Craft rum is a tricky space.
As craft whiskey, beer and tequila take off — and even small-batch gins gain traction — rum can seem left behind. There exists a subculture of rum nerds, of course, but beyond the aficionados and Tiki bars, you do not hear a great deal about this other brown spirit.
Marc Farrell is the latest alcohol entrepreneur who hopes to change that. Last month, he launched his new rum brand, Ten To One, in New York City. Born and raised in Trinidad, Farrell has a history of success. He attended MIT at age 16, followed by Cambridge University and Harvard Business School, and later became the youngest vice president in Starbucks history. Now he’s turned his attention to rum.
Ten To One offers a white and dark expression (SRPs: $29, and $43, respectively). Both are blends made from several different Caribbean countries. The name references Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams, suggesting that the Caribbean federation of 10 countries was stronger working together as community of one.
Ten To One’s white rum was among the tastier unaged I’ve ever tried, making me wonder what Farrell has in mind for this tricky category. Acknowledging the problems with craft rum, he believes he sees a way forward for this spirit.
Kyle Swartz: What did you want from a rum when launching in this category?
Marc Farrell: I thought of rum in two lanes: the product, as in literally the juice, and then the brand story as well.
Let’s start with the product. I’m a big rum nerd. When I walk into a bar I am looking for a delicious premium rum to sip. Oftentimes, I see these bottles on the back bar collecting dust. I think that’s part of rum’s positioning issue. Too many premium rums are positioned only as sipping spirits. They need to be part of the craft mixology culture as well, in order to cater to the modern consumer.
That’s why with our dark rum we made it so that you can drink it on its own, or mix it. It’s a combination of pot and column still, and plays well with mixology.
With white rum, we wanted to challenge the consumer expectation about what it can be. Of course, this part of the category is dominated by a specific brand and bottle. So we played around to be different, and came up with a 90-proof white rum that’s drinkable, but can still stand up on its own in a cocktail. It’s also a mixture of pot and column still.
On the brand side, I have been chomping at the bit to show a different side of Caribbean culture. I wanted to shed light on a contemporary view. Celebration is a core component of so many Caribbean cultures. We wanted to showcase different moments of celebration.
KS: How do you attract whiskey drinkers to rum?
MF: That’s all about education, and getting liquid to lips. You’ve got to educate consumers about the similarities between rum and whiskey: the distillation process, barrel aging, and blending versus single-origins. You’ve got to shed light on rum having a taxonomy that’s similar to whiskey.
Ten To One is aged in ex-bourbon casks, so drinkers can pick out reminiscent notes in our dark rum. Building on that, you can look at the climate of the Caribbean. Because of the heat, rum ages three times faster than comparable whiskey. Rum takes on barrel notes sooner than consumers would expect. That’s why you can take an eight-year-old rum and put it up next to a 15-20-year-old whiskey, and those things compare favorably.
KS: Why is mixology so important for craft rum?
MF: It’s really important for any spirit nowadays to be part of the trendy cocktail scene. Part of the problem with rum is that rum suffers from a deficit of perception when it comes to its quality as a cocktail ingredient. We need to overcome that. We need to show consumers that rum has a non-negotiable place in the world’s best cocktail bars.
A big part of this is also to introduce rum to consumers in a way that dispels preconceived notions about the spirit. Ten To One has no added sugar, flavoring or coloring. We need consumers to have the correct perception of rum. We have to introduce rum in a way that shows off its integrity.
I want to be able to walk into the greatest craft bars in the world and see those world-class mixologists working with Ten To One. But you also have to unlock every-day mixology experiences as well. That’s why we recommend consumers mix our rum with club soda, tonic, lime or coconut water. Those baseline cocktails are really critical.
KS: What is the demo today for craft rum?
MF: On one hand there are existing rum drinkers who want to trade up, and also the general population of spirits drinkers who love all things craft. That includes whiskey and bourbon drinkers who have cross-pollinated.
As for the other demo, I was at a dinner party several weeks ago, and we were pouring Ten To One White on the rocks with coconut water. I looked around and was happy to see how many female drinkers were enjoying this drink. We want to dispel the misperception that the rum category is only for men. Everyone can enjoy rum equally.
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece, 11 Alcohol Trends to Watch in 2019-20.