There’s perhaps no spirit more influential in Australian culture than rum, but in recent years, the dark sugary drop has gained a bit of a ‘bogan’ reputation. Yet rum is currently enjoying a surprising spike in popularity – and it’s premium rum that’s leading that charge.
Australia probably wouldn’t exist without rum. A lack of coinage in the early days of the colony of New South Wales meant that bottles of rum were used as official currency – as well as a way to entice unruly convicts to work. Rum continued to strongly influence the economy, culture and politics of the colony, and was even responsible for the only military takeover of an Australian government, the Rum Rebellion of 1808. Yo ho ho.
These days, Aussies would rather PayWave than trade bottles of booze, but rum remains one of Australia’s most popular alcoholic beverages, especially in Queensland, where most of the country’s sugarcane (and therefore rum) is made. While whisky is the most popular spirit across Australia, rum remains #1 in Queensland.
Yet where other dark spirits like whisky or cognac have a rather sophisticated reputation in Australia, rum has often been seen as a pedestrian, even bogan drink thanks to a heady combination of cultural cringe, the proliferation of low-quality rum-based ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs) and rum’s old-fashioned image.
Things are changing, though. Just as gin and tequila have had an image makeover in recent years, rum is suddenly becoming in vogue. According to Statista, the Australian rum market is currently worth over AU$159 million and is expected to grow annually by 6.91%, with much of that growth led by a renewed interest in premium rums.
We here at DMARGE wanted to find out what’s fuelling Australia’s ‘rum renaissance’, so we spoke exclusively with Duncan Littler, marketing director at Bundaberg Rum – Australia’s biggest and most famous rum distillery – who explains that, much like gin and tequila, Australians are increasingly drinking ‘more and better’ when it comes to rum.
“Throughout the pandemic, people were looking to make enjoying a drink at home feel a little bit more special. That’s what drove the boom in spirits – and what’s more special than a beautifully made rum cocktail?” he suggests.
“Mixing delicious cocktails at home reminded people of rum’s versatility and how it is the foundation of some of the world’s great drinks such as the Mojito, Mai Tai, Daiquiri, Piña Colada, Hurricane and the Dark & Stormy to name a few.”Duncan Littler
We also spoke with Shane Casey, head distiller at Brix Distillers, Sydney’s first urban craft rum distillery, who agrees that there’s been a mindset shift among Australian drinkers.
“In general, Australians are now becoming better educated on spirits and are being more considered in the products that they are buying, easily placing rum alongside the best wine, beer and spirits,” he says.
Indeed, the most recent Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report suggests dark rum as the spirit that is ‘premiumising’ most, followed by tequila, gin, mezcal and vermouth.
Like most things rum in Australia, Queensland is leading the way when it comes to premium rum, although the rest of the country isn’t far behind.
“We’re drinking rum more mindfully. Our customers are drinking better quality and less of it, rather than binge drinking. They’re considering rum in the same way as whisky or cognac,” manager and rum expert at Brisbane’s The Gresham Bar, Dan Gregory, recently told The Guardian.
The other factor fuelling Australia’s rum renaissance? The growing popularity of spiced rums, a segment which is growing twice as fast as dark rum and is now the third fastest growing category in RTDs, Duncan explains.
“Spiced rums are a really exciting way for people to enter and explore the world of rum. Spiced rum’s easier drinking profile is making it appealing to younger adult rum drinkers, bourbon drinkers and even light spirit drinkers. What we are then finding is that once people begin experimenting with spiced rum, they then become even more rum curious and get excited about exploring dark rum as well.”
Most spiced rums in Australia have traditionally been imported products – think Captain Morgan, which is made in the U.S. Virgin Islands or The Kraken from Trinidad – but more Australian distillers are experimenting with spiced rums, from the big producers like Bundaberg to smaller producers like Brix.
Whether it’s spiced, premium or otherwise, Australia’s status as one of the few countries capable of making cultivated rum thanks to our ideal sugarcane-growing climate and large sugarcane crop means we’re uniquely poised to take advantage of rum’s popularity boom.
What’s the next big thing in rum?
“I think we are going to continue to see spiced and premium rum grow at rates exceeding the rest of the rum category,” Duncan suggests. “At the same time, I think we are also going to see Australian rum fans continue to celebrate rum’s versatility through white, gold and dark rum cocktail exploration.”
“Australia has traditionally been a dark rum market [but] we are starting to see a growing number of rum fans explore delicate white rums, herbaceous agricole style rhums and embrace the emergence of crisp cane spirit.”
Shane reckons that the increased interest in rum, especially premium rums, will see the spirit become a more regulated product, with stricter appellations like whisky – which ultimately will continue to improve rum’s image.
“The consumer wants to be more informed on what they are drinking, so I can see a push towards better category definitions and moving away from ambiguous categories like gold and dark, with full transparency by listing age statements, location of maturation, quantities of colour and sugar added.”Shane Casey
Indeed, some savvy sippers suggest that premium rum might be on the cusp of becoming an alternative asset class like whisky or wine, Forbes reports – making such regulation even more likely. Pirates used to trade in rum, so there’s definitely precedent for this…
All in all, things are (or should that be ‘arrr’?) looking good for rum, rum makers and rum lovers.
“With rum fans expanding their repertoire, more local craft distillers beginning to make rum and existing rum producers looking to further push the boundaries of rum making, I really believe we are going to see the rum category become even more diverse and vibrant,” Duncan concludes.
We’ll drink to that.