Time To Look Beyond Old Monk
RollingStone India|December 2020
Unlike whisky, vodka, and wine, rum has surprisingly never really caught on in the premium segment of the Indian alcohol market
VINAYAK SINGH

FOR MANY INDIANS, their love affair with rum started and ended with Old Monk. When it was time to graduate to something more premium, it was invariably high-end whisky first, and then Single Malts. Along the way, there were occasional forays into vodka, and more recently, gin. Rum, particularly the dark variety, was always something you drank in your youth when you were perennially short of cash.

Rum hasn’t had its vodka or gin moment in this country as yet, which is really sad, because premium rum, the so-called ‘sipping rum’, is as smooth in taste and pleasure to savour as a good single malt. And it is much more affordable in terms of price. The situation is all the more surprising, given that India is the world’s second-largest market for Bacardi white rum (in terms of volume) after the US. The white rum, of course, is mostly drunk with a mixer like Coke. Indians who drink white rum rarely ever shift to the darker variety.

Premium rum’s lack of popularity in India is not because of lack of availability in the local market. The past few years have seen dozens of sipping rums hitting the Indian market, brands like Ron Zacapa, Havana Club, Reserva Ocho, Clement, El Dorado, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Angostura etc. The problem is that rum has never been marketed the way vodka, and more recently, gin, has been.

Till the early 1990s, for example, vodka had the reputation of being a stiff drink, drunk largely by tough-looking Russians to get through their harsh winters. The upbeat marketing campaigns around the likes of Smirnoff, Bacardi, and Grey Goose changed all that. Everyone drinks vodka these days. Like in the case of vodka, it is only the big global players like Diageo (owner of Ron Zacapa), Pernod (owner of Havana Club), and Bacardi (owner of Reserva Ocho) who can create a compelling image for rum with their massive reach and budget. But, they have so far been reluctant to do to rum what they did to vodka worldwide.

It is all the more surprising, because sipping rum has everything going for it in a market like India. Its sweeter flavour profile makes it easier to develop a taste for, it is highly affordable as compared to the high-end whiskies, and it is versatile when it comes to cocktails. The inherent complexity and the flavour of the rum adds a new dimension to the cocktails. And most importantly, a large number of urban Indians are familiar with rum, so it is only a matter of them rediscovering it.

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