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The future of Rum

Bill Poster

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Wish I had discovered this forum earlier; quite fascinating insight by Ed.

About 5 years ago I worked in the UK spirits business, first for a new swedish vodka brand and then in a sales capacity for a belgian beer. But after a rum tasting I got hooked and started researching the potential to develop a rum brand in the UK.

My reasoning was that there were a handful of distillers with real history, still operating a traditional production process, but with no idea at all how to market their product in europe. I spent months researching each distiller and then short- listed the names I thought would work as a brand in the UK.

I contacted a company in the eastern carribean and luckily they had a rep in London that week! I met at her hotel and discovered just how much work it would take to transform this brand into a marketable product...A truly fiery agricole rum! She then explained their plan to tie up a partnership with four island distillers and produce a portfolio of new products.

To cut a long story short, after an initial positive reaction to my ideas and talk of inviting us over nothing came of it. It seemed it was very hard to make these small companies understand what the uk market wants. Too many barriers to break down i feel.

It was interesting to see the new brand 10Cane; the marketing is so OTT it made my chuckle. Barbancourt white is made in a similar way (I think). I will be interested to see how 10Cane does in the london on-trade.

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Your story is so typical of the Caribbean rum industry, someone trying to show several distillers how to make a rum that be more marketable. The story has been repeated so many times it isn't funny. First, you have to consider that every distiller thinks he makes the best rum in the world, "If other rums are better why aren't they selling in my market. My customers tell me all the time that my rum is the best."

Nest you have to appreciate that we are dealing with distillers from different counties. More than ten years ago, there was a plan to market a rum blended from a number of distillers. But even before the project got to the serious discussion stage there was enough disagreement to table ruin the new rum. Who was going to bottle it? How much of each rum was going to go into the new blend? Who was going to pay for the marketing, not to mention where was it going to be marketed. And this was before the petty jealousies began to surface.

As for the future, I don't expect to see any serious blends from several distillers. In the long run, I see rums produced and bottled at the distilleries are the ones that are going to survive. Even in today's market, quality control is a huge issue and when you drink a rum in the islands and then find a different blend in another country it certainly hurts their credibility, at least for the serious consumer.

Rum distillers aren't going to work together anytime in the near future to market their rums, there is just too much competition, and too much near-sightedness. But in their defense, most distillers are used to working in a domestic market where competition, and not cooperation, are part of the business from the beginning. Rums of Puerto Rico is an exception to this island phenomenom. When Rums of Puerto Rico was founded there were dozens of Puerto Rican rum labels, how many can you name in 15 seconds?

While talking to distillers about exporting rum from the islands, most distillers told me that if I handled another distiller's rum, I couldn't export theirs. But when I asked if they only wanted me to sell to retailers who only sold their rum, they looked at me like I was from another planet. The ironic thing, to me, is that every island distiller sells to shops that handle a number of rums and without offering consumers a choice the shops will soon close.

Edward Hamilton

Ministry of Rum.com

The Complete Guide to Rum

When I dream up a better job, I'll take it.

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Well I'm glad I'm not the only one... I don't want to name the company but they begin with S and are 1 of only two working distillers on an ex british island.. (your time starts now!)

I have'nt given up on this idea, I suppose one way is buy the raw spirit and reblend it in the uk under a different name which defeats the object of building an existing brand with an interesting background. Or import good quality molasses from say, guyana and find a distiller who is willing to take a chance.

Edited by Bill Poster (log)
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