As a former hot air balloon pilot and restaurateur, Richard Davies, is using to take a few risks in his career, but as he tells, Helen Arnold, launching a new rum in to an already heaving category was certainly a leap of faith. It looks, though, to be paying off within only six months of launching with some international medals and high end accounts under its belt.
Neptune Rum is already making waves with a rum that makes no apology for playing on the seafaring imagery and history of rum on the high seas. Richard Davies explains what he hopes to achieve with the brand.
Why did you decide to bring Neptune rum to the market?
Rum has strong associations with sailors, and as Neptune is the Roman god of the ocean, it seemed such an obvious name for a rum brand that I was amazed it hadn’t already been used.
I had a family home in Florida, and was at a rum festival there a couple of years ago. At the time I was interested in developing a gin brand, but there are so many gins out there and knew that particular market was in danger of becoming saturated.
Gin production is fairly simple, really a glorified vodka, whereas there is a lot more to rum with the exotic locations it is produced in and the history attached to it.
Where is Neptune produced?
It’s distilled in Barbados by Richard Seale, a fourth generation rum master who is at the top of his game and extremely well regarded in the rum world. He owns and runs Four Square Distillery, and is a world aficianado on rum, the captain of the rum industry so to speak.
We are currently producing 2,500 bottles every three months, but have the capacity for more.
What makes Neptune stand out from the crowd?
Neptune is aged in American bourbon oak barrels in the Caribbean, which means the rum matures more quickly, and therefore Neptune Rum three year old has the style and quality of a much older aged rum. It’s a seriously time consuming process.
We are a totally organic product, and while a lot of modern spirits brands are low in value and in quality, and add flavouring and colouring to their products, we avoid that process. That doesn’t represent the traditional type of rum making which made it the key spirit key spirit in the 18th and 19th centuries. We are trying to change this!
The rum sector is starting to police itself quite well now similar to the whisky sector
What markets are you selling Neptune in?
We wanted to cut our teeth in the UK market first, as we felt that the UK was ready for a premium rum brand. We have attended many travelling rum festivals throughout the country and done a huge sampling exercise with over 6,000 consumers, to a great response. But we are based in Naples, Florida, which is a massive rum-consuming market and the US is our next focus. We are shipping sample bottles out there at the moment and talking to a bottling company. We are aiming to launch in Florida this time next year.
Are you eyeing up any other export markets?
The recent award we won in Hong Kong (a gold medal in the China Wine & Spirit Awards) has put us on the Chinese radar, and we have been talking to the Department of Trade and Industry who have offered us a Mandarin speaking translator to help. The Chinese are massive consumers, and are all about premiumisation. They love Scotch, and rum is a lot smoother than whisky, so I think the Chinese market is more than ready for a premium rum product.
What do you think is driving the growth of rum?
The popularity of cocktails has certainly helped to boost interest in rum, as many of the most popular cocktails are rum-based. I think that consumers are becoming more aware of the provenance of their drink, and are increasingly attracted to the history and heritage of rum. They are a lot more discerning and more interested in a premium product.
Do you think rum has any chance of becoming as popular as gin?
Rum is the fastest growing sector in the spirits market, as people begin to tire of gin as the market becomes ever more saturated. All the market research indicates that rum will become the next big thing in the spirits world.
Most consumers don’t realize that gin is a flavoured vodka, and most are derived from a base chemical, while rum is a totally natural organic product made from cane sugar. Rum is totally organic and can be easily source traced, which I think is hugely important nowadays. Consumers are becoming a lot more savvy and aware of what they are drinking, and the whole ageing process of rum is attractive to them.
I have a feeling the rum market could become the next gin, and we are ahead of the game.
What about the on-trade? Do you think bar tenders are well-versed on the rum sector?
Yes, I think that modern bartenders are a lot more informed about their products than they used to be. Consumers like to know a bit of background of what they’re drinking, and rum provides bartenders with a decent story to tell. Gin is quite a boring product by comparison, without rum’s history or heritage.
What rum brands should a well stocked bar carry?
I would advise veering away from the lower value lower market rums, which aren’t necessarily worthy of the name. However, the overall quality of rum has increased over the last few years and will continue to do so. I’d say to move away from the standard rums and enjoy the wide array that is now on offer.
It’s early days for Neptune. What have you achieved so far?
We only launched just over seven months ago, but have already won a clutch of awards, including the gold medal at the China Wine & Spirits Awards last month, and silver at the New York World Wine & Spirits competition, which obviously we extremely pleased and honoured by. To win two international competitions in such a small space of time is amazing.
We were up against around 6,000 bottles in Hong Kong, and while I knew the rum was good, it now has the backing of two international awards, which is very gratifying.
Do you have any new products in the pipeline?
We are talking to Richard about producing an aged rum – about 14 years old, which will have a higher alcohol volume and will be a seriously premium product. We are also thinking of producing a platinum rum, clear rum as opposed to golden,
Where is Neptune currently available?
In retail we are online at the moment through Amazon and Master of Malt, and are also in talks with Waitrose. We have distribution via Matthew Clark and Lanchester Wines throughout the UK, though we are focusing heavily on London at first. We are speaking to distributors now, and it’s just a question of time. It’s an extremely exciting brand, and therefore have had quite a bit of interest.
How do you best like your tot of Neptune served?
My new favourite is a rum take on a classic – Espresso Martini. Replace the vodka with Neptune rum and it’s amazing. Add a little nutmeg for festive seasoning, and you’ve got a great Neptune Martini. But at home I like Neptune over ice. Simplicity at its best.