Rum cannot be reduced to a series of figures, so to better grasp the trends and developments in rum over the last few years, we decided to give the floor to three of the most reputable wine merchants in Paris: Christian de Montaguère, CdM, (his shop is 15 years old), Freddy Lucina, FL, (A’Rhûm is 9 years old), and Alexandre Beudet, AB, (Excellence Rhum’s website is 9 years old and the shop, 5). Crossed interview.
What was in your shop when it opened?
Christian de Montaguère, CdM: The shop opened in September 2008, so we’ll be 15 years old next year in 2023. The number of references has grown from a few hundred to more than 1500! I can’t push the walls back, which I would have liked to, but now there are rums from floor to ceiling.
Freddy Lucina, FL: The shop opened on 20 July 2011, and moved a few dozen metres five years ago. My first location became a gin, mezcal and pisco shop. Eleven years ago, there were 280 references, and today 1500, from 55 countries. It’s a bit of a rum library to democratise it and show what can be done in this world.
Alexandre Beudet, AB: The website was launched 9 years ago, and the shop 5 years ago. At the beginning, there were 400 references (5000 today on the internet), with a majority of rums from the French West Indies or England. I remember that we had trouble selling Velier Caroni from Long Pond, but that has changed. We used to sell a few dozen euros worth of bottles that today are worth several thousand and cannot be found.
What is the place of world rums in your shop?
CdM: Most of the products on offer in the shop still come from the greater Caribbean, i.e. the islands and countries of the continent, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. However, as soon as the shop opened 15 years ago, although the supply of molasses rums was limited, it did exist. It was the distributor Dugas who first brought them to the forefront with quality products and thus contributed to their development in France. Contrary to what some people may say, I consider that the success of Latin American molasses rums is a good thing. I prefer that a consumer buys and appreciates such a rum, than a vodka or a whisky, even if these products have their place among consumers, too.
FL: When the shop first opened, what was going around a lot were the great classics, like Diplomatico (Don Papa didn’t exist yet). So, more than the West Indian rums, it was the slightly sweet Spanish-style rums that sold, especially for their educational value. They were a way of attracting people into the world of rum. In the last 3 or 4 years, we have seen the producing countries diversify. Lately there have been rums from Cape Verde, yesterday I tasted rums from Hawaii… And this will continue, especially thanks to independent bottlers like the Maison du Rhum.
Does the taste of your customers necessarily evolve from the sweetest to the driest rums?
AB: It’s not an urban legend, most customers who start out in the world of spirits with rum do so with sweet rums, and then move on to drier things. We also see many people who come from other spirits, such as cognac, armagnac and whisky, skip the sweet rums stage. As for the fashion for high proofs, it is running out of steam. Reduced rums are being rediscovered, but with a certain finesse. High proof rums offer an explosion in the mouth, but the alcohol can also hide certain aromas.
CdM: This is true for a large percentage, even if we should not generalise. A number of my customers are now fans of brut de fût or single casks, whereas at the beginning they were buying rums such as Diplomatico, Zacapa or Don Papa, for example. It takes all kinds to make a world. It is worth noting that the Jamaican profile has become increasingly popular over the last 3 or 4 years. The brands available have multiplied and so have the customers.
READ ALSO : 2021, the year of recovery for rum
FL: Over the years I’ve really seen this pattern repeat itself, with people starting with Spanish-style rums that are a little bit sweet, then moving on to Spanish-style rums that are a little bit less round, like Santa Teresa, the English style, a little bit less sweet but still not too dry, like Mount Gay, Doorly’s. Then they move on to French style rums (HSE, Trois Rivières, Reimonenq…), then they go back to a more particular English style like Worthy Park, Caroni (with aromas of caramel, bitumen, tar). And finally, they come up with products that are extremely strong in alcohol content and they have trouble coming down. All my work is to bring their palates down from the 70° of alcohol, and to make them rediscover rums with lower degrees. You have to re-educate them by giving them the same aromas.
Is premiumisation THE big trend of the last 10 years?
CdM: This is a fairly clear trend. If we talk about the brands in the French West Indies, they have all made efforts to modernise and offer products that are constantly improving in quality and are better and better presented. This is also true for other rums around the world, even if these efforts are more heterogeneous.
FL: That’s a word that doesn’t speak to me. Today, all those who come to present their rums to me boast of premium products. What’s important is that the product is good, no matter what term is used. What is interesting is when the product is aromatically and gustatively atypical, when it changes from what we know. I prefer to say that they are different, rather than premium, like the Longueteau white rums compared to other Guadeloupean white rums. They are closer to the fruit brandies of mainland France.
