No pirates in rum rebellion

Pirates, ne'er-do-wells and scurvy-laden scallywags are just some of the negative stereotypes historically associated with rum.

Pirates, ne'er-do-wells and scurvy-laden scallywags are just some of the negative stereotypes historically associated with rum.

The challenge for modern-day marketers is to position the sugar cane spirit as the latest darling of the premium set.

Strong precedents point to rum's successful reinvention. Gin overcame a similarly dark past, and more recently a flirtation with pensioners, to forge a trendy new identity. Tequila, meanwhile, is in the process of shrugging off its associations with slammers and worms to become a cocktail staple and tipple du jour. And whisky is the poster child for rebirth, eschewing the seediest of roots to cement its position as the king of the top shelf.

"Rum traditionally has always been a pretty rough spirit, it's been the spirit of the sea," says Jordan Berger, a brand ambassador for Campari. The French liquor producer sells two rum brands in the Australian market, Appleton Estate and Coruba.

"It was a daily ration for the British Navy. Pirates, that sort of thing. It was sometimes called 'killdevil', and always referred to in a harsh manner."

There's an extra hurdle to overcome in Australia. Bundaberg Rum owns a massive chunk of the local market and has positioned itself with decades of saturation marketing as the definitive grass-roots, working-class, sporting bloke's sort of drinking staple.

Berger says this market dominance has led many Aussies to conclude that rum is the bogan brew. "I don't ever speak ill of other brands but the association of what rum is to Australia is Bundaberg, and people either love it or they hate it," he says. "Either way, when they see rum, that's what they associate it with."

Even that is changing, though. Bundaberg Rum's owner and Campari's competitor, British-based spirits company Diageo, has pledged it will no longer run the blokey ads with the cheeky polar bear, or emblazon itself proudly across football, motor sport and B&S balls.

It's all part of what you might call a fully fledged rum rebellion in this country.

One example of the new thinking at "Bundy" is its latest offering, a $1250 bottle to commemorate the Queensland distillery's 125th anniversary this month.

It has produced 1888 of the 700-millilitre bottles (the year 1888 marking the company's foundation), and a further 3000 125-millilitre minis at $125 each. The rum itself, combining some of Bundaberg's oldest and rarest drops, ups the ante significantly over commoner variants.

It's the latest in a string of premium releases from Bundaberg, which set up a premium line under the Master Distiller's Collection label to tap into a booming thirst among spirits drinkers for increasingly premium offerings.

Campari raised the bar even further this month by launching the most expensive rum ever sold in Australia, a $5500 bottle of 50-year-old spirit from Jamaica's famed Appleton Estate.

Berger says premium rum presents an intriguing segue for experienced whisky drinkers looking for something slightly different. "If you're someone who likes premium Scotch or premium whisky, you're someone who's looking for nuance and flavour," he says.

"When you go to rum you're going to find a whole new level of nuance that's not found in whisky."

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