Flavoured Rum

Spirit Spotlight

Flavouring spirits is not a new invention. Long, long ago, it was figured out that aging raw spirits in wood mellowed the harsher flavours and increased both the quality of the beverage and the price you could get for it. In addition to aging spirits, which is a time-intensive process and an expensive one, many spirits benefit from the addition of flavouring agents – whether it’s botanicals such as juniper or coriander in the case of gin, or using spices such as cloves or other flavourings like vanilla in certain rums.

No one is quite certain when it happened or who was responsible for making the first spiced rum, but most likely it stemmed from the rum rations granted to sailors in the 1700s. While sailors have long had a reputation for hard drinking, the rum ration granted to the sailors of several navies could probably have used some improvement to their flavour. Prolonged aging was probably out of the question onboard the ships, so it was likely that sailors found some advantage in adding a little something extra to their grog – such as lemon or lime juice added to combat scurvy. While drinking onboard the ship beyond their rations was frowned upon, sailors probably developed a taste for rum when on leave. It’s possible that sailors working on the spice routes had access to an assortment of exotic spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, orange peel, cloves, and more.

Most spiced rums are made with basic, unaged rums that are coloured and flavoured. However, several brands are using some aged spirit in their blends, as the mellower, rounder flavours of aged rum can provide better flavour integration with the seasonings.

Flavoured rums are a more recent development – at least commercially available bottlings. They are most cost-effective to make with synthetic flavourings or a combination of natural and artificial flavours. While rum could be made with almost any flavour, most producers focus on tropical flavour profiles. Various berry flavours, coconut, vanilla, or citrus dominate the offerings on liquor store shelves, and rather than being a good addition to a hot toddy, flavoured rums seem to be best for the daiquiri, Mai Tai, and Planters Punch assortment of refreshing cocktails. Most are made with unaged, or lower-quality rums where any harsh characters can be masked by various flavouring components, including sugar.

There are about 100 different flavoured or spiced rums currently available in the Alberta market. Overall, rum category sales have grown 3.6% as of December 2015 over the previous year, while flavoured rum was up 11.2% over 2014 as of October. Spiced rums are most likely being helped by a few prominent brands being marketed effectively and reaching new consumers, while the flavoured brands face stiff competition from within the category. New entries to the category tend to have to compete on price or on quality, and this can be an onerous prospect for a newcomer.

So what are consumers looking for in their flavoured rum? Flexibility and mixability are going to be first and foremost. These aren’t really rums made to be served neat or with a press of water, but rums for use in cocktails of all styles and stripes. Spiced rums work very well in hot cocktails, but also with flavours such as coffee, chocolate, and anywhere a little vanilla or cinnamon flavour would work. The various flavoured rums seem destined for umbrella drinks or slushy cocktails while the flavour base should probably be selected for the flavour profile the consumer is looking for. Berry-flavoured rum might work with strawberry or other complementary flavours in the cocktail, while the classic coconut rum might just be the perfect foundation for a piña colada – and getting caught in the rain.