AB: There is a virtuous premiumisation in the service of taste, with different varieties, ageing, techniques and degrees. And there is premiumisation through price, whether artificial or not. Since the creation of Excellence Rhum, I have seen vintages whose price has been multiplied by 7! There was already a general tendency for prices to rise, but the covid, and then the war in Ukraine, have led to an increase in costs (transport, dry materials, etc.) which ultimately affects the price in the shop. But there is also a completely opposite trend, which I personally like a lot, with large groups producing a lot of volume (like La Martiniquaise), which maintain relatively low prices, but with a huge increase in the quality of their rums.
What do you think of the speculation that is a corollary of this premiumisation?
CdM: This is a fairly new phenomenon. Some of the vintages that I published for the 10th anniversary of the shop (five years ago) were sold at very high prices, whereas I was careful to offer them at reasonable prices, because for me they also have educational virtues: they allow the greatest number of people to have access to new vintages. When this is done between amateurs, who will ultimately open and drink the bottle, I don’t see any problem, but in speculation, it is rarely the real amateurs who feed this market. In this sense, it is to be expected that there will be limits on the number of bottles per person for the vintages that I will release for the 15 years.
Speculation is damaging to the rum business, and it damages the image of the product. It prevents those who really like the taste of rum from having access to these products, for purely commercial reasons. People who discover rum, when they hear about overpriced bottles that are impossible to get easily, they want to run away! Moreover, one has the impression that today certain limited editions are launched with the aim of increasing prices. It is an artificial and maintained scarcity. Limited editions have always existed, but in the past there were far fewer of them and they didn’t attract as much public attention.
FL: Ten years ago, there were few of them, but they have exploded in the last five years, mainly because of the Maison du Whisky and Velier with Caroni. Now some brands, even French ones, buy back their vintages to create rarity and then sell them for more! Some producers are therefore artificially inflating their prices and playing the game of speculation to obtain a certain brand image.
I think it’s a pity for rum in general because it can scare away customers, and let’s not forget that many people switched to rum because whisky had become too expensive… Today whisky is more affordable, while rum prices are increasing. There is a risk that the market share will be reduced in favour of whisky or other spirits.
AB : Some distilleries have indeed increased their outlet prices because their products are traded on the secondary market at crazy prices.
What about blends and spices, have we reached a kind of saturation point?
CdM: In fact, the arranged rums have worked from the start! For a long time, we were the only ones to sell certain brands in mainland France, directly from the West Indies. Of course, at the time, no one had anticipated such an explosion in consumption and the number of products. Today, I am reduced to making drastic choices. Any new brand that is referenced by me must necessarily add something to the segment, it’s compulsory, but if it’s a copy and paste of what’s already being done, it’s not really worth it, and there are quite a few of them…
FL: The first arranged rums to break through for me were Ced’s Ti arrangés. I had the opportunity to taste his first batches when I was training at CIDS and they were very marked by the aroma of Charrette rum. I contacted Cédric Brément to advise him to change rum. He opted for West Indian agricultural rum (HSE) and I was the first to order about sixty bottles of each reference.
Today there are too many of them, and they are too expensive. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about white rum with fruit maceration, not aged rums. Of course, there is manual work involved in cutting the fruit and bottling, but that doesn’t justify a 45 or 50 euro arranged rum. For the same price, I prefer to put forward an aged rum from Guatemala, El Passador de Oro for example. There is work, ageing, the angels’ share, a magnificent bottle…
AB : For our part, sales are stable, but we could bring in 20 new references every 15 days! We are putting the brakes on with both feet because we risk losing the customer in a redundant offer. New producers are launching into this adventure every day while the market is completely saturated. There is less and less added value. Today, the fruit is cut, put in the bottle in pieces or mixed, spices are added or not, it is cooked, cooked or not.
What about white tasting rums, is this a real trend?
CdM: For me, it’s a real coup de coeur. This is the sector that has surprised me the most because it is the one that most deconstructs preconceived ideas. It’s really new, even for someone like me who grew up in Guadeloupe. For a long time, white rums were not very lively, with classic agricultural rums that you could also find in supermarkets. And then came the white tasting rums.
Producing such a rum requires a qualitative approach at each stage (fermentation, distillation, brewing, etc.) of its production, and you can’t do things by halves. The attention to detail is important. For the moment, 90% of the rums are made from cane juice, but we are seeing the arrival of tasting molasses rums, from Jamaica or Reunion Island for example. And people are asking for more! It is true that this requires a little more explanation.
