Last year was kind to rum. The second-largest spirits category grew by 2.7 percent in 2008, adding 650,000 cases to reach 24.56 million nine-liter cases overall, according to Cheers parent The Beverage Information Group. Premium brands are the hottest; the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. reports that those rums grew 8 percent last year.
Some of the growth has come from spiced or flavored brands used to spike cocktails with tropical flavors—like guava and mango—while other aged and more complex brands are entering the U.S. market from the Caribbean and Central America, expanding the range and quality of products. As rum offerings multiply and sales rise, bar and restaurant operators increasingly are making room on the back bar for more.
On-premise, rum is in the sweet spot for a few reasons: the continuing popularity of the Mojito and its Brazilian cousin, the Caipirinha; the increasing interest in rums from around the world; the resurgence of Tiki drinks—and the creativity of modern bartenders and beverage executives who are finding useful the broad variety of flavors that rum offers.
The Mojito, though, still is a big driver of rum sales.
“The Mojito is hands-down our number one drink,” says Adam Kanter, owner of Rum Bar in Philadelphia. “We have 10 different kinds on our menu, and they outsell almost every other drink on our menu. Customers are definitely still Mojito crazy.” He adds that Mojito Monday continues to be their strongest night aside from Fridays and Saturdays, with Mojitos prices between $9 and $11 and accounting for more than half of the night’s total sales, food included.
While P. F. Chang’s China Bistro isn’t exactly rum-focused, according to beverage director Mary Melton, the leading drink across their 133 units is the Bacardi-based Asian Pear Mojito, $8, which accounted for $5 million in sales last year. The second most popular rum drink on their menu is Chang’s Mai Tai, $7.50.
The 10 Mojito varieties at Cuba Libre in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Orlando are by far the most popular, according to the operation’s marketing director, Stacy Schulist, perhaps because they use fresh-squeezed sugar cane and a specialty mint variety. At least one seasonal specialty, the Grilled Pineapple Mojito, has become so popular that executives have placed it on the standard drink menu. All sell for $10 each.
Popular All Around
It’s not just Mojitos that are driving rum trends. The second most popular drink at Rum Bar is the Caipirinha, priced from $8 to $15, where Kanter stocks ten brands of cachaça, rum’s Brazilian cousin made directly from sugarcane. The Dark and Stormy, priced at $8, is the third most popular drink.
For 45-unit Hard Rock Cafe, where spirits and rum play an especially important role, the top-selling drink is their Hurricane. Mojitos returned to their menu two years ago with great success, says worldwide director of beverage for Hard Rock, Cindy Busi, although they got out in front of the trend a little early when they introduced Mojitos earlier in the decade. “We tried seven years ago to introduce both Mojitos and rum sangrias, also on the menu now, but our customers just weren’t ready for them,” she says. “I’m a huge fan of rum, but we were ahead of the trend then.”
Rum is a focal point at Cheeseburger in Paradise, which operates 36 units through the U.S. Of the chain’s 45 signature drinks, 21 are made with the spirit. “Rum is obviously very big from a concept perspective, because a lot of drinks we do are rum-based,” says Monica Tary, director of training and beverage for Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Partly due to that interest in rums, in March Cheeseburger added three new rum-based Margarita variations: the Barbados Rumrita, made with Mount Gay Eclipse, Cointreau, mango flavoring and orange, lemon and lime juices; the Sambarita, made with Sauza Gold Tequila and Cruzan Guava flavored rum; and the Fuzzy Pineapple, made with tequila and Bacardi.
Mojitos still are very popular at the concept, too. They offer five versions: a Classic with Mount Gay; Traditional with Bacardi; the Colada with Captain Morgan Parrot Bay and Piña Colada mix; the Pomegranate with Malibu Passion Fruit and pomegranate flavor; and Mango Peach with Malibu Mango and peach flavor. Both their Mojitos and their rum Margaritas are priced at $6 each.
Rum Barrel Bar & Restaurant in Key West, Fla. has served for the last three years a mix of loyal locals and tourists who descend on the small resort town, stocking an enviable selection of more than 130 rums in its location next to a pirate museum that the company also owns.
With a pirate theme, including skull and crossbones, Rum Barrel is “trying to give an aura of the pirate taverns of the 1800s,” says managing partner Jeff Sorg.
