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Is Rum the New Gin?!

The word on the street is that rum is the next big thing - maybe even growing quickly enough to eventually rival gin. So will we be swapping our Martinis for Mai Tais and our Sazeracs for Swizzles any time soon? We traveled all the way to Trinidad for the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge to find out.

If you spend any time at all in bars - or in the supermarket for that matter - the rise (and rise) of gin can’t have passed you by. With more and more gins coming onto the market every week, and more and more people opting for a Gin and Tonic or Negroni as their drink of choice, we are well and truly within the second “gin craze” - and as avid gin Martini drinkers we are not complaining.

However, the experts are starting to notice another spirit show similar signs of an upcoming “boom” – yes, they’re arguing that RUM is on the UP!  And there are figures to back it up – in 2006, there were around 50 rums on the market compared with more than 200 in 2019 and in 2018 almost 35 million bottles of rum were sold worth just over £1 billion, which is a rise of 38% in value since 2012. BIG NUMBERS!

So what does this mean for us??  Will we be changing our Martini for a Mai Tai any time soon? Will our local pub be promoting special rum menus, and will our mums be telling us all about the new craft rum she’s just discovered at her local shop?

Last week one of the most prestigious cocktail competitions in the world took place – The Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. The competition saw nine of the world’s best bartenders travel to Trinidad – the home of Angostura – during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, to battle it out to win an incredible prize of $10,000 and the coveted job as the Angostura Global Ambassador for the next two years (can we enter the next one please?!).

undefinedSome of the drinks being poured at the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge

Most people know Angostura from the cocktail cabinet staple – Angostura Bitters, a bottle of which can be found in pretty much every bar across the world. But alongside the bitters, they also have an incredible range of really delicious premium rums which they’ve been making since the early 1900s. So when we were invited to attend the final in Trinidad last week (tough gig!) we thought it the perfect opportunity chat to the people behind Angostura – as well as the competitors – to get to the bottom of some of these “rum boom” rumors.

London loyal through and through, our first port of call for a conversation was of course the UK finalist Simon Dacey who works behind the bar at Notting Hill rum bar Trailer Happiness and who has definitely noticed more and more people getting into rum in the last couple of years. He previously worked at Merchants House – which is known for their gin, but in the years he worked there the number of rums they had available increased in line with demand – and the owners have now even opened a dedicated rum bar round the corner - Black Parrot. Since working at Trailer Happiness, Simon’s also noticed more and more drinkers becoming much increasingly discerning about the specific rum that they’re drinking – opting for different, more premium and flavourful rums in their cocktails. 

undefinedTrailer Happiness, Notting Hill

In line with this, Angostura CEO, Peter Sandström actually compares rum not to gin, but to the malt whisky world – in that the barrel ageing process offers the complexity of flavour similar to whisky. And actually – this would make sense because the stats show that a lot of rum market growth is coming from people experimenting with premium rums. Sly Augustin, the owner of Trailer Happiness, agrees and has noticed that over the last few years there are more whisky fans in the bar drinking rum and that people are more engaged and willing to look beyond the usual suspects and trade-up their order.

But, as passionate bar-goers ourselves – what does this mean for us? Will we’ll be seeing less Tiki style drinks on the menu, in favour of more “grown up”, shorter rum drinks as we become more and more discerning?  The drinks put forward as part of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge were certainly pretty interesting – the winner was Marv Cunningham from The Bahamas, whose winning rum cocktail ‘Mas Curried’ combined curry and cauliflower with Angostura 7 Year Old Rum. And Simon’s rum cocktail - 'Queen’s Park Hollows' – was a short cocktail combining Angostura 7 Year Old Rum with falernum, maraschino and peach liqueur. 

undefinedMarv's winning Angostura cocktail 'Mas Curried'

However, Simon thinks that even though rum seems to be “growing up”, Tiki still has a place – with the fruity flavours and fun serves still a brilliant way to get people into the rum category. He says the same of spiced rum. Although he, along with Master Distiller of Angostura John Georges, believes spiced rum should sit in a different category to rum (because so much additional flavor is blended with the rum rather than it coming from barrel aging) he does think that it can be a great gateway into the category – and actually admits that drinking spiced rum before he became a bartender was what started his love affair with the spirit.

So what should we be ordering if we want to be at the helm of this exciting new trend? If you feel like a bit of a newbie, it might be a good idea to opt for Tiki style drinks, which are generally very approachable flavor-wise, but perhaps ask the bartender what rum they’re using, and maybe ask to try a little bit of it straight alongside your cocktail? 

Or Simon advocates rum and tonic as a brilliant drink, which he says works best with medium-bodied rums such as Appleton Estate Singleton Blend or Mount Gay Black Barrel. He reckons it'll change your mind about rum being too sweet, and maybe get you away from the rum and coke panic order on a night out. 

If shorter, punchier drinks are more your bag – you should look at swapping in a premium rum to your usual order, and a rum Old Fashioned is a fantastic place to start. If you’d like to go gentle, we would highly recommend Angostura 1919, which is very approachable whilst being very complex flavor-wise, but our Old Fashioned of choice in Trinidad was made with Angostura 7 Year Old Rum, maple-y, chocolate-y, toffee deliciousness.

And certainly - next time you’re at the bar, instead of looking at all the different gins there are available – impress your bartender by asking what rums they’ve got, and maybe give one of them a try, neat, over ice.