Holmes Cay, the bottler that is shaking up the rum market in the USA

By Asim Raza, with Alexandre Vingtier

The United States is a complicated market for rum. The embargo on Cuba, the tax breaks given to Virgin Island producers, different legislation in different states… Yet there is a palpable craze for the products of craft distilleries and independent bottlers. A sign that the market is moving upmarket. Analysis and case study from independent bottler Holmes Cay. .

On the American market (2021 figures), overall rum sales volumes have remained stable. Rum has remained at around 25 million 9-litre cases for a number of years. By way of comparison, the vodka market accounted for 78 million 9-litre cases over the same period.

The overall rum market is slightly smaller than the American whisky market, which will account for almost 30 million 9-litre cases in 2021. But if you take Bacardi out of the equation, rum sales are only a tiny fraction of bourbon sales.

However, the lowest-priced products on the rum market (the two lower price categories) have lost share, while the two higher price categories have gained, a sign that the market is beginning to become more premium and that Americans are beginning their transition from simple consumers to connoisseurs.

Holmes Cay
After a career in music, Eric Kaye launched an equally successful rum bottling business.

The difficulties faced by craft distilleries

There is therefore a real opportunity for craft rum producers. But there is still a long way to go. While the number of craft distilleries is exploding in the United States, the vast majority of them produce whisky. Rum distilleries are on the increase, but most are still in their infancy and produce only very small quantities of rum.

Among the larger American craft rum distilleries are Privateer, Montanya and Richland. The latter three are distributed in a decent number of states. The distribution of most other distilleries is limited to one or a few states.

The three-tier distribution system in place in the United States really hinders the national growth of small brands. It is easier to sell throughout the European Union than in two American states. However, some small distilleries and independent bottling brands are doing well. One of these is Holmes Cay.

Holmes Cay

From composing music to making rums

When we explore the world of rum, France offers a wide range of choices, from different origins to cask strength bottlings and single casks. It’s a treasure trove for enthusiasts who appreciate the diversity of flavours and aromas.

However, if we look across the Atlantic to the American market, just five years ago the story would have been different. Finding serious rums was an elusive challenge. The market was limited and lacked exposure to high quality rums. To find them on the market, Mr Eric Kaye, a man who had devoted his professional life to composing music for TV shows, commercials and popular films, embarked on a new adventure.

Eric Kaye moved from the world of music to the world of rum, becoming one of the first independent rum bottlers with his company, Holmes Cay, which focuses on selecting rums for the American market. Mr Kaye reflects on his journey: “During my travels to different parts of the world, I discovered high quality rums produced in all four corners of the globe.

These rums were a far cry from what you could find in the United States. I saw an opportunity to introduce these exceptional rums to the US market, which led to the launch of Holmes Cay in 2019.”


Holmes Cay

Exceptional sourcing

What really sets Holmes Cay apart from other independent bottlers in the US market is Kaye’s love and passion for rum. Each selection is a personal reflection of his dedication, as he takes it upon himself to visit distilleries and select rums to be bottled as Holmes Cay Editions.

The result is a collection of rums that embodies his vision of what really stands out and what is missing from the market. When asked about the criteria that guide his rum selection, Eric Kaye enthusiastically explains: “The primary consideration is taste. Holmes Cay prioritises sourcing rums aged in their place of origin, as we value the uniqueness of each country’s offering. In addition, we are proud to highlight distilleries producing fabulous rums and to introduce American rum lovers to rums from previously unknown distilleries.”

Holmes Cay’s contribution to the US market has been notable, from the sourcing and bottling of various single origin editions and blends, as well as single cask editions from rum producing regions unknown or less familiar to the US market. Regions such as South Africa, Reunion Island, Belize, Mauritius and Fiji, to name but a few, were introduced to American rum lovers.

Holmes Cay accompanies the rise of rum

When it comes to consumer preferences in the American market, Mr Kaye offers an interesting insight. He explains: “Bourbon and tequila have long held the upper hand, and rum is following suit. In the past, the American market was geared towards commercial rums, which are generally sweet, flavoured or spiced. He adds: “On the bright side, the serious rum market is on the rise, marked by a growing appetite for high-quality, flavoured, additive-free products.

The US is currently experiencing a golden age for rum, with an increasing number of players entering the scene. As spirits shelves diversify, rum lovers across the country stand to benefit.

Holmes Cay boasts an impressive track record as an independent bottler. Their collection includes exceptional editions of single cask and single origin that have attracted attention and praise. However, it is essential to note that Holmes Cay is not a distillery, but rather a curator with a deep passion for the art of rum making.

Their remarkable creation, Heritage Blend, is more than just a blend; it’s a ‘love letter to the diversity of rum’. This exceptional blend pays tribute to the rich traditions of rum making, harmoniously blending English, French and Spanish traditions by bringing together rums from Barbados, Martinique and Venezuela.

Holmes Cay
An exceptional range of original single casks and blends!

A small, fast-growing business

Over time, we plan to release new rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Mauritius and even Africa. Holmes Cay already has a presence in thirteen US states and Washington DC, and recently introduced its products to the UK this year.

The company’s long-term aim is to expand globally, but it’s in no hurry. Kaye loves sharing rum with fans around the world, but her primary goal is to continue to bring the appreciation of quality rums to North America. She looks forward to an exciting journey ahead!

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