Spirits Summit

Can rum compete with gin?

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Can rum topple gin? James Lawrence from English Spirit prsented a potted history on the growth of English rum
Can rum topple gin? James Lawrence from English Spirit prsented a potted history on the growth of English rum
James Lawrence from small batch distillers English Spirit gave The Morning Advertiser’s Spirit Summit the lowdown on the rise of English rum and his thoughts on how rum can compete with gin.

Small batch distillers English Spirit was founded in 2011 by Dr John Walters and currently make single malts, gin, pink gin, vodka, the UK’s only sambuca and three kinds of rum. Until recently it was the only distiller in the UK to make rum from scratch.

“We are seeing some more distillers popping up in England – there have been some in Scotland for quite a while,” says Lawrence.

A potted history

An alcoholic spirit derived from sugar cane or by products such as molasses originating in the Americas in the 17th century, rum went from a waste product of sugar to being a prized commodity in its own right.

According to Lawrence, “Rum came into English heritage when a rum ration replaced a French brandy ration for Caribbean sailors.” From there it grew into public consciousness in the UK after World War Two when it was seen as something exotic.

English Spirit produces it’s English rum from 100% Blackstrap molasses imported from Venezuela, from which the process is looked after entirely in the UK.

The company has faced the challenge of replicating the Caribbean climates usually used to produce rum using aquarium heaters, for example, to create a fermented molasses wash, distilled in 200 litre copper pot stills.

Fighting gin for supremacy

With the spirit on track to break the £1bn sales barrier in 2018, Lawrence describes rum as being hot on the heels of gin – which surpassed £1bn in sales in 2016.

As reported by The Morning Advertiser​, analysis by CGA predicts that golden rum’s sales growth​ will surpass that of gin by 2020.

According to Lawrence, rum’s “rich history” can strike a chord with consumers in a spirits marketplace where provenance and storied brands are increasingly impactful - as has been reflected in the gin market.

“You’ve got the pirate angle, but rum is also reminiscent of the Caribbean and the tropics, as well as smuggling and contraband.”

Lawrence also highlights that the versatility of rum means it is well positioned to challenge gin in years to come.

“If this is the beginning of the rum boom, rum has a lot of avenues to explore.

“Gin is usually served as a gin and tonic, but rum is usually served in cocktails – there’s capacity for long serves as well as for sipping.”

However, Lawrence highlights that one potential drawback of rum is the difficulty in manufacturing it compared to gin.

“In relative terms, gin is quite easy to make. As part of the craze it’s not taken much investment and capital. Rum, especially doing it the old-fashioned way with molasses, is really difficult.”

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