Can American Craft Rum Take Off?

American craft whiskey is booming, but what about small-batch U.S. rum? Can the category catch the craft wave?

For that answer we recently spoke with Fred Greene (pictured atop), co-founder of Oak & Cane. The South Florida-based producer makes an “American Craft Rum” from locally sourced sugarcane, aging it in American oak barrels treated with Florida oranges. Here’s what Greene had to say on the topic:

Beverage Dynamics: Will American craft rum take off?
Fred Greene: The category really is still in its infancy. There are still only a handful of brands. We’re one of the few.

We’re definitely seeing a shift in the consumer mindset towards local. Much of what’s out there for traditional rum right now is outside of that mindset. With us, the use of oranges gives a local aspect. And South Florida is the biggest producer of sugarcane in the country. Our sugarcane comes from Florida everglades.

Oak & Cane is an American craft rum made in South Florida from locally sourced sugarcane, aged in American oak treated with Florida orange peels.

BD: What’s holding back American craft rum?
FG: I think rum has been pegged into the beach category. You have all those Caribbean rums, and Tiki culture in general. That’s where the consumer’s mind goes when they think about rum.

American craft rums have to break out of that mold and focus on what makes them unique. Which are their production process and flavor profiles. I do think that in today’s market, anything that’s fresh and uniqye will appeal to the American consumer.

BD: Can American craft rum steal consumers from the U.S. whiskey category?
FG: I think the consumer who has the palate for whiskey and bourbon can also appreciate craft rum. There are similar notes and elements that they can pick up on.

BD: What’s been the consumer reaction to Oak & Cane?
FG: A lot of people are surprised that this is a rum. They lean towards it being a young whiskey.

BD: Why a flavored rum?
FG: I wanted to do an interpretation of flavored rum in the sense of an aged rum without being an unnaturally flavored product. We treat our oak barrels with orange peels so that that sweet flavor goes into the wood.

This technique is not as common in rum. And because we’re a younger rum, aging six-to-twelve months in the barrel, we wanted a way to get that extra flavor.

BD: You don’t list an age statement on the bottle.
FG: With age statements you can go a couple of different ways. You can let a product age for something like seven years and then highlight that for the sake of the sale. Or you cannot include an age statement and focus instead on something that tastes good and is versatile for mixing.

Whether or not you really need an age statement is a learning curve for consumers, but today’s consumers are learning as they go.

Age shouldn’t matter. The outcome and the end product are what matter. If a product is unique enough, and if it captures enough elements of flavor and has a memorable profile, then it’s a good product. That’s why we try to focus in on communication how we make our rum.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @ksswartzz.

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