Quite when rum’s new boom first happened it’s hard to tell. In some ways, it just sneaked up on us. Let me start at the beginning, or rather my beginning as far as writing about rum was concerned. It was in the mid-90s and a rash of gold rums (as we called them then) had just been tentatively launched in the UK. My paper’s annual rum feature was due to be written and to be honest there was little new to report: Bacardi still dominated the market but didn’t see the need to call itself a rum, dark rums were continuing their terminal decline. The only story was gold rum.So I organised a tasting in the shell of what was about to become London’s first great style bar,The Atlantic.We tasted and were blown away by the quality.‘Rum.. the next big thing’, I wrote with supreme confidence.How could a spirit with such flavour, such versatility, such a back-story fail? Well,somehow, it did.Though the web of rum lovers grew,we were an underground movement, meeting in secret in out of the way bars to discuss our obsession.New brands would occasionally appear, then disappear, independent bottlings from Cadenhead,Gordon & MacPhail and Bristol Spirits gave hope but there was no great push.It was like the days before malt whisky broke.And now? Every day, every gossip column in the UK carries a story about the goings-on at Mahiki: a high-class tiki bar with a stellar range of rums in Mayfair.Every second day samples of new rums land on the doorstep; I go to ordinary pubs and people are drinking mojitos; then the in-box announces that Edrington has bought Brugal (which it’s worth pointing out sells in excess of five million cases – a very canny buy), that Diageo has taken 50 per cent of Zacapa and suddenly woken up to the fact it has a rum portfolio; that Havana Club has its own distillery and a new global strategy and, biggest news of all,Bacardi is promoting itself as a rum.“It’s a duty of all brands to tell their story, but we’ve never done that,” John Burke,marketing director at Bacardi/Brown-Forman Brands tells me candidly.“This was the brand which made the original mojito, the original cuba libre, the original daiquiri.”Bacardi may cop a lot of flak, but the category needs its clout because if rum is to grow it needs to do so with brands that have global reach.This then opens the door for medium-sized players, rums which are owned by the people who make them: call them post-colonial rums, call them ‘Real Rums’, spirits which are offering a wider than ever range to an international consumer who is actively looking for new and exciting flavours.The fact that there is now an 18- month WIRSPA-funded generic campaign for Caribbean rums in three countries, as well as EU money to help with marketing and infrastructure simply underlines the momentum which has swung behind the category.“Potentially rum is happening now because the funding from WIRSPA has had an effect on brands,”says Stuart Ekins,marketing director at Inspirit which handles el Dorado in the UK.“It’s like a new category.” Rum is having its day in the sun.“Rum comes at you from every possible product angle,”says Peter Martin atWray & Nephew.“A premium white will challenge a premium vodka not a standard white rum,and a premium blend or aged gold rum will challenge a similar whisky and bourbon, while the sheer vibrancy of where rum comes from moves its image away from staid old Scotch or boring Cognac.”He has a point.Rum is here to stay and it’s beginning to punch its considerable weight.
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