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Rumming fast, rumming wild: with rum's popularity exploding, retailers are encouraged to bone up on what's hot in this multifaceted spirits category to increase sales and profit margins.

Rum is nothing short of being a contemporary miracle in beverage alcohol. Long viewed as the spirits equivalent of what the English derisively describe as "plonk," meaning cheap but barely cheerful wine, rum has in the last generation elevated its image into a respected and sophisticated distilled spirit category. Today, rum offers more diversity and across the board styles than any other category of distillates.

As millions of American consumers become more discerning in their beverage alcohol taste purchases, rum sales are advancing. According to the Adams Liquor Handbook, 9-liter case sales were up 6% in 2005. Most intriguingly, the rum category's largest gains are in the superpremium segment. Statistics for 2005 generated by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) point to a dramatic gross revenue increase in superpremium rums of an astounding 22.3%. This marketplace reality is as much a statement about the development of consumer acumen as it is an acknowledgement of rum's ascension as a world-class spirit.

Public interest in everything from rum's history to base material composition to production procedures to practical applications in service is driving the accelerating high-end sales. From the retailing standpoint, the rapid rise in consumer fascination with rum means that America's spirits merchants are advised to stay abreast of cutting-edge data in order to have their sales personnel encourage patrons to go up-market in their rum choices. Informed consumers hunt for greater challenge and better quality. Premium and superpremium rums, like single-barrel, rhum agricole, and extra-aged rums, produce larger profit margins than standard brands, so the incentive to arm sales staffs with the latest information is obvious.

As recently seen with single malt Scotch whisky, cognac, small-batch and single-barrel bourbons and vintage armagnac, spirits imbibers derive more satisfaction from drinking when they own a working knowledge of their pet libations. Progressive retailers make every effort to ensure that a consumer's first Rum 101 lessons are taught within the confines of their spirits shop. But what basic information and "hot-button" issues are most important when a retailer tutors an eager customer about rum? Here's what every retailer in America should know ...


Rum (rhum in French, ron in Spanish) is the fermented and distilled spirit made either from arcane juice or molasses. Both are natural byproducts of sugar production. Though rum can be produced virtually anywhere, it traditionally has been made in the tropics, in particular, the Caribbean islands region as well as northern South America. The introduction of sugarcane to the West Indies in the 1600s led to an explosion of plantations, which in turn instigated the slave trade for the grim purpose of providing a labor force for the tending of sugarcane fields.

The rum industry, then, it can be accurately stated, started only as a result of the spread of the sugar refinement industry. It made sound economical sense for plantation owners to use--and make money from--the used materials that created sugar. By 1700, rum had become closely associated with the men who sailed the seas, from pirates and privateers to the Royal Navy. Rum production, slave trading, and rum shipping become major sources of commercial revenue and trade through the 1700s, when rum was considered the tipple of choice in colonial America. After winning the Revolutionary War against Britain, the newly independent United States of America continued to embrace rum as its favored spirit. It's even said that George Washington insisted on having a barrel of Barbados rum at his inauguration in 1789. Until the 1860s, virtually all rum was crudely distilled, rough, and viciously, sometimes dangerously, potent. While long practiced in Europe, the complementary coupling of the fine arts of distillation and filtering had yet to take hold in the New World. The Caribbean region's pre-1860 fiery, primitive early rums could never be favorably compared to gentler yet complex spirits of the same period, such as France's cognac, calvados and armagnac, Ireland's pot-still whiskey, or Scodand's malt whisky.

Then in 1862 on the island of Cuba, wine merchant Don Facundo Bacardi Maso established his Bacardi y Compania, the initial enterprise that offered an atypically fragrant, smooth and easy to consume rum, the progenitor of the modern-day Bacardi Superior White. Don Facundo invented this more approachable style by installing Cuba's first column still. Until 1862, all rums had been distilled in small copper pot stills that produced heavy rums.

