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Rum plays up — and ignores — its Caribbean roots

In this Wednesday April 17 2013 phobottles rum are numbered so thjudges Miami Rum Festival can see whthey tasted during

In this Wednesday, April 17, 2013 photo, bottles of rum are numbered, so that judges at the Miami Rum Festival can see what they tasted during a judging session. Rum: It's not just the alcohol that made you queasy in college. And it's not all the same. Thousands of people are expected to attend the weeklong festival that begins April 15 in Miami to sample more than 200 kinds of rum and discuss industry trends. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

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Updated: May 28, 2013 7:25PM



When you’re talking about rum, how much does the Caribbean really matter?

For the rum world, it’s a more serious question than it sounds, and the answer exposes a schism in the industry, a divide between massive producers who value uniformity in a global market and smaller players and connoisseurs who prefer nuanced production that reflects the time and place a rum is made.

A walk down the rum aisle of a liquor store sees this played out. While major companies like Pernod Ricard might acknowledge that its Malibu is a “Carribean rum” and has notes of coconut flavor, you won’t find specifics beyond that. Likewise, Diageo’s Captain Morgan doesn’t indicate which island port its jaunty pirate logo calls home.

That’s because the largest liquor companies have realized it’s not critical to promote their rums’ origins in their global branding, says Arun Sharma, professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration. That allows them flexibility to produce their spirits where they need to meet demand on the mass market.

“The brand is more important than where it’s produced,” Sharma said.

At Bacardi, which sells more than 18 million cases of rum worldwide each year, consistency and quality are paramount, even as it expands its offerings of flavored, spiced and premium rums.

“Our marketing approach and advertising hasn’t really focused on the Caribbean. ... It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of life,” said Bacardi brand master David Cid.

Except that rums can vary greatly based on where and how they are produced, something aficionados have long known and smaller producers have begun promoting as a way to distinguish themselves. Cuba and Puerto Rico have lighter, more delicate rums; Jamaica veers to the full-bodied, darker liquors; and Haiti is known for the cognac-like flavor of its Rhum Barbancourt.

Blue Chair Bay Rum, which country music star Kenny Chesney is launching this spring, is a good example. Chesney chose a distiller in Barbados specifically to infuse the spirit with an authenticity he sought to represent his love for the island lifestyle, says CEO Mark Montgomery.

And as rum sales grow, you can expect to see more of that. Fueled by a cocktail revival on the food scene — as well as prominent billing on TV shows like “Mad Men” — liquors captured more than a third of the alcoholic beverage market last year, including sales of 25.5 million cases of rum in the U.S. alone, a 2.5 percent jump over the year before. Flavored and spiced rums account for more than half of that total.



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