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Market for rum growing in HK

An increased interest in spirits and cocktails and changing economics in the Americas is helping open up the market for rum in Hong Kong.

hong-kongSpeaking to the drinks business, Shane Stuart and Andre Carey, co-directors of rum importer Caripelago, said they feel that “now’s the time for rum.”

When they founded their company a little over three years ago the market for rum was “very limited” and as Stuart said although there was a clear opportunity to bring in high quality, premium rums, there was also a need to educate the market.

Bringing in three rums; St Nicholas Abbey from Barbados, Blackwell from Jamaica and English Harbour from Antigua (and with plans to add two or three more in the near future), central to the education is rum’s history and considerable heritage – Mount Gay founded in 1703 often lays claim to be one of the oldest spirits brands in the world.

“Rums have a long history,” said Stuart, “and we wanted to bring across that there’s a history and it’s a complex drink.”

Holding tastings and partnering with companies such as the biggest cigar distributor in Hong Kong, interest has grown and has been boosted by rum-based and Caribbean-themed bars such as Honi Honi and, more recently, Rummin’ Tings, both in Central.

“When we started up there were very few bars with a focus on rum or any artisanal spirits,” explained Stuart.

“In two to three years the demand has gone up. We see a lot of interest from bartenders. We feel that now’s the time for rum.”

Recent data from the IWSR shows that rum is gaining traction in China and Hong Kong. Although growing from a very small base, consumption of rum rose 212% between 2009 and 2013.

Stuart noted also the increasing popularity of the city’s “Rum Fest” which in its inaugural year saw 15 rums exhibited, then 40 the following year and 70 last year.

“Who knows how many there’ll be this year,” he said.

As Carey explained, rum producers themselves are keen to expand their export horizons at present as well. Changes in US tax laws increasingly favour products produced in US territory. This is good news for rums from the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and although the market remains the biggest in the world and is leaning towards premiumisation, Caribbean producers are having to readjust their strategies.

As Carey pointed out, “in a broader sense there’s a movement to brown spirits anyway.” However, the interest of bartenders and mixologists for authentic, interesting and different brands across all spirits categories is good news for rum.

“Bartenders are always looking for a new rum,” Carey continued. “They say it’s the one category where they struggle to find really good products.”

Stuart said he was keen for premium rum and its sipping varieties to be the key drivers behind rum as its profile in Asia builds, particularly as too often rum is treated simply as a cheap drink.

“I think it’s the only way to get rum to a level of acceptance among consumers,” he said and he fully believes it is a category capable of going far.

“I think it’ll be a steady, slow process but you always want to see it as big as it can go,” he said. “I’d like to see it as big as whisky – though that will take a lot of work and not just from us.

“The great thing about many rums is they’re not ‘speciality’ or ‘small batch’, they’ve been around for years, they just never exported them so no one knew about them.”

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