Transparent, clean, and a far more palatable style of rum, Bacardi Superior White became a sensation throughout the Caribbean and North America and the destiny of rum changed forever. A century later, in the face of having Cuba's Communist government seize their company after the Cuban revolution in the late 1950s, the Bacardi family relocated to Puerto Rico and the Bahamas and rebuilt their rum empire. The Bacardi Company today sells roughly 20 million cases of Bacardi Superior White around the world. Make no mistake. The contribution of Don Facundo Bacardi Maso in forcing the rum trade to modernize cannot be overstated.


One current hot-button issue regarding rum involves the two methods of distillation and, subsequently, their influence on the character of the final product. Rums are created from one of two fundamental distillation techniques: the old-fashioned batch process called pot still distillation or the more industrial style known as column still (a.k.a, patent, continuous, Coffey) distillation. Though many brands are marriages of rums that have been generated from both distillation systems, the column still method is the overwhelming choice of rum distillers.

Type of distillation comes up in sales floor conversations because curious consumers occasionally ask retailers questions like, "How do rums that are distilled in pot stills differ from those that are distilled in column stills?"

A good tack for any retail salesperson is to paraphrase a recognized spirits expert. British spirits journalist/author Dave Broom authored the book dried RUM (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003). Broom answered that common sense question this way, saying, "I'd say the best way to look at this [issue] is through flavour. Pot still rums have a greater depth and richness to them ... Why? ... think of distillation as being a way of creating a package of flavours. Pot stills are a less 'efficient' way of distilling than column stills and the baby rum that is collected at the end of the process is lower in [alcoholic] strength to a rum made in a column. The lower the strength, the greater the number of flavour compounds which are still in the rum."

Let's flesh this key point out a tad more. Traditional pot-bellied, squat, copper pot stills, referred to as alembics in some regions, distill the wash, meaning the soupy, fermented and low alcohol (8% to 10%) base liquid, in separate batches. Pot still distillation almost always happens twice. The first distillation produces a liquid that registers a measurable strength of roughly 22% to 24% alcohol by volume (abv). The collected liquid is then put through a second distillation in either another copper pot still or an even smaller metal container called a "retort."

This second distillation, on average, raises the abv to between 68% and 72%, a more desirable level, but leaves behind some congeners. Congeners are biochemical compounds that originate during the fermentation cycle. Basically considered as impurities, congeners can be comprised of fusel oils, acids, tannins, esters and/or aldehydes. The resultant spirits from the retort distillation retain a measure of the inherent base material that lends texture, flavor, and character distinction to the rum. The inefficient pot still system essentially does a poor job of purification, which is the goal of distillation. One or more additional distillations improve the efficiency of the pot still, thereby giving it more control over the personality of the end product. Pot still distillation is, however, labor intensive due to its individual batch nature.

Sugarcane juice or molasses spirits generated from a column still are markedly dissimilar to those that originate in a pot still. The design of tall, metal column stills, which came into wide use in mid-nineteenth century Scotland and Ireland, allows the distiller to run his or her distillation without stopping and, therefore, is cost effective. There are no distinct batches in the column still distilling process. As the alcohol vapors pass through metal plates from one column to the next, congeners and water are separated from the pure gaseous alcohol. By the time the condensed alcohol vapors make their way to the final column, they are ethereal and pure, nearly neutral. The final abv is typically much higher (90% to 95%) than in pot still distillation.

A spirit that is higher in alcohol has had the majority of its inherent compounds stripped away through the boiling process of distillation and is, consequently, chemically cleaner and lighter than pot still spirits. The downside is that severely untainted spirits made in column stills possess less depth of character than those generated in pot stills.

That being the situation, why, then, does anyone distill rum in column stills at all?

"Cost and efficiency," responded rum consultant Luis Ayala, author of The Rum Experience (Rum Runner Press, 2001) and The Encyclopedia of Rum Drinks (Rum Runner Press, 2003). By that, Ayala meant that due to the fact that column still systems are easier and cheaper to operate than a pot still system, their operation favorably affects a company's bottom line.

Continued Ayala, "They both [pot still and column still methods] exist because each one addresses a different financial requirement for operating a distillery. Pot stills are used by most small operations because they can't afford the continuous column stills and/or because they won't be distilling the volume of alcohol needed to justify the purchase of a column still."

