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Why do we like it spiced?

By Amit Sood

It is no secret that in the past five years many rum producers have been rapidly releasing their own brands of spiced rum. It has been an area of growth and popularity in both the on and off trade sectors. The spiced category is relatively under exploited and far less crowded than its light, dark or aged cousins. Is the extension to the broad already broad category a good or bad thing for all concerned? Why are these rums proving so popular? What is proving so irresistible about the combination of sweet spices, sugar/caramel and other flavourings in what is most likely a young rum? Are these rums taking away from the really well made, aged, blended rums or are they just showcasing rum and its diversity? These are all things to look at and consider when deciding on how you feel about spiced rum.

When I began bartending there was only one spiced rum on the market, and that was Morgan’s Spiced. It was relatively unheard of and never pushed by Diageo. The consumer never really had a taste for it either. Fast forward to 2014 and the market place has a different feel to it. We now have a plethora of choices, with Kraken, Sailor Jerry, Bacardi Oak Heart, Lambs Spiced, Elements 8 Spiced, Chairman’s Reserve Spiced and  – Fousquare Spiced by Doorly’s just some of the brands to choose from.

The matter of slight concern that I see is that when given a choice most young bartenders and young consumers that I encounter simply disregard the light, dark/navy, overproof, aged, and agricole category’s in favour of Spiced. They have a clear problem in getting to grips with stronger spirit profile of these other styles. I am not just throwing this out there. My evidence is based on 5 years of training both demographics and seeing a clear shift in favour of the sweet, smooth and spiced variant. Spiced Rum always fairs best when asking my delegates about their preference. At least 80% to 90% prefer it. I hope that this will lead to them developing a liking for the styles, but what I also know is that people get comfortable with what they like. Sugar and strong flavours like vanilla and cinnamon take some beating! Others may argue that at least people are being attracted to the rum category, which is a good argument, but I do feel that the rest of the pack are being dealt an unfair deal as sugar makes the playing field somewhat unfair. In making a sweet and strongly flavoured product we may lose these drinkers forever and never get them back. I do feel that the spiced rum formula is fairly simple to get right and that as a producer you would have to be very short of the mark not to make an acceptable product. This theory is backed up by the popular consumer reaction to many of the one-dimensional brands on the market that have vanilla and caramel dominating the palate.

What comes next in the challenge is confronting how these spiced rums get utilised. The majority of spiced rum drinkers tend to be guided towards, or favour a serve with ginger beer, ginger ale, or cola. I feel it is fair to say it would be a challenge to get them drinking less sweet or drier style drinks when signature serves rely on mixing the spiced rums with a sweet carbonated mixer. Many may see this as no issue, but I feel that we need to find a balance with sweet serves and also showcase different options. For example, spiced rum with soda and fresh lime and bitters, makes for a fantastic light, clean and refreshing drink that is drier and more complex. One that I feel is be better all round. The rum is mellowed and lengthened with the use of a more neutral mixer. This is the key to get a more palatable drink that you can have more than one of without reaching for a shot of insulin! It’s not a shock or surprise to me any more when I see how sweet people like their drinks. It’s bugged me for years. I do not blame the producers or the end consumer. You generally grow disliking dry, bitter or strong flavours in alcohol. Then you encounter sweet alcoholic products and it all changes. Before you know it you never give those other things a try and then you end up never changes from what you think you like, in this case over sweet drinks that mask great flavour and refreshment.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I do like the drier and less sweet spiced rums (not mentioning any names) and I think they make great cocktails. I also enjoy blending my own rums to create a punch mix. I find the addition of spiced rum very important in this mix. It’s something I recommend you try. Try blending a dark/navy with an overproof, spiced and an aged. Play with the ratios. Its great fun and you get some phenomenal results. The best thing is you can keep it a secret. Tell no one! If you are a bar then it’s a great point of difference. This gives a reason for people to come back time and again, and for you to become famous for something.

I know that spiced rum is here to stay. It’s fun and welcome extension to the rest of the rum family. I just want it be part of it and not dominate. I feel this will happen eventually if growth continues. The last thing I would want is for the many great aged rums to suffer a decline in sales. It comes down to education of ones palate and trying things many times. Most people will not do this and that is where the trouble begins.

‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc.’ 

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