Serrallés Looking to the Next 150 Years

Destilería Serrallés has been producing rum since 1865, but the company is hardly slowing down with age. In fact, Ponce, Puerto Rico-based Serrallés will increase its rum production by 8 million gallons during the next three years, thanks to several long-term contract manufacturing supply agreements in the U.S.

These agreements are part of the Puerto Rican government’s efforts to invest in and promote the country’s rum industry two years after Diageo moved production of its Captain Morgan brand to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. While the new contracts mean that Serralles will be making rum for others, the company’s main focus is strengthening and updating its own brands.

The Serrallés product lineup includes Don Q, BlackBeard Spiced Rum, Caliche and Palo Viejo, among others. “We’re seeing growth in aged and superpremium expressions and flavors,” says John Eason (pictured), chief operating officer/executive vice president of Serrallés USA. Among the flavors, Don Q’s coconut rum in particular “is doing really well,” Eason says. The brand is also available in limon, passionfruit and mojito expressions.

The interest in cocktail culture has been good for dark and aged rums, Eason says. For example, some craft bartenders are now using them in versions of classics like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan.

Another bonus for rum consumption: “Tiki bars are hopping,” says Eason, citing Smugglers Cove in San Francisco, Cane & Table in New Orleans and Hale Payle’s in Portland OR, to name just a few. The Tiki resurgence is part of the craft cocktail culture, but it’s a bit more laid back, Eason adds. “It’s hard to be uptight when you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt and drinking a cocktail out of a coconut.”

NEW PARTNERS AND PRODUCTS

Serrallés has added a few partners and brands to its product portfolio in the past three years. For instance, it’s been working with bar/nightlife impresario Rande Gerber on Caliche Rum since 2012.

Caliche is an aged, ultra-premium white rum, a concept that’s hard for some people to get their heads around, Eason notes, so it “continues to be a slow build.” Serrallés has changed the marketing for Caliche “to focus on the quality inside the bottle,” such as the aging and filtration process, he says.

Serrallés USA also worked with Gerber, along with his partners actor George Clooney and Michael Meldman, on the high-end Casamigos tequila brand. Serrallés handled the sales and distribution of Casamigos from its launch in late 2012 until Sidney Frank Importing Company took it over this past April.

Would Serrallés USA consider another tequila? Definitely, Eason says. “We’re now a tequila short, and absolutely looking to add a tequila brand. Our vision for the company was to offer a well-rounded portfolio, to have one beautiful [brand] of everything.”

The company two years ago teamed up with Middleton, WI-based Death’s Door Spirits, which includes a craft gin, vodka and white whisky, as well as Wondermint Schnapps and Kringle Cream rum liqueur. “We look for like-minded people to work with, who are passionate about their products and making quality spirits with local ingredients,” he says.

Along those lines, Serrallés USA in April announced a long-term, co-operating U.S. sales and marketing partnership with Brooklyn, NY-based Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur. The company is rolling out Barrows–which uses more than 200 lbs. of fresh ginger per batch–this spring with a primary focus on the Northeast markets, with national distribution planned for 2015. 

The Barrows deal has already spawned another partnership: TYKU sake was looking for a spirits partner with a ginger liqueur, Eason says, “so we’re going to be working with them.”

A FRESH LOOK FOR DON Q

Eason is particularly excited about a packaging update for Don Q. The new creative, handled by design agency Tracy Locke, is scheduled to launch in the early fall and will be supported by a national advertising campaign.

Don Q’s label will boast new logo with a cool, clean, retro look. Perhaps most important, Eason notes, the “Don” will be above the “Q” on the logo instead of next to it, so that people are clear on the brand’s proper name.  Serrallés is expanding the Don Q brand into the U.K., France and Canada later this year, he says, and the company wants to avoid confusion on the brand’s name in the new markets.

Eason recalls a U.K. rum festival at which Serrallés was offering samples of the Don Q Grand añjeo. One British gentleman, who was clearly enamoured with the product, kept coming back to the table for more and proclaiming: “I love this rum Donk!” thinking that’s how Don Q was pronounced. “We realized we needed to make some changes” with the branding and packaging, Eason says.

The packaging will better promote Don Q’s flavored rums with more color and clearer imagery, he says. For example, while Puerto Rican consumers would recognize the “limon” flavor as lime, many U.S. customers weren’t sure if it was lemon or lime, so the new labels will include a picture of a lime, Eason notes.

THE BIG BIRTHDAY

Product innovation is key to the future of Distileria Serrallés, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary next year. The company has a special launch planned for the occasion, Eason says, but he won’t reveal any details, other than that it might include a unique aged rum expression.

“We’re lucky that we’ve been able to increase of business making rum for other people, but that’s not going to sustain us,” says Eason, noting that Serrallés had been a contract producer of Captain Morgan rum until the business left Puerto Rico in 2011. “Contracts come and go,” he says. “We need to be successful with our own brands.”

Along those lines, Serrallés is bringing back Don Q 151 rum. The company had discontinued it about a decade ago for legal reasons; the relaunched product will address the safety concerns about the rum’s flammability.

As for other products, “I would really love to do a single-barrel rum expression, either internally or find a great brand,” says Eason, who joined Serrallés USA in 2008 after holding senior-level sales and executive positions at Allied Domecq, Brown Forman, and Glazer Companies. “I’m a brown-spirits guy.”

In his six years with Serrallés USA, Eason notes that he has built a great team of seasoned industry professionals. “I was lucky to get the people that I got,” he says.

Eason says that he and vice president of business development Roberto J. Serralles have “shared the vision for this company and how we’d build it out.” Distileria Serrallés is a sixth-generation rum producer, Eason adds.  “We’re playing for the next six generations.”

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