Ironically, in light of the contemporary consumer leanings towards more expensive spirits with deeper character, some rum distilleries that for many years distilled exclusively via the column still method are in the process of reinstituting pot stills as a part of their distilling scheme. This indicates that for the first time in rum history, the consumer is dictating to the distiller. Over the last half-decade, the emblems of "handcrafted" or "limited edition" or "pot still" have begun showing up on rum labels.

Many of the popular premium and superpremium rums currently in the marketplace are blends of column still and pot still rums. Richard Seale, master distiller at R. L Seale Distillery on Barbados, said recently, "Excluding the French [distillers in the French West Indies], all of the main rum producers who make pot still [rum], blend it [with column still rum] ... very few make a 100% pot still rum alone. Usually it's done at the final step before bottling- an aged column [still rum] is blended with an aged pot [still rum]."


Similarly to how whiskey was earmarked as being passe when the Baby Boomers turned legal-age e than 30 years ago, unflavored white rum in 2006 is, to a point, connected with the social habits of a more mature generation. The reason, fair or not, is simple: The inoffensive style of white Puerto Rican rum has so overwhelmingly dominated the rum category in the U.S. since the 1960s that it is thought by many contemporary consumers that "white" translates to "safe" or, worse, "lightweight".

Renowned master mixologist Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail (Clarkson Potter, 2002) explained why American consumers have been lulled into this pervasive state of acceptance, saying: "We have become too used to the single style of white rum that has dominated the market for forty years. There is nothing wrong with the clean, highly filtered Puerto Rican style ... they brought a quality to the market that was sorely needed ... But we are in love with big flavor today and I see a shift in the market coming."

The one edict that has become mandatory in today's distilled spirits market is: Big flavor is "in." Taste profiles that highlight delicacy and mildness are falling behind in a period when modern spirits imbibers demand distillates with perceptible heartiness and depth of character, even for their cocktails. To today's trendsetting 21 to 40-year-old demographic, the concept of rum embodies not so much white rum but either the tawny-hued, oak-aged, brandy-ish sipping rums, like Barbancourt Estate Reserve, Appleton Estate Extra, Gosling's Black Seal, or Myers's; or the highly popular flavored rums, such as Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Malibu Caribbean Rums, or the portfolio of Bacardi and Cruzan flavored rums that one can either "shoot" neat or mix in entirely new groups of exotic mixed drinks.

Yet, there exist white rums that offer the substantial kick and deeper flavors for which contemporary consumers hanker. Indeed, brawny, high in alcohol, colorless rums have always existed. The peoples of the Caribbean region typically prefer unaged, clear rums that are "overproof", meaning rums that have not been reduced with water in natural strength after distillation and, therefore, are extremely potent.

That said, there are other unaged white rums which are more moderate in alcohol, meaning between 40 and 60 percent alcohol by volume, yet offer distinctive qualities that can satisfy avid consumers searching for greater but not necessarily over-the-top intensity. Among the more intriguing white rums are those that originate on the French-speaking Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

While the vast majority of non-French speaking tropical nations distill rum from molasses, a high percentage of Martinique rums (roughly 85%) are produced from sugarcane juice, giving them a more floral, vegetal, earthy character than rums made from molasses. As delicious consumed neat as they are mixed in cocktails, these seductive rums are known as rhum agricoles. In Guadeloupe, between 30% and 35% of rums are designated as rhum agricoles, or agricultural rums.

Rhum agricole from the French islands is made from freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and then distilled to only about 72% alcohol in order to capture as much of the fresh flavor of the cane as possible. The hallmark rhum agricoles from Martinique include La Favorite, J. Bally, La Mauny, C1ement, Chanffe Coeur, Neisson, and Rhum J.M. The standout rhum agricole example from Guadeloupe is Damoiseau.

