New and Notable
That doesn’t mean flavor innovation in rum is at a standstill; far from it. Cruzan recently launched a new flavor, Blueberry Lemonade, for example. And Malibu will launch a pre-mix can, Fizzy Mango, in February, with two new tropical flavors planned for mid-year release.
“We are always working on R&D,” Farmer says. The Blue Chair Bay brand debuted three years ago with three expressions: Coconut, Coconut Spiced and White Rum. Since then it has added Banana and Vanilla, as well as Coconut Spiced Rum Cream and Banana Rum Cream. Key Lime Rum Cream will launch in the first quarter of 2017, and another flavor is in development. Don Q’s flavor line includes Limon, Coco, Mojito and Passionfruit; a new tropical flavor will launch next year.
“Similar to consumers of other spirit categories, rum consumers are looking for innovative flavors and unexpected offerings, specifically in the flavored and premium segments,” says Linda Bethea, vice president of marketing for Captain Morgan.
Diageo saw success with the 2015 launch of Captain Morgan Cannon Blast—a “spiced rum shot alternative” with citrus punch and spicy heat in a bombshell-shaped bottle that glows under blacklight. Building on that is the limited-edition Captain Morgan Jack-O-Blast—a spiced pumpkin shot in a jack-o-lantern bottle that lights up under blacklight. “It’s unique, the first of its kind to hit the market and the perfect seasonal shot or cocktail,” Bethea says.
Following last year’s “All in, All Heart” campaign, which took aim at Captain Morgan, Oakheart Spiced Rum is being repositioned and repackaged to stand alone from parent Bacardi. The new packaging direction, says the company, is more classic and masculine in its style. An icon depicting a barrel with flames extending from each end over a pair of crossed axes is an homage to the charred American oak barrels in which Oakheart is mellowed.
Lure of the Dark and Powerful
Evolution in the spiced rum realm is moving toward oak-aged, darker spirits finished at a higher proof with a dryer profile.
For example, Don Q’s new spiced rum is an aged product, with a base blended from 3- to 6-year-old rums. “The rum gains vanilla, woody notes, tannin and structure from the aging,” Serralles says. He sees the product as a trade-up for consumers. “Some spiced rums in the marketplace, you can’t even tell if they are aged.” The flavor profile will be dryer and the spice rum will be bottled at 90 proof.
Another example is Cruzan’s Calico Jack brand, which offers spiced 94 proof and black spiced versions.
“Oak-aged spirits are definitely a trend; people love that oaky taste,” says Davidson at Maine Craft Distilling. His Queequeg rum is aged with oak. Aging adds color, too. Conditioned by whiskey, consumers equate darker colored spirits with quality, he says.
“Consumers are intrigued by dark spirits,” agrees Venhoff at Heaven Hill. The newest expression from Admiral Nelson’s is Black Patch, which is filtered through Bourbon barrel charred oak. The black spiced rum is bottled at 94 proof, too. “Rum is a spirit that has been able to benefit from the Bourbon boom because they have similar attributes,” she notes.
“Sailor Jerry is unique because our 92-proof liquid cuts through in a cocktail, meaning you actually taste it; lower proof rums get masked by mixers,” notes senior brand manager Josh Hayes. “Whiskey is a category that has seen exceptional growth and Sailor Jerry has enough whiskey characteristics—proof, taste, mixability—that we’re able to leverage that trend. Our lower-proof competitive set can’t do that. As a result, the last 18 months have brought significant on-premise wins in national accounts.”
The On-Premise Connection
A number of trends currently lighting up bars and restaurants are rum-centric and have been helping to fuel off-premise sales as well, industry observers say. Spiced and other rum flavors add nuance to drinks, and those flavors also make it easier for consumers to mix at home.
The surge of the third wave of the tiki trend, with its reliance on rum-based classic and contemporary cocktails, is the most prominent promoter of the category.
“We are seeing a big resurgence in the tiki phenomenon,” Clarke reports, “and Malibu is well-placed to play in that space.” Malibu Coconut works well in a Piña Colada, for example, or a coconut variation of the Moscow Mule. “At Malibu, we have a straightforward approach to drinks, Malibu plus one mixer—soda or juices,” adds the brand director. This simple formula makes it easy for customers to experiment at home. And for high-volume bars, the concept makes for quick service.
“We attribute the popularity of this segment to the continued interest in cocktail culture, one of the most notable being the tiki trend and the high-end rum bars that continue to pop up across the country,” says Carter at Cruzan. Mixologists are using Cruzan rums as a base for a variety of tiki-inspired drinks, and consumers also enjoy making easy “plus one” cocktails with them at home.
“While we have seen some resurgence from a tiki standpoint, what we are seeing is spiced rum capitalizing on the shot trend,” says Venhoff. But she notes, Rum & Coke is still a prominent call on premise as well as at-home.
“New and innovative cocktails and shots continue to drive growth in the on-premise as consumers look for options that are unique and unexpected,” says Bethea at Captain Morgan. Rising popularity of chilled shots consumption, especially among younger legal age drinkers, was a factor in the debut of Canon Blast and the new Jack-O’Blast. “We’re excited to see how the momentum of this new product ignites excitement around the brand in 2017,” says the VP.
Indeed, the major players in the flavored and spiced rum segment are upbeat about the future. They believe that product evolution and innovation combined with a confluence of trends hold promise.
“Given the interest and impact we have seen in the Bourbon category,” Venhoff says, “we hope that some of the rum category’s history and heritage start to generate new interest in the spirit.” bd
Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with over 20 years experience covering the beverage and restaurant industries. In his small apartment-turned-alchemist-den, he homebrews beer kombucha, and concocts his own bitters and infusions.