For years, rum suppliers have been pitching the idea of sipping rums, moving the spirit outside of the tropical drink space and into the realm of aged whiskies and Cognacs. But this segment has only recently started to make headway. While aficionados have long been aware of rum’s complexity, a growing number of rum distillers are now tapping into this trend with portfolios of aged offerings, in a variety of cask finishes, age statements, and limited-edition bottlings. The overall rum category has been stuck at under 25 million cases for some time, but bottlings at the premium end—particularly top aged selections—are increasing by double digits, albeit from a small base.
While many leading rum brands are trying to resuscitate the category through flavors and RTD innovation, labels at the top end of the price spectrum are also banking on aged expressions to garner and maintain a fanbase. Several top suppliers already have a significant presence in aged rums, with category leader Bacardi making solid additions to its premium range in 2018 with the launch of Bacardi Añejo Cuatro, Ocho, and Gran Reserva Diez. According to Lisa Pfenning, vice president for North America at Bacardi rum, the launch still serves as one of the most important stepping stones in the history of the brand’s portfolio expansion. “There’s absolutely an opportunity to entice dark spirits category drinkers with aged rums,” she notes. “Not only do they tout comparable complexities, but many would also be pleasantly surprised at the smooth sipping experience of Bacardi aged rums.”
To cater to these consumers, Bacardi launched a Reserva Cask Finish series last year, and will introduce a new cask-finish offering annually through 2025. The first edition, Bacardi Reserva Ocho Sherry Cask Finish ($33 a 750-ml.), is aged in American oak barrels for eight to 12 years and finished in an Oloroso Sherry cask for just over two months. This year’s offering, Reserva Ocho Rye Cask Finish ($33), will debut in the fall. In 2021, Ocho depleted 28,000 cases, a 21% increase over the previous year, according to Impact Databank. While this is a small segment of the label’s total volume—Bacardi sold 6.8 million cases last year and accounts for 30% of the total rum category—it represents a segment of the brand that charted growth, even while the total brand fell 2.7%.
Like Bacardi, Rémy Cointreau is also leveraging the super-premium end of its Mount Gay portfolio with innovations like its Master Blender Collection. The fifth release from this annual limited-edition bottling, Madeira Cask ($230 a 750-ml.), is launching this month. Nicolas Beckers, president and CEO of the Americas at Rémy Cointreau, notes that the rum category is making waves with these different types of cask maturation that impart flavors consumers might not usually associate with rum. “Aged rum presents a great opportunity within the rum category. These products typically sit within the super-premium-plus price tier, which has consistently been growing 2 to 4 times faster than the lower price tiers,” he adds. “This segment is growing due to rediscovery and premiumization.”
Campari also remains laser-focused on the premium-andabove segment of the rum category throughout its rum portfolio, which includes Appleton Estate from Jamaica and the Trois Rivieres and Maison La Mauny labels from Martinique. Campari formed its Rare division in June 2021 to focus on the Italian supplier’s super-premium plus portfolio, including Appleton Estate and the Martinique labels. In the beginning of 2020, the Italian supplier launched newly designed packaging for Appleton Estate that embraced the brand’s Jamaican provenance and attempted to premiumize its image. As part of the repositioning effort, an 8-year-old rum replaced its Appleton Reserve offering. “We believe that we’ve been able to convert, through education on the category, some of those hardcore whisk(e)y and Cognac drinkers to the category through our aged expressions,” says Julka Villa, group head of marketing at Campari Group. “Rum is being recognized as a more complex category and is starting to pull from other dark spirits categories.” She notes that Campari’s Jamaican rum portfolio rose by 22.7% last year, driven largely by premiumization trends in the category.
