success of Patron’s Pyrat.  “It’s a good introduction to the higher end rum category.  There’s not a lot of spice or heat, but there are tropical fruit flavors, so it helps people really find out rum has more to offer.”  He said that Appleton Estates VX is a good product to use when introducing people to the category.  He’s noticed a bit more activity in the spiced rum segment, with Sailor Jerry growing in cult status and giving Captain Morgan a run for its money.

At Murray’s Liquors in Newton, Manager Rich Cardoza also noted a greater awareness among consumers around premium aged rums, especially the Hatian rum Barbancourt and Diageo’s Ron Zacapa.  “The cult interest in Scotch and bourbon has started to spill over into rums,” he says.  “People are definitely starting to realize that rum can be about connoisseurship, not just about Rum and Coke.”  Value brands, as logic would dictate, have been on consumers’ minds since the economy started its slide, but people haven’t been willing to sacrifice values. Accordingly, Cardoza has seen movement pick up around Brugal, especially the Añejo, Cruzan and Flor de Cana marques.

At other stores, though, managers see the category as having not reached its full potential yet.  “It’s still budding, but I think we’ll see a lot of explosion in the category in next two to three years,” said Cliff Ansara, Manager at Lynnway Liquors.  “As far as rum sales, I am seeing people buying smooth and better rums.  Real purists are looking for high quality products with age, and the age gives a dimension to rum that vodka just doesn’t have.

I didn’t realize how important it was to see education on-premise – until now – with rum.  As a liquor business, if the brand isn’t developed on-premise, it doesn’t trickle to off-premise.” He does note, however, that customers are slowly becoming more experimental with rum, much like the trend he saw with tequila a few years ago.  “People aren’t asking for flavors as much anymore, but they are asking for the age.  People come in wanting to make this or that cocktail and asking what they should use.”  Many of the drinks his customers are inquiring about are old-time drinks with maritime associations, not least because of the city’s proximity to the ocean.  That said, he sells a lot of Gosling’s for Dark ’n’ Stormies, and significant amounts of Sailor Jerry.  Brugal does well in his store also, due largely to the area’s substantial Dominican population.  In fact, over the last year, he’s seen that brand’s sales grow by about 2O% over the year before, primarily driven by the añejo than any else. 

On the South Shore, Ryan O’Malley, a manager at Derby Street Wine and Spirits in Hingham, said that boutique rums have not hit their prime quite yet.  He saw a good deal
of interest in Sailor Jerry and Gosling’s, especially in the summertime, though sales din’t slack off too much in the fall and winter.  He chalks that up to the growth in public interest in punches and, around the holidays, eggnog.

From leisurely after-dinner sipping to a refreshment after surfing, rum is once and for all proving to be extremely versatile.  Drink companies of all sizes are staging comprehensive advertising campaigns and offering grand scale education initiatives that target bartenders and consumers alike, delivering key messages about a rum’s production, use in cocktails, and its rightful place in cultural history.  Between that kind of in-the-trenches outreach, strategic partnerships, the increasing visibility of brand ambassadors and active, engaging means of leveraging social media as well as tourism, people are beginning to perceive rum as a drink that not only evokes tradition, it inspires forward thinking.  And few can deny that bodes well for a sunny future. 

Matt Robold’s users’ guide to the tropical spirit
With the rum shelves becoming increasingly crowded, it can be tough for consumers to know which rum fits what purpose best.  Just as you wouldn’t recommend a 15-year-old whisky to anyone fixed on making Manhattans at home, you might not want to hand sell a spiced rum to someone planning to serve daiquiris at a house party.  I turned to rum aficionado Matt Robold for help.  In 2OO7, Robold, who’s based in Orange County, California, founded, where he writes about his adventures in rum.  He’s served as a judge in several rum-tasting competitions and is a member of the Rum Experts Panel as well as writer and importer Ed Hamilton’s Connoisseurs Cabinet, which is made up of hand-selected experts from Ministry of Rum.  He’s also a board member of Cocktail and Spirits Online Writers’ Group.   -LW

SIPPING RUM Given the steadfast popularity of straightforward mixed drinks, like rum and Coke or Dark ’n’ Stormies, it can be challenging to turn people on to sipping rums.  But sometimes, it’s just a matter of starting them off on the right track.  Robold refers to Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, made in Venezuela, as a notch above the more commonly found Reserva.  Because it’s aged longer, it delivers more wood and vanilla notes.  “It’s all toffee, smoke and very rich and soothing.  It’s really approachable,” he says.  “There are some rums I like to sip that, when I first started drinking, I thought there was no way I would have given them a second try, that they were more for the person who’s used to drinking straight spirits.  But this one is for anyone – in a snifter or with one piece of ice.”

