Eating and drinking my way through life and learning all the while

WSET Diploma Studies: Rum Part 1 – The Rum Trade

Rum is the fastest growing spirits category in key markets worldwide. China has seen phenomenal growth, between 2005-2010 rum volume sales in China  increased by 286% and value sales increased by a crazy 401%.

Here in the UK, sales are strong and are predicted to stay that way as Spiced Rum from the likes of Sailor Jerry, Morgan’s Spiced and Lamb’s Spiced bring new consumers into the market and the UK On Trade continues to enjoy the versatility of rum. Trade and consumer facing shows like the UK’s RumFest do a fantastic job of promoting Rum culture.

Golden rum is the fastest growing sector in the UK with sales up 27% by volume over the past year or so, golden rum is having a halo effect on white and dark rum sales too, with dark rum sales up 8.2% over the same period.
Rum is a hugely versatile spirit distilled from a wash of either molasses and water or sugar cane juice. Although famed for its Caribbean heritage – think rum and you think of Caribbean (and possibly pirates) – rum can be produced in any country where sugar cane is grown including the USA, Australia, India, the Philippines and La Réunion, but doesn’t necessarily have to be matured there.
In fact, some Navy-style rums are matured here in the UK, although they will not mature at the same rate as in the Caribbean, one year of topical ageing is said to equate to three years of ageing in say Scotland. Each year, around 6% of the rum matured in barrel is lost to evaporation – known locally as the angel’s share. The Caribbean heat will draw the rum deeper into the wood barrels and extract more flavour quicker.

So where did it all begin?

Christopher Columbus started it all when he brought sugar cane cuttings to the Caribbean, by the 16th century many of the islands started to harvest the white gold that was ‘sugar’.
Most rum is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar production – once the sugar cane has been crushed, the juice extracted and boiled, and the sugar crystals which form removed – what you are left with is black gloopy liquid called molasses. Originally, these molasses were given to the slave workers who distilled them into rum. Later, as rum grew in popularity worldwide, distilleries were tagged onto most sugar mills as a vital source of secondary income and when sugar production fell victim to cheaper European sugar beet, rum went from being a by-product to the main reason to be in business.
Rum is said to be derived from the word ‘rumbullion’ an old term for a big noise or uproar. It was previously referred to as ‘kill-devil’, which gives you some idea of the strength or taste of these early rums. It was given to slaves working the sugar plantations to ward off ailments, and according to some, to keep them from uprising. Rum enjoys a tumultuous history and its global dominance is intrinsically linked to the fact it was used as a form of currency and the fact is kept so well aboard a ship.
Unlike beer and wine, rum kept its flavour (and probably improved) on long journeys and if a seafarer ran out of supplies, he could always dock anywhere in the world and sell his excess rum for case to purchase emergency supplies. Hence rum became a seafaring staple.
Ever since Vice Admiral William Penn seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, British Navy Commandeers have issued tots of rum to sailors. A practice which was written into the regulations of 1731 and continued up until 31st July 1970 when with the advent of breathalysers, sailors returning home were found to be over the legal drink driving limit.
Barbados was the first Caribbean island to produce rum, records date back to 1647 and the world’s oldest rum brand, Mount Gay, was produced in Barbados in 1703. Jamaica,and what is now Haiti followed suit. In the mid 19th century Cuba both industrialised and modernised rum production when Don Facunado Bacardi produced the country’s first light rum. This cuban style rum dominated the 20th century, and was made popular when Americans flooded into Havana’s cocktail bars during prohibition.
Aside from Bacardi, rum failed to build on its success during prohibition. Although today, rum is experiencing something of a resurgence and while bulk shipments of navy rum are in decline we are seeing the growth of Caribbean-owned golden rum brands and new consumers entering the category via spiced rums.

The market leader – Bacardi

Bacardi is a global brand selling 18.6m cases in 2009, down 5.5% on 2008. Bacardi is the number three spirits brand in the world selling several times more than its nearest competitor. Diageo’s Captain Morgan is the only other rum brand in the world’s top ten spirits brands, selling 8.6 million cases by comparison and bucking the trend for Navy style rums with sales up 3.6%.

In the UK, Bacardi is the no 6 off trade brand with sales up 7% in 2009.
First produced in Cuba, in 1862 by Don Facunada Bacardi Massa, Bacardi is now the world’s best selling rum brand. It has a clean, delicate floral style and in terms of volume sales is head and shoulders ahead of the competition. Bacardi sold 18.6m cases in 2009 compared to Havana Club’s 3.4 million cases.
Don Facunda Bacardi Massa won a competition set by the Spanish authorities to produce a lightly flavoured rum. Its water white style has become the benchmark for Cuban style rums. Although today, after having its assets illegally seized by Cuban totalitarian regime in 1960 (which amounted to a loss of $76 million dollars, and represented 90% of the company’s volume at the time), Bacardi is no longer made in Cuba, it owns four distilleries across the world including Puerta Rica.
Bacardi is made from molasses distilled in linked column still, and puts great stock in its yeast strain which is said to contribute to its lighter flavour profile. It is charcoal filtered after distillation and aged in barrel.
Bacardi Ltd is the world’s largest privately owned drinks company and invests significant amounts in its brands marketing and innovation to increase brand equity with the higher sales price offsetting any loss in volume.
Bacardi Ltd also owns Martini-Rossi, Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose vodka, Dewar’s blended Scotch.


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