After centuries of refinement, Barbados is now poised to capitalise on a global rum market that’s expected to be worth US$22 billion by the year 2030.
According to a recent study conducted by Persistence Market Research, the international popularity of rum – long thought of as an outside child when compared to other premium spirits – is trending upward as consumers seek more authentic, premium artisanal experiences.
And for Barbados, the birthplace of rum, that growing demand for craft spirits is continuing to drive the demand for its national treasure – itself expected to top US$500 million in export revenue within the next decade.
“The production of rum as we know it was first documented in 1650 at Three Houses Plantation, so we know for a fact that rum has been in production in Barbados for at least 370 years. Today, domestic rum exports account for about US$40 million per year,”Andrew Hassell, Managing Director of the West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD).
Founded in 1893, WIRD is the largest and longest continuously operating distillery in Barbados producing 82% of the island’s rum.
Since 2017, the Distillery and long-time customer Alexandre Gabriel of Maison Ferrand, the owner and Master Blender of Plantation Rum, have combined their mutual passion into a single, yet inclusive vision of premium Barbados rum resulting in an unprecedented partnership that now sees the locally-produced spirit available in 89 countries around the world.
“WIRD was established more than 125 years ago by the visionary Georges Stade. Very quickly, it started producing high-quality rum and at one point, the name ‘Stade’ was synonymous with rum in Barbados. Sharing that passion for quality rum remains our ultimate mission,”Andrew Hassell
“Rum is to Barbados what Cognac is to France, and now is the time that we further differentiate ourselves by reintroducing products and techniques that leverage our rich history and heritage in producing the world’s finest rums. We have to give added value to consumers as we continue to take our rums up-market.”Andrew Hassell
Citing the Distillery’s award-winning line of Plantation Rum, Hassell said consumer’s interest in experimental cask maturation and finishes, in education about the different terroirs of rum and old tradition production techniques, along with higher quality packaging, were clear examples that rum producers were innovating and attempting to prove their premium worth.
“Depending on the production process and country of origin, the line-up of Plantation Rum can vary between heavy and aromatic to light and elegant. We also know that consumers shop with their eyes first, so we package Plantation Rum accordingly in a thick bottle with tapered glass that sports a stunning label highlighting the personality of the country and the culture the rum is from. This is all complemented by a distinctive net-like wrap of raffia,” he said.
“Our beautiful island and its people embody unique traditions, and generations of passionate Barbadians have created a singular heritage of which we should all be proud, and likewise, build upon for future generations to come. This is our philosophy with WIRD and Plantation Rum on both the inside and outside of the bottle.”
Hassell said a cornerstone for the global advancement of the local rum industry would be the introduction of a strong Geographical Indicator (GI) for Barbados rum that is inclusive and faithful to the roots of Barbados rum-making and to the diversity of all those who have for centuries created its heritage.
“We think that a good GI for Barbados rum allows for the respect of our community and the artisans who have been making the rum for centuries. It should strengthen local rum producers and allow all players the opportunity to honour their heritage and continue to do what they know and love,”Andrew Hassell
In the case of Plantation Rum, it uses three styles of distillation – a pot still, a column still and a unique chamber still (the last surviving original chamber still in the world).
Since 1893, WIRD’s Distiller’s Vault has been collecting essential documents, distillation diagrams, and extensive studies about the techniques of rum-making in Barbados covering all areas of expertise, and it is currently sorting, preserving and indexing hundreds of these documents.
WIRD is also focused on several green projects including environmental research and sustainability certification, and the Distillery is the only distillery on the island to be a member of Bonsucro, a global multi-stakeholder non-profit organisation that exists to promote sustainable sugarcane production, processing, and trade.
Further, the Distillery plans to achieve a carbon neutral footprint by 2030.
“While we celebrate our heritage we should also encourage – and enable – all generations of rum makers to experiment with new methods that bring new and innovative products to market. This should ensure us a significant piece of the global US$22 billion rum pie.”