Most of their drink sales come from the specialty menu, where the leader is their $9 Rum Barrel, a signature drink made with Bacardi Select, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi 151 with cranberry, pineapple and orange juices and a splash of grenadine. Other rum drinks on their menu are divided into four sections—Muddled, Whacked, Rocks and Up—and include the Island Barrel, made with Cruzan Coconut, Pineapple and Mango rums, as well as grenadine, cranberry, pineapple and orange juices, and the Marooned, made with Bacardi Coco, Cruzan Vanilla, cream of coconut and pineapple and orange juices with a Bacardi Select float. All sell from $8 to $9 each.
Creative bartenders are turning to rum for inspiration. The cocktail list at RumBa in the 424-room InterContinental Hotel in Boston, developed by Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, includes the $14 Rumbullion, made with Bacardi 8, orange curaçao, lime and pomegranate juices, a proprietary flavor blend and a float of Demerara rum. Another creative offering is their $12 Caribbean Swizzle, made with Gosling’s Black Seal, lime juice, Angostura Bitters and pineapple ginger beer.
The popularity of operations such as Rum Bar, RumBa, Rum Barrel and Cuba Libre have awakened other operators to the fact that customers have gotten more knowledgeable about rum. The recently opened Rhumbar, located at the main entrance and patio of the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, stocks about fifty types of rum even though the bar is small, according to Michael Frey, managing partner of the concept’s owner, Drive This! Entertainment.
“Rhumbar is a modern interpretation of classic Caribbean culture,” he says. Along with Daiquiris, drinks served include classics such as the $12 Trader Vic-inspired 1944 Mai Tai, made with Appleton Estate Reserve, lime, orange curaçao, rock candy syrup and orgeat, and the $14 Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie, made with Ron Zacapa. The bar also includes house specialties such as the Tatonga, made with Montecristo Spiced Rum, Cruzan Mango, fresh Daiquiri mix, pineapple juice and Angostura Bitters.
Many operators are expanding their brand selections beyond the predictable. “Customers are coming in talking about the differences among types of rums—gold versus flavored or spiced, for instance—and showing more interest in them these days,” says Cheeseburger in Paradise’s Tary.
Melton of P.F. Chang’s agrees. “We are seeing more and more interest in those high-end rums out there. This past year we started to see some of these new rums make a dent in what we sell, things like 10 Cane, a really fun rum from Trinidad that’s a little more gritty and upscale; people see it as a little more artisan. Then we began to start seeing people coming in looking for Pyrat rum and ordering it straight or on the rocks, which is a fun thing to start to see.”
She’s seen the core rum list reach eight, up from two not so long ago. There also are eight other rums that units are allowed to add, including Sailor Jerry, Myers’s, Mount Gay and two Malibu flavor extensions.
Promotions are becoming more specific as different types of rum drinks and styles gain in popularity. At Rum Bar, they’ve recently launched a Daiquiri menu and a “Save the Daiquiri” Wednesday night. Supported by Rhum Clement, the promotion offers various styles of the classic, including the Hemingway, made with rum, grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur.
“It has been a slow-growing promotion, though it hasn’t caught on like the Mojito,” Kanter says. He also hosts Tiki nights, and he just revamped the menu to include a volcano bowl drink that serves eight.
A Touch of Spice
Beside the venerable Captain Morgan, other spiced rums are picking up steam; Rum Barrel’s Sorg mentions Sailor Jerry and Kilo Kai, while Kanter sees those two as well as Montecristo Spiced and Papagayo Spiced, with Sailor Jerry the current favorite at his place.
Both of these single-unit operations benefit from customized marketing. At Rum Barrel, that means the 30-page rum bible, which includes notes about rum making, its history and origins, aging production, regional differences and notes about each rum. Sorg also offers two types of samplers on his menu—customers can get four 2½ ounce drinks or the same 2½ ounce portions of any four rums they chose.
Kanter at RumBar offers the Rum Passport, now in its fourth edition. Customers who order all the rums on each passport receive a bottle of rum as a reward. The first passport listed 33 rums and the prize was a bottle of Clément X.O. “Our newest, renamed Rum Treasure Map, has 86 rums to finish, [almost] all sipping rums…and the prize is a bottle of El Dorado 25 Year Old.”In most cases, though, these rums take a back seat to the category leaders. Even at Philly’s RumBar, nearly 85 percent of sales derive from mixed drinks, and much of that from standards such as Bacardi and Coke; Bacardi sales were up two percent last year, and both Captain Morgan and Cruzan grew by more than four percent, according to The Beverage Information Group. With choices growing and palates expanding, it seems the rising rum tide is strong enough to lift all boats.