It may be riding a wave of popularity thanks to the curious palates of those with a taste for the finer things in life, or it may be simply riding on the coat-tails of the craft gin craze – but premium rum is on the rise as drinkers discover there’s far more to this lively spirit than simply mixing it with cola.
The numbers don’t lie – in 2017, rum sales in the UK topped £1 billion for the first time as tipplers discovered the variety and complexity of decent rum.
‘Rum is following the trail blazed by the gin craze,’ says Miles Beale of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). ‘Ten years ago there were around 50 brands in the UK market. This number has increased to more than 150.’
HITTING THE BIG TIME
That surge in sales is no flash in the pan. According to WSTA figures, over the past five years rum sales in the UK have increased 18% by volume, and 38% by value. And here’s the kicker: the value of rum sales is growing faster than the volume, as spirits lovers spend more on discovering premium rum.
If you’re hoping for a better bellwether than those cold hard numbers, look no further than the 2018 International Spirits Challenge (ISC).
The ISC is one of the most prestigious spirits competitions on the planet, and each year more than 1 500 entries from nearly 70 countries are sniffed, swirled and sipped in London by panels of international judges. While gold medals are sought-after across the various categories, all producers have their sights set on the Supreme Champion award.
It’s the ISC’s ultimate accolade, and this year, for the first time in the 23-year history of the competition, it was a bottle of premium rum that took the honours.
That was the Foursquare 2005, a blend of pot- and column-distilled rums aged in ex-bourbon casks from the family-owned Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados, where master distiller Richard Seale is the fourth generation to craft premium island rum.
Such is Seale’s reputation, that Robert Greaves, owner of Mhoba Rum in Mpumalanga, describes him as ‘the godfather of rum’.
A GROWING LOCAL THIRST
As with most global trends in the world of spirits, South Africa isn’t far behind when it comes to rum. From Cape Town to the Free State to the Lowveld, craft distilleries are popping up to meet a growing thirst for rum that doesn’t need to be drowned in mixers to be palatable.
A sugar cane farmer, Greaves was first inspired to make rum during a holiday to Mauritius.