American Rum Report #7 — May 24, 2019
After a whirlwind weekend at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival (it was a blast), I'm back in the saddle with this week's report.
~ In This Report ~
#1: Montanya Distillers lands a "substantial" venture capital deal and eyes expansion 💰
#2: Where do American rums fall in The Whisky Exchange's new rum classification system? 🤔
#3: Let's admire the trail Maggie Campbell is blazing at Privateer Rum 🔥
#4: A quick dispatch on American rums featured at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival 🌴
#5: Three American rums make Wine Enthusiast's list of 10 rums to explore from around the world 🌎
#6: Louisiana's Bayou Rum offers its perspective on the global rum market ⚜️
#1: Montanya Distillers (Crested Butte, CO) lands a "substantial" venture capital deal
This hasn't exactly been formally announced quite yet, but if you're on Montanya Distillers' email list, you may have noticed the following at the end of the last email from founder Karen Hoskin:
"Don't mean to bury the lead, but I also have some incredibly exciting news that I can't wait to fully share. We've landed a substantial venture-capital deal, which means we can more easily bring our rum to more people. Can't say much now, but I will as soon as I can, so stay tuned!"
This is just the latest in a series of expansive moves I've noted the Colorado distillery making in previous newsletters. Back in March, they announced their Platino and Oro rums were headed for distribution in France and the U.K., plus a new partnership with Chicago-based online retailer BigFish.
Hoskin elaborated on her distillery's plans for "going big" in a recent interview with Welum.com titled, "The Queen of Rum in the USA":
"In the lifespan of craft distilling companies, there always comes a time when you have to go big or fold in your wings to maintain. I have committed to going big, which means bigger partnerships, more investment and selling off part of my company to generate the cash I’ll need for the next phase. That used to scare me, but now I understand better what it takes."
The bottom line? Your odds of seeing Montanya rums available near you seem to be increasing by the day.
And that's a good thing! For the category to continue growing, we need visible, widely-distributed leaders who are dedicated to showing consumers what American rum is all about.
From what I've seen, Karen Hoskin fits that to a T. The industry is lucky to have her.
#2: Online retailer The Whisky Exchange released its own rum classification system—here's how it classifies American rums
The Whisky Exchange is a U.K.-based online spirits retailer that's started organizing its rums using a classification system inspired by the Gargano/Seale system.
Here are the system's six categories, courtesy of The Spirits Business:
Single Traditional Column: rum distilled at one distillery in traditional column stills.
Single Traditional Pot Still: rum distilled at one distillery in traditional pot stills.
Single Traditional Blended: a blend of traditional pot still and traditional column still rums from the same distillery.
Single Modernist: rum made at a single distillery using modern multi-column stills.
Blended Traditionalist: a blend of rums from multiple distilleries that only includes traditional column and/or pot still rums.
Blended Modernist: a blend of rums from multiple distilleries that includes single modernist rums.
Since The Whisky Exchange is based in the U.K., it doesn't have many American rums available—only eight at the time of this newsletter.
Of those eight, however, five are listed in the "Single Traditional Pot Still" category, which is where I believe the vast majority of American rums would be classified. Most rum distillers in the U.S. use a batch distillation process with a pot still or hybrid pot/column still. Though you'll also find some examples of Blended Traditionalist rums from distilleries that import rums to blend with their own. Modern multi-column stills are few and far between.
So, what's the goal of releasing this classification system? Sukhinder Singh, co-founder of The Whisky Exchange, said it's to give consumers an easier way to understand the differences between rums:
"The classification we’ve outlined is about the long term; it’s about laying the foundations so that in three, four, five years time, consumers will have a much better understanding of rum. It’s a slow burner, but we have to start somewhere."
The system also consists of six "flavour camps," any of which can be paired with the six categories I mentioned earlier:
Light and uncomplicated
Herbaceous and grassy
Tropical and fruity
Fruity and spicy
Dry and spicy
Rich and treacly
Although most American rums would fall in the Single Traditional Pot Still category, you certainly couldn't pin down a single "flavour camp" that would cover most. American rums run the gamut of flavor.
And while it's great to see a retailer taking initiative and driving the conversation around rum classification forward, I have to admit this system feels a bit too complicated for the average consumer.
Adding to the potential confusion is the fact that The Whisky Exchange is keeping the "White," "Golden," and "Dark" categories available on its website alongside the new ones. Dawn Davies, who's in charge of buying at the company, offered the following explanation for the decision:
“Dark and gold tells you nothing about flavour. We have kept them in the classification because that’s what consumers know and look for. So we still use those terms because consumers are still going to shop by those terms. But in terms of flavour, it doesn’t mean anything."
I personally think the rum community would be better served by starting with simpler classifications based on aging and base ingredients, but the reality is there will never be a perfect system.
#3: Boston Magazine admires the trail Privateer President and Head Distiller Maggie Campbell is blazing
This article can't be more than 500 words or so, but it packs in some great detail about the woman behind what many have called the country's best rum distillery.