Campari has unveiled multiple extensions and limited-edition releases in recent years, concentrated in the super-premium and ultra-premium sector of the category. Three of the latest releases under the Appleton Estate label underscore the point, including the Hearts Collection, a series of limited-edition 100% pot still single marque rums, starting in 2020 with the 1994, 1995, and 1999 expressions, followed by a second edition in 2021 with the 1984 and 2003 expressions (the range is priced from $400-$2,500 a 750-ml.). In March, Campari debuted Appleton Estate Ruby ($700 a 750-ml.), a luxury blend crafted to mark the celebration of master blender Joy Spence’s 40th anniversary at the Estate, with a minimum 35-year-old rum, including marques aged up to 45 years. In the fall, Campari will release Appleton Estate 17-Year-Old Legend ($250 a 750-ml.), named after the rum produced in the ’40s that, according to “legend,” was used in the first Mai Tai. Appleton grew 2% last year to 255,000 cases, according to Impact Databank.
Don Q is another top rum player that has been increasingly focused on its aged rums and Puerto Rican heritage. Like Bacardi, the label has a flavor portfolio geared toward entry-level legal-drinking-age consumers, but can also compete within the aged space with its prestigious Serrallés Collection. “The market is really versatile, as versatile as the product that we have,” says Silvia Santiago, maestra ronera of Don Q Rums at Destilería Serrallés. “When you get the feeling of the market, they are moving toward those premium products, but there is also space for the flavors, because again they want to try new things. We must, as a producer, make a delicate balance between keeping tradition and those premium products, and the new flavors.”
Like fellow suppliers, Don Q is actively experimenting with cask finishes to showcase the range and complexity of the brand, releasing a series of limited-edition, double-aged products, including Double Aged Vermouth and Double Aged Sherry ($50 and $60 a 750-ml., respectively). This month, the company will launch three new cask-finished expressions, each retailing for $80 a 750-ml.: Double Aged Port Cask Finish, Double Aged Zinfandel Cask Finish, and Double Aged Cognac Cask Finish. The total Don Q brand rose last year by 16% to 263,000 cases, and its aged depletions grew threefold, up to 4,250 cases, according to Impact Databank.
While brands like Bacardi and Mount Gay are able to compete in multiple tiers of the rum category, with flavors and RTDs on the one end and aged selections on the other, there is a growing number of labels that are either entirely or mostly aged that are also doing their part to upgrade the profile of rum. The increased popularity of these brands has showcased the growing availability of a wider selection of aged rums that have become critical to the segment’s growth, as well as the development of the liquid’s prestige.
“There are not only opportunities to attract whisk(e)y drinkers, but from other categories as well, such as Cognac,” says Brian E. Berish, COO of Sovereign Spirits, which markets the Barbadian rum Bumbu, a relative newcomer to the rum space that is primarily aged. He notes that consumers are rediscovering rums and have been for the past several years, especially at the premium level, noting that the versatility of Bumbu has brought new users into the category. Of Bumbu’s three expressions—Original, XO, and the new Crème ($35 a 750-ml.), launched in 2021—Original, which is made up of rums aged for up to 15 years, remains the top seller. Last year, the brand grew 80.6% up to 130,000 cases, according to Impact Databank.
Dina Krannich, senior brand manager for Zacapa Rum at Diageo, also sees an opening to woo Cognac and whisk(e)y drinkers with aged rums, given Zacapa’s flavor profile. “Aged rum is starting to pick up some momentum both within the rum category and among other dark spirits, including Bourbon and Cognac,” she notes, adding that the production process for these expressions reflects lots of similarities to other dark spirits. According to Krannich, Zacapa No. 23 is the bestselling Ron Zacapa SKU, making up approximately 85% of its total portfolio. While there are no new releases planned at present, the company will be launching a new marketing campaign for its XO expression before the end of the year, focused on its luxury profile. Ron Zacapa grew 26% to 66,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank.