Rhum agricole is a current hot-button rum style that has staunch champions among North American spirits professionals, most notably, rum maven, now importer Edward Hamilton and mixologist DeGroff. Candidly said DeGroff, "I am absolutely convinced that the premium white rum category, led by rhum agricole bottlings that will be entering the market over the next couple of years, will be the most interesting thing to happen in the category since Victor Bergeron ..." Victor Bergeron, for those who don't know, was the legendary restaurateur and mixologist known as "Trader Vic," who in the 1940s created the Mai Tai, the groundbreaking rum cocktail.

That said, with plenty of new flavors and styles hitting store shelves, and with an abundance of exciting cocktails being created, rum remains one of the hottest categories in the marketplace today.


6 Noteworthy Barrel-Aged Pot Still Rums

Barbancourt Estate Reserve 15-Year-Old Rhum, Haiti, 43% abv, $30

BRN Sea Wynde Pot Still Rum, Jamaica and Guyana, 46% abv, $40

Inner Circle Traditional

Pot Still Rum--Green Spot, Australia, 57.2% abv, $24

Myers's Original Dark Rum, Jamaica, 40% abv, $19

Westerhall Plantation Rum, Grenada, 43% abv, $20

Zaya 12-Year-Old Gran Reserva Rum, Guatemala, 40% abv, $45

2 Noteworthy Barrel-Aged Pot Still & Column Still Combinations

Appleton Estate Extra Jamaican Rum, Jamaica, 43% abv, $25 Mount Gay Extra Old Barbados Rum, Barbados, 43% abv, $19

7 Noteworthy Barrel-Aged Column Still Rums

Bacardi 8-Year-Old Rum, Puerto Rico, 40% abv, $29

Cruzan Diamond Estate 5-Year-Old Rum, U.S. Virgin Islands, 40% abv, $18

Doorly's XO Fine Old Rum, Barbados, 40% abv, $39

Flor de Cana Centenario 12 Year Old Rum, Nicaragua, 40% abv, $60

Gosling's Family Reserve Old Rum, Bermuda, 40% abv, $70.

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-Year-Old Rum, Guatemala, 40% abv, $35

Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera Rum, Venezuela, 40% abv, $35

7 Noteworthy Rhum Agricoles (sugar cane juice rums)

10 Cane Rum (Trinidad) 40% abv, $35. Chauffe Coeur Blanc Rhum

Agricole, Martinique, 54% abv, $28.

Chantal Comte Distillerle

Depaz L'Arbedu du

Voyageur VSOP, Martinique, 45% abv, $90.

La Favorite Blanc Rhum Agricole, Martinique, 55% abv, $28.

Rhum Clement Premiere Canne White Rum Rhum Agricole, Martinique/France, 40% abv, $25.

Rhum Neisson Blanc Rhum Agricole, Martinique, 50% abv, $30.

Rhum de Sargasses Agricole Blanc Rhum Agricole, Martinique, 54% abv, $25.

2 Noteworthy Overproof Rums

St. Vincent Sunset Overproof Rum, Grenada, 84.5% abv, $19.

Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum, Jamaica, 63% abv, $22.

10 Noteworthy White (unaged) Rums

Angostura White 3-Year-Old Rum, Trinidad & Tobago, 40% abv, $14.

Brugal White Label Rum, Dominican Republic, 40% abv, $13.

Charbay Rum, USA, 40% abv, $34

Clarke's Court Superior Light Rum, Grenada, 40% abv, $14.

Don Lorenzo Light Reserve Rum, Bahamas, 40% abv, $14.

Flor de Cana Extra Dry Rum, Nicaragua, 40% abv, $13.

Myers's Platinum White Rum, Jamaica, 40% abv, $16

Ron Matusalem Platino Rum, Dominican Republic, 40% abv, $17

Starr African Ultra Superior Light Rum, Mauritius. 40% abv, $30.

Whaler's Original Great White Rum, USA, 40% abv, $13.

Whalers includes not only its Original Great White Rum, but also a lineup of popular flavors.

6 Noteworthy Flavored Rums

Captain Morgan Private Stock Spiced Rum, Puerto Rico, 40% abv, $20

Charbay Tahitian Vanilla Bean Rum, USA, 35% abv, $34.