Like this anecdote about Privateer releasing the first bottled-in-bond rum since prohibition:
"And yet, because the bottled-in-bond designation was originally developed for whiskey, Campbell’s application was initially met with a 'What is this?' reaction from the government, she says. She even had to track down a local spirits collector to find vintage photos and advertisements that proved bottled-in-bond rum once existed."
Not all the stories are fun ones, however. Campbell's journey through the spirits world has included plenty of face-palming instances of sexism:
"Maggie Campbell studied distilling at one of the country’s top schools for the craft. She scored an early-career role at Germain-Robin, among the most venerated brandy makers on the globe. But when it came time to find her next job, she struggled to break the drinking-glass ceiling. “I was told outright by some people, ‘You’re totally the best person. I just don’t know if I’ll work with a woman,’” she says."
I suppose it is a small comfort to think of how stupid anyone who passed on her must feel right now, but damn—we really need to be much better than this.
Maggie Campbell is another woman the rum industry is ridiculously lucky to have. Read the full story here: "Rum Distiller Maggie Campbell Is Blazing New Trails in the Spirits Industry."
#4: A quick dispatch on American rums featured at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival
After moderating two American rum panel discussions at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival last weekend, my mind is still swimming with too many thoughts to offer a coherent and concise reflection on what I learned about American rum from the experience.
(It's coming eventually—I promise!)
For now, here's a quick article from the Miami New Times that offers a rundown on several of the American brands present at the festival: "American Rums Shine at the Rum Renaissance Festival."
(On a related note, Rob and Robin Burr of Rob's Rum Guide do a fantastic job with this event, and I highly recommend you go next year! I posted some photos on Instagram if you're into that sorta thing.)
#5: Three American rums make Wine Enthusiast's list of 10 rums to explore from around the world
This article actually came out at the beginning of the month, but I omitted it from the previous newsletter so I could focus exclusively on my story about upcoming changes to the TTB regulations.
That said, it's cool to see three American rums mentioned in the same breath as products from Appleton, Plantation, Real McCoy, and Cockspur.
The article features:
Whistling Andy White Rum (from Whistling Andy in Bigfork, MT)
Roulaison Traditional Pot Distilled Rum (from Roulaison Distilling Company in New Orleans, LA)
Stark Spirits California Gold Rum (from Stark Spirits in Pasadena, CA)
You can check out the full article to see thoughts on each rum from Kara Newman, the spirits editor at Wine Enthusiast.
#6: Louisiana's Bayou Rum offers some perspective on the global rum market
In a recent interview, Jeff Murphy, the operations manager at Louisiana Spirits (makers of Bayou Rum), offered an extended quote on Bayou's fit within the global rum market.
It stood out to me for a few reasons, which I've interspersed into the full quote below:
“Globally speaking, premium whiskeys and tequilas have been on the upswing over the last ten or fifteen years, and rums are again being recognized as a premium spirit.
It's easy for people to see quotes like this and think, "Wow! Rum is the next bourbon!"
(The monthly tradition of media outlets publishing "Is Rum Ready to Seriously Challenge Whiskey?" articles contributes to that idea as well, of course.)
But I think it's important to add some context around where rum actually is relative to other spirits in the market before getting too carried away.
It's definitely true that premium rum sales have steadily grown for years. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, super premium rum (which it defines as bottles priced at $35 or more) grew 30% in 2018. However, as a category super premium rum is only valued at $127 million of the $27 billion U.S. spirits market, according to Vinepair.
(That translates to just over half of one percent of the market.)
Granted, that's only the U.S. market, but expanding those figures to the entire globe wouldn't change the fact that, even though it's growing, premium rum is not on the verge of overtaking premium whiskey.
Again, that's not what the quote was claiming, but that's where consumers minds tend to go anytime they see the comparison.
Let's continue with the quote:
"Rum is not all sandy beaches and umbrella drinks and people finally understand that rum can be as complex as bourbon and scotch. We’re focusing on the fact that we can make a great award-winning product here in Louisiana. We have a unique climate and soil characteristics that separate from the Caribbean. So, I think that our process may set us apart from most rums on the market.
I have to point out that the last time I mentioned Bayou in this newsletter it was because the brand was featured in the following shot from a Jonas Brothers music video:
Yes, that's a bottle of Bayou Rum being poured into a literal umbrella drink.
Obviously, that's not the only form of marketing Bayou is doing (and that bottle is not one of the brand's "super premium" offerings), but I couldn't resist pointing out the irony when paired with the above quote. :)
Let's wrap up with the rest of it:
"There’s no reason why every liquor store in the world can’t have a high quality, premium, Louisiana-made rum on the shelf. We think there’s enormous potential to take a bite out of that market and get our own niche going and be known as America’s rum brand."
Given that Stoli Group owns Bayou, I have no doubt that its sights are set on worldwide distribution and market leader status among brands that intentionally market themselves as American rum.
But I dispute the notion that there will be a single brand known as "America's rum brand." There are too many talented, dedicated producers focused on carrying the category's mantle for it to end up associated with one brand.
Bayou might have a head start on distribution (and the considerable coffers of Stoli Group at its disposal), but as I noted in this edition's first story, other brands have eyes that go beyond the domestic market too.