August Sebastiani, founder and president of 3 Badge, owner of the aged Dominican rum Kirk and Sweeney, is bullish on the segment’s prospects, but notes that there are challenges, particularly in the fledgling classification system. “We expect to see the future of aged rum become more premium as well as more transparent,” he says. “With the category being new, global rules and regulations have started to take form, so we expect to see more transparency about the aging and barreling process.” Earlier this year, 3 Badge launched the spiced Kirk and Sweeney Burning Mast ($49 a 750-ml.) in select markets, with plans for a national launch in development, as well as a 375-ml. size, for ease of experimentation by mixologists. The company is also currently developing a ready-to-drink, premium cocktail offering that will be released towards the end of summer, a citrus-forward Hemingway Daiquiri made with Kirk and Sweeney Dominican rum, available in a 750-ml. format. These new selections will join the existing Kirk and Sweeney portfolio, which includes Reserva, Gran Reserva, and Gran Reserva Superior. The brand grew 36% last year, up to 22,000 cases, according to Impact Databank.
“The industry has been talking for decades about the premiumization of rum because it lags compared to other respective spirits categories. If premiumization is going to occur, it is natural that age will be a contributing factor among other consumer quality cues,” says Britt West, vice president and general manager of spirits at E. & J. Gallo Winery, marketer of the Venezuelan rum Diplomático, which is primarily aged. He adds that the segment is benefitting from consumer exploration that began during the pandemic, when consumers had more disposable income to experiment with multiple aged brown spirits in a variety of cocktails. According to West, Reserva Exclusiva made up 78% of Diplomático’s business in 2021. Diplomático grew 34.1% to 55,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank.
Guillaume Lamy, managing director of Maison Ferrand USA, marketer of Plantation rum—which has selections from around the Caribbean, including Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and Panama—also acknowledges the great potential for aged rums, and sees the focus on terroir and the production process as winning selling points. “As much as unaged rums can also be of interest to luxury spirits drinkers, an aged expression will always allow us to tell more details about the origins, fermentation, type of aging, and blending techniques used to showcase the style of a particular terroir,” he notes. “It is growing fast as it is still today an incredible value if compared to similar aged brown spirits in other categories.”
Not shying away from its tropical roots, Maison Ferrand recently launched Stiggin’s Fancy Pineapple, a new product that was such a success it was quickly followed by the limited-edition offshoot Stiggins’ Smoky Formula ($35 a 750-ml.). Stiggins’ Smoky Formula rum is made with original liquid that’s matured for several months in peated Teeling Irish whiskey casks. The company has dedicated 24,000 bottles to the U.S., which shipped this past summer. The company also released Plantation Cut & Dry this year, an artisanal coconut rum made from overripe coconut that is only available in Barbados, with a potential U.S. launch in Fall 2023. The label’s most popular SKU today remains Plantation 5-Year-Old Barbados Rum ($28), which comprises well over a third of its rum volume in U.S. stores and is growing by double digits. According to Impact Databank, Plantation reached 149,000 cases on 35% growth last year.
The governing body the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association is dedicated to promoting the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque designation, and suppliers are joining them, actively focusing on the liquid’s heritage and appellation, hoping to impart the same cachet as the classification systems for single malt Scotch or Cognac. Thanks to such efforts, aged rums have emerged as effective ambassadors for the category, able to convey its complexity and place it on par with other aged brown spirits while showcasing distilling ingenuity. But the evolution of these aged offerings is still in its infancy, with plenty of room to grow. “The rum category as a whole is in the throes of bringing more premium options to the table, and that process is still ongoing,” says Pfenning at Bacardi.
Supply shortages of other aged brown spirits may inadvertently help that ongoing process. “Aged rum also has the potential to benefit from the shortages being created in other categories. With Cognac, single malts, select añejo Tequilas, and select Bourbons all experiencing supply shortages, they are naturally taking price in an attempt to slow growth,” says West at Gallo. “This gives aged rum an opportunity to fill a price point gap in brown spirits with a very high-quality product.” Lamy at Maison Ferrand sees that supply issues may also surface for aged rums, noting, “rum producers will have to manage price points carefully as the cask inventory in rum aging warehouses worldwide is nowhere near the very high number of aged products in the whisk(e)y category.” While aged rums are just beginning their growth trajectory and will probably continue to experience such growing pains, their potential for expansion is strong.