Cruzan Coconut-Flavored Rum, USVI, 27.5% abv, $12.

Malibu Passion Fruit

Caribbean Rum, Canada, 21% abv, $14.

Marti Coco Suave Licor de Ron with Natural

Coconut Flavor, USA, 41.4% abv, $13.

Mount Gay Mango Flavored Rum, Barbados, 32% abv, $16.

-- F. Paul Pacult


alembic: copper pot still.

column still: tall, metal still of one (analyzing column), two (rectifying column), three (hydroselection column) or four columns in which a fermented mash is boiled to produce vapors which, once condensed, are distilled into a spirit of at least 60% alcohol by volume (abv) and as much as 95%, depending on how many columns there are.

congeners: impurities produced during the fermentation process, congeners are the oils, aldehydes, acids, and esters that constitute character in a spirits aroma and flavor.

distillation: the heating to boil of a fermented wash which vaporizes and condenses into pure alcohol.

fermentation: the natural biochemical process in which active yeast cells convert the innate sugars in a liquid to alcohol and CO2.

molasses: a byproduct of sugar production; the viscous, dark brown/black syrup that's produced after sugar cane is boiled and is crystallized.

rhum agricole/agricultural rum: the rum born of sugar cane juice.

rhum industriel/industrial rum: the rum born of molasses.

ron: Spanish for rum.

sugar cane juice: the sticky, gooey liquid that is obtained when sugar cane is mechanically pressed.

pot still: distillation done in small, individual batches in copper kettles; the original and sole method of distillation for all rums until the 1840s when column still distillation was introduced.

rhum: French for rum.

--F. Paul Pacult


Food historians have determined that gar cane (a botanically defined species of tall grass) is native to the Indian subcontinent, most likely the Ganges delta. Sugar as a sweetening agent has been in existence for at least three thousand years. The Indian classic text, Ramayana, written in about 1200 B.C. refers to a feast "with tables laid with sweet things, syrup, canes to chew ..."

Rum, in some crude form, appears to have been developed either in ancient India or China. What is known is that Persians of the Middle Ages did distill sugar cane juice into alcohol. Marco Polo, in his fourteenth century memoirs, mentioned the "very good wine of sugar" he was offered in what is now Iran. Though the Koran forbade the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, the Muslims were very adept distillers who employed alcohol in the production of cosmetics. The clear, potent liquid known as "sugar wine" was transformed into "rum" sometime after 1680 as the sugar plantations took firm hold in the Caribbean region. The word "rum" is derived from any number of words, most notably, rumbullion, a drink made from boiling sugar cane stalks; the archaic rumbustion, which meant "noisy, uncontrollable exuberance;" and saccharum, Latin for sugar. Take your pick.

--F. Paul Pacult

F. Paul Pacult is the world's only journalist to concurrently be a life member of Scotland's exclusive Keepers of the Quaich whisky society, a life member of France's Company of Musketeers d'Armagnac, and a life member of Kentucky's Bourbon Hall of Fame. He is the editor of E Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal, the author of A Double Scotch (John Wiley, 2005), the monthly wine/spirits columnist for Delta Sky, and a special projects editor to the New York Times. His web site is

Brand Supplier 2004 2005 % Chg

Bacardi Bacardi USA 8,450 8,740 3.4%
 Morgan Diageo 4,762 5,340 12.1%
Malibu Pernod Picard USA 1,300 1,460 12.3%
Castillo Bacardi USA 1,200 1,175 -2.1%
Cruzan Rum Cruzan Ltd 0.00 526 20.9%
Ronrico Beam Global
 Wine & Spirits 0.00 517 -3.4%
Myers's Diageo 298 297 -0.3%
Barton Rum Constellation Brands 196 198 1.0%
Mount Gay Remy Cointreau USA 190 190 0.0%
Monarch Rum Hood River Distillers 178 180 1.1%
 Brands 17,544 18,623 6.2%
Others 3,256 3,417 5.0%
Total Rum 20,800 22,040 6.0%

Source: Adams Beverage Group
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Author:Pacult, F. Paul
Publication:Beverage Dynamics
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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