FL: At A’Rhum we have learned to love these white tasting rums and we have put them forward. In my opinion, the first to show that white rum was not just a cocktail base were the clairins. The French distilleries, notably HSE, have also done this work through double distillation, parcelling, varietal selections, very long brews… This is developing and has a certain success, but there is a pitfall in that these white rums, which are not aged and have not undergone the “angels’ share”, are often sold at the same price as an old rum. It’s a shame because it doesn’t make the product accessible.
AB: It’s interesting because it’s shown the general public that white rums are not only meant to be drunk mixed with sugar, lemon or fruit, but also to be enjoyed on their own. You can play with the variety of sugar cane, the plot of land, the brewing time, the yeast, the reduction…drink them before the meal, or close to it, as a digestive…
What about independent bottling, what is its place in the great tapestry of rum?
AB : There were already a lot of independent bottlings when the shop opened 5 years ago, today there are many. We could even open a shop with only independent bottlings. There are too many of them because everyone is bottling the same thing at the same time. It’s no longer enough to choose vintages from a barrel merchant’s catalogue and wait wisely for samples. Nowadays, to really stand out, you have to do real research, work with people, and sometimes even reduce, refine or age the wine.
We can see that margins are much tighter than they were a few years ago. Before, we could live by bottling a few barrels a year, but nowadays we have to make a lot of volume to get by. This leads to bottling more or less the same thing as before, or things that are not completely finished, and there is a real drop in quality. The idea is to bottle things that the distilleries and other bottlers do not do.
CdM: This is clearly a trend and some are much more successful than others, no doubt because they are more in tune with the needs of their customers but also because they are creative enough to stand out and attract attention.
This confirms, if it were still useful, the real craze of the general public for the Rum product.
What are the current trends and what do you see happening in your crystal ball?
FL: I have a fear about products that are very high in esters, I have the impression that they are addictive and can even cause health problems.
Independent bottlers are exploding, it’s no secret, as are spiced rums… Otherwise I’ll mention the finishes as well, firstly Plantation in cognac casks, then HSE and its range, JM and its Armagnac, Calvados and bourbon casks… There are also high proof Spanish style rums, such as El Passador at 50°, Esclavo at 65°… There is even Spanish peated rum, aged in ex-Islay whisky barrels: Relicario, or Ferroni Boucan d’enfer, Maison du rhum Madagascar…
AB : Some markets are not yet mature, such as the USA or China. And that’s fine as long as we haven’t increased our production capacity. Otherwise, nine years ago, there were quite old rums, but today there is a profusion of 20, 30 or even 40 year old rums, as if all the distilleries had decided to open their cellars. We must take advantage of this, it won’t last.
CdM: Some categories of rum are still emerging. For example, cachaças, which were practically impossible to find in Paris 15 years ago, or were simple rums that you could only put in your caipirinha. Nowadays there are also very good cachaças for tasting. I would also mention the Clairins: I think that if they had not been brought to light by Luca Gargano, because of the historical links between France and Haiti, they would have reached us sooner or later. The last to arrive on the “Rum chessboard” are the Grogues from Cape Verde. A recent phenomenon is that we are seeing products that seem exotic to us, such as Asian rums or others from countries that had no particular connection with France, such as Belize or the island of Grenada.
While we have you, what are you planning to release for the 15th and 10th anniversary of your shops (or website)?
FL: For the 5th anniversary I did two limited series, then I did some for certain anniversaries with Madeira, Mexico, a cognac worked like a rum, with an Australia-Asia blend from the Ricci family… I also had the opportunity to do some cask selections with Plantation, with Cihuatan… Nothing concrete for the moment, but I would like to do new limited series with Reimonenq and Madeira, of which I’m a big fan.
CdM: For the 15th anniversary of the shop, we are going to offer special collaborations with brands in our flagship department, Rum, as we did for the 10th anniversary. I can’t say more, but Cihuatan, HSE, Longueteau, Bally, Dillon, Bologna, A1710 … are on the menu! Each time it is about selections that are original compared to the classic range of the brand, both in old rums and white rums.
AB : For the 10th anniversary, next year we will be releasing a certain number of vintages, in particular some on which we have carried out a real work of reduction and/or ageing.
Christian de Montaguère :
20 Rue de l’Abbé Grégoire, 75006 Paris
203 Rue Saint-Martin, 75003 Paris,
16 Rue Dauphine, 75006 Paris,