To anyone already accustomed to sipping rums, he recommends El Dorado 15 Year Old, from Guyana.  Like Cognac, the age statement is the age of the youngest spirit in the blend.  El Dorado, a demerara rum from Guyana, is smokier than Diplomatico in general and smokier than Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva.  “There’s more ‘funk’ to it, almost a sourness.  It’s for when you’re moving away from Spanish style rums, which tend to be more subtle and to get more overwhelmed in drinks.  There’s more of a fruity note to it that you don’t find in Spanish rums, like overripe bananas and little bit of chocolate.”  Yet even though it can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, it’s a good match for rum old fashioneds and daiquiris.  El Dorado also makes a 12-year-old that pops in tiki drinks.  “With a bolder flavor, smoke and overripe fruit, it stands up to juices and fruits.  Spanish styles tend to be more subtle and to get more overwhelmed.”

WHITE RUM Last May, Robold served as a judge at the Ministry of Rum tasting competition at the Rum Renaissance, a festival in Miami.  Tommy Bahama’s White Sand, was one of the event’s biggest surprises.  “I was really blown away.  White Sand scored really well – it was one of two highest rated white rums on my list,” he said.  “Tasting it on its own, it’s fantastic!  It’s a lot more on the dry side compared with El Dorado 3 Year Old.  Tommy Bahama is made at Four Squared Distillery, which is run by Richard Seale.  He’s really passionate and personally dedicated to quality rum.”

IN A DAIQUIRI A top pick for mixing a daiquiri is El Dorado 3 Year Old.  It’s aged, but it’s clear because it’s double filtered through charcoal.  “It’s a growing trend to see older and older white rums that are aged and then filtered to get rid of the color,” he explained.  “I like it because it’s got a lot of qualities in terms of being fairly rich, and it has a good amount of sweetness without being cloying.  The richness stands up to the sourness of lime, and it plays well with the sugar in the glass.”

Regardless of whether it’s blended or up, a daiquiri is a wonderful setting for Brugal, which comes from the Dominican Republic’s largest distillery.  “It makes a really good daiquiri because it’s not astringent.  A lot of the younger aged whites, which can age six months to a year, tend to have hard-biting alcohol qualities.  Brugal is clean, it’s light and it’s got a little sweetness and a little fruit, without being overly sweet.  It’s a nice midpoint between dry and sweet,” he said.

FOOD PAIRING Many have discoursed on how to best pair straight spirits with food.  There’s no hard and fast cheat-sheet, as there are many variables to consider and, ultimately, it’s a very subjective matter.  There are, however, suggestions to guide you.  For something like salmon, Robold recommends an aged rum, especially something like Mount Gay Extra Old.  “It’s got woody notes, so that would play well with salmon.  It’s not sweet, it’s more dry, and it has a lot of whisky characteristics to it,” he said.  When it comes to finding a match for something sweeter, go with your intuition and go with something sweeter.  He says that Ron Zacapa, fermented from sugar cane honey, is a superb dessert sipper.  “Put that in a snifter.  It’s really approachable.  A lot of people like to joke about pouring it over pancakes, or using it over chocolate ice cream.  It’s like drinking tawny port, though a little sweeter.  It’s often been my dessert.”

SPICED RUM Robold had good things to say about the relatively new Kraken Black Spice Rum which is “named for a sea beast of myth and legend”, according to its ad campaign.  It comes in an old-fashioned looking jug with a Victorian-styled sketch of an octopus-like monster.  “It’s a dark spiced rum with a little more sweetness than I’m used to, but it’s not artificial tasting.  There’s a little smoke and some very nice spicy notes, like cinnamon and nutmeg.  I wouldn’t sip it on its own.  It being a spiced rum, it’s fit for anyone looking for a rum and Coke.  It’s also great in a hot buttered rum.  All those spices come through.”

FOR PUNCHES Punches are becoming more and more popular at bars, and with a good recipe, they’re a perfect party solution.  But to make a punch that will get people talking as they’re tasting, choose your rum wisely.  “When you’re playing around with spices, I’d use Appleton Estate VX,” Robold recommends.  “It’s that Jamaican style that stands up to everything.  Punch can have a lot of things going on and Jamaican rums can stand up to it all.”

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