Rum Runners: Why the Familiar Spirit is Finding a New Niche

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Rum may not be Canada’s most popular spirit, but it is a familiar and approachable one. And, with consumers seeking new and exciting flavours and expressions, Ontario’s LCBO notes rum sales are reflecting a declining trend in the purchase of mainstream brands. In fact, the LCBO’s 2016-17 Year in Review indicates sales of white rums were down 0.6 per cent for the year as a result of this trend. However, this was countered by a 4.5-per-cent rise in spiced-rum sales, resulting in a modest 2.1-per-cent year-over-year increase in category sales.

White rums represent the largest portion of rum sales — 36 per cent of category sales at LCBO and 47 per cent of the BC Liquor Distribution Branch’s rum sales to hospitality by volume for fiscal year 2016/17. “[Rum] is a popular cocktail ingredient — there are a lot of well-known and classic drinks made with rum,” says Andre Scherbina, AGM and Beverage director at Toronto-based SpiritHouse. He says the majority of the bar’s rum sales come through its cocktail program. “We don’t sell much rum on its own” he explains. “If people drink it on its own, it tends to be a bit older [rums].”

SpiritHouse offers aged rums such as Ron Zacapa 23 ($79.95 at LCBO) and Plantation XO 20th Anniversary ($76.55 at LCBO), which Scherbina points to as the popular choice to be ordered straight up.

Aged rum has also become a common feature in spirit-forward drinks. And, Scherbina says he’s seeing an increasing number of bartenders include rum in their craft-cocktail offerings — a trend he likens to the mezcal movement.

“In our case, the [more craft] the drink, the better it sells. For example, the deconstructed mojito…we separate ingredients, present them in a different way and add some interesting ingredients like ginger and passionfruit. That changes the drink visually, but it has the same flavours. People see something like that and it intrigues them,” says Scherbina, adding this type of drink tends to resonate most with young professionals looking to try something new.

This said, many of the classic rum cocktails, such as mojitos and daiquiris, are considered “refreshing drinks,” which tend to be most popular during the warmer months. “Because rum comes from warm countries, there are a lot of exotic and tiki-inspired drinks made with rum and these have an association with summer,” Scherbina says.

However, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch reports show the months of April through September garner only slightly higher by-volume sales, representing 53 per cent of rum sales for the 2016/17 fiscal year. These are also the peak months for white-rum sales, but during the last two fiscal years, the highest volume of spiced rum has been sold to hospitality establishments between October and December.

“It may not be the most popular spirit but people are talking about rum — talking about new expressions and brands — so there is interest there,” says Scherbina.

“There is more craftsmanship now and more variety available, which helps. As long as companies [continue to] supply new expressions to keep the consumer interested, things will keep growing.”

 

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