Why Rum is the Next Big Thing (at K&L at least)
I don't have time to write a long, detailed article right now, but I do want to touch on a few quick points concerning rum. Since returning from Barbados, I've been thinking quite heavily about the spirits market and rum's role within it. Of all the spirits that are vying to become the next single malt whisky, the next big thing in booze, I think rum has the most crossover potential. Granted, American whiskey has already filled that niche and is currently struggling to keep it's inventory available due to high demand, but I think that will pass in about five years or so. Bourbon drinkers and single malt drinkers are often one in the same (like me, I enjoy both), but they are also commonly divided. I talk to single malt drinkers everyday who find Bourbon to be overly woody, while I talk to Bourbon drinkers who find single malt to be overly expensive. Here's where rum comes in:
- Rum can be done on a column still or a pot still and, like single malt whisky, there are blends of both as well as pure-pot still distillates. The blends tend to be less expensive and more accessible and the pot still rums are more expressive and intensely flavored. Just like single malt whisky.
- Rum is usually aged in ex-Bourbon casks as well as ex-Sherry butts. Mount Gay Extra Old is to rum what our Springbank Single Bourbon Barrel malt is to single malt whisky. El Dorado 15 is to rum what Glendronach 12 is to single malt whisky (except the El Dorado is $15 cheaper). Other Bourbon barrel aged rums like Zafra 21 continue to fly under the radar of most whisky drinkers, but Sherry-aged rums like Zacapa and Zaya have become very popular. Zacapa and Zaya are the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich of rum. Something like Santa Theresa or Diplomatico from Venezuela offers more of an Aberlour experience.
- Unlike single malt whisky, white rum is actually useful! See our older posts about the Daiquiri to learn everything you need about mixing. Having uses for both white rum and aged rum is a huge advantage for the rum distiller and for the customer! You can have rums for sipping and rums for mixing, which is an advantage that American whiskey currently holds over single malt. You might fly through a bottle of Rittenhouse in two days making Manhattans, but you wouldn't do that with your Macallan bottle. On top of that, no one is trying to fool you in the rum industry when it comes to the value of maturity because aged rum isn't all that more expensive. There are no "age is everything" or "age is just a number" marketing taglines to try and convince you to pay more for something aged or to accept something younger simply because the producer is out of mature stock. At least, not that I know of!
- Rum is cheeeeeeeeeap! Compared to single malt whisky, that is. Mount Gay's Eclipse sells for $15! The Extra Old is a marriage of eight to sixteen year old rums and sells for $35. Zafra 21 year old is $36! Barbancourt 15 is about the same. El Dorado 12 year is in the mid-$20s. These are serious rums at bargain basement prices when you compare them to the malt shelf. More importantly, their flavors are far more similar to single malt whisky than any American Bourbon or rye. At least once a day someone will tell me, "I like single malt, but I'm looking to crossover into Bourbon because it's more affordable." I should be steering these folks over to the rum section.
- Women who hate single malt whisky and Bourbon seem to love rum! Rum is fun. It goes in fruit-flavored drinks. It reminds people of the beach. However, even the aged sipping rums are more accessible to the less-initiated palate. My wife will spit out any single malt whisky or Bourbon offering I have her taste. It's never gone well and it's never going to either because to her they taste like poison. She has enjoyed each and every rum that has crossed her lips, however. Even the agricole ones! Haven't you ever wanted to share your passion for sipping mature spirits with your loved one? I can finally do that thanks to rum and its mellower profile.
- Rum has the history and the romance. Caribbean history is utterly fascinating. Pirates! What's more romantic and fun than a pirate? American history is steeped in rum culture. In fact, rum played a key role in the foundation of the United States (you can look that up on your own). I know people who dream of driving through Scotland or Kentucky, visiting the distilleries, and sipping whisk(e)y at each stop. Are you honestly telling me that you'd rather bundle up in the cold Highlands than go island hopping from Jamaica to Barbados to Martinique and then down to Guyana?
- There are tons of Caribbean and Latin American rum distilleries that are not owned by major corporations. That means there is still undiscovered country out there as well as niche products that never leave the area. I've tasted whisky from every operating single malt distillery in Scotland (and most of the mothballed ones as well). If you're looking for a new adventure, it lies to the south.
These are just a few thoughts running through my head this morning. I've been looking for a new direction in spirits for some time and I think it points toward the Caribbean. We need more rum at K&L. We need more rum education as well. We need more rum tastings. It's time to contact some people.