As rum consumption increases and interest in the spirit gains global traction, naturally, it’s seeping into Asian markets. To find out a little more about what’s happening with this rising star abroad, we interviewed Hong Kong based French bar owner, Maxence Traverse.
With about thirty years of industry experience, Maxence began his career in the French alps and Southern Riviera. He then worked the high end London circuit, including Michelin starred restaurants, luxury private clubs, cocktail bars and 5 star hotels. After a backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, he settled in Hong Kong to open a speakeasy French style cocktail bar called Le Boudoir.
After this successful opening, came his own bar: Honi Honi Tiki Cocktail Lounge. Honi Honi is a mix between a tiki bar and a rum library. It’s a high class style tropical bar in the heart of the concrete jungle. They call it their “Urban Oasis” and it’s been going strong for seven years. He kindly shared his thoughts on rum’s reputation in Asia in a recent interview.
Forest Collins: I understand you have a new rum festival emerging. Can you tell us a little about it?
Maxence Traverse: In 2013, I was the first in Asia to launch a Rum Festival at Honi Honi. I continued for the following five years and each year it grew bigger and bigger. This year, I’m taking the Rum Fest to a different place and a brand new level with the “Asia Hong Kong Rum Fest 2019”. The idea, now, is to spread rum appreciation and knowledge throughout Asia since Hong Kong is small and already getting saturated with rum.
FC: We are seeing a potential for growth in rum consumption for the Asian market. What do you think is driving this increased interest in rum?
MT: Rum isn’t as big of a thing here yet. My goal is to make it more understandable and help people appreciate it more. Hong Kong now has many rum brands being distributed, but Asia hasn’t yet exceeded expected volumes. So pushing the full Asian market is a positive step to slowly and surely gaining even more attention for this product. The quality and regulations are making rum look even better than in the previous years.
FC: Specifically in Hong Kong are you seeing an increased consumption of rum?
MT: There is an increase, with many rum brands getting distribution here. Many more bars are opening with managers from overseas who enlighten customers to the delights of this liquid!
FC: High end rum is also becoming more popular in Asia. Can you tell me a little bit about that, and specifically how it is regarded in Hong Kong?
MT: There is a market for high end rums as the wealthy here love expensive products like top shelf whiskies, cognacs… And, rum also has its place! We’ve been creating master classes, tastings and more for those rum lovers and their friends.
FC: How are people in Asia consuming rum? In cocktails? Straight?
MT: Here, rum needs to be introduced first in cocktails and then slowly introduced as a neat pour. I have been serving it in a ti’punch, which has proved very popular and is ordered on a daily basis.
FC: Is there a generational appeal to rum in Asia? For example, is it appealing more to a younger or older market?
MT: Actually, it appeals to multiple generations, but the older market is already aware of it so will try it more often.
FC: Are Asian clients more interested in rums made in Asia or from other areas?
MT: They are still developing their appreciation and understanding of it on this level, so there is not yet a general tendency towards one or the other.
FC: Please tell us about a rum cocktail that incorporates local flavours and ingredients.
MT: In my bar, we create a drink using sichuan pepper, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chili… It’s tropical with local flavours, which are familiar and entice customers to order it.
FC: Are there any other rum trends happening in Asia you can share with our readers?
MT: We are seeing more and more distilleries opening in Asia like Chalong Bay Rhum, Sampan Rhum and Mia Rhum.