This is an extract from an interview conducted by The Rum Slinger, a premium rum subscription service, with Rum Auctioneer's Head of Auction Content, Joe Wilson. The interview dates back to December 2020 when they reached out to talk about Rum Auctioneer, it's history and all things rum.
1. First of all thanks for speaking to us today Joe. I'll start off by saying how excited I felt when I first found this incredible Rum Auction, with all these amazing, interesting rums right here in the middle of Scotland. Can you tell us when Rum Auctioneer first started?
Interest in rum was certainly a steady climb, when viewed through the lens of our auction platforms at least. After observing the number of bottles in our regular monthly Whisky Auctioneer sales gradually double over the course of 2018, the idea was floated to host a dedicated rum exclusive auction at some point in 2019. We held that auction in April last year. The interest from rum sellers saw the auction total over 600 bottles, three times as many as were consigned to the previous Whisky Auctioneer sale, and the interest from rum buyers drew record prices for many of them.
The auction also functioned as a “testing the water” for a dedicated Rum Auctioneer platform. Rum is a wonderfully complex category of spirit, with an array of production materials, distilling techniques and geographical locations in which they take place, and it was clear that we could not fully do justice to this by exhibiting them within the parameters of an auction site designed to spotlight whisky. The exciting results from the April 2019 rum auction proved to us that there was both interest and a demand for a dedicated Rum Auctioneer platform, and we launched the website in September 2019 with an inaugural auction that was again in excess of 600 bottles.
2. Some people, (never me), say that rum is the new gin. Would you agree that rum is gaining in popularity?
There are certainly parallels between the popularity trajectories of rum and for example, single malt whisky, with both owing much to the Italian affinity for spirits. While single malt today owes much to its explosion in popularity there through the 1960s and 1970s, a similar path was charted for rum through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. The key moment was Velier taking the decision to switch its primary focus from whisky to rum, a bold move but one that has undeniably paid off. Their acquisition of the Caroni brand and collaboration with Demerara Distillers Ltd, both in the early 2000s, were milestone moments that presented rum in a new light, to a new audience.
3. Have you seen that popularity reflected in the auctions?
Since our inaugural auction, the steady growth in interest in rum has continued, with both prices and bottle counts climbing, and we now average consignments of around 800-900 bottles per month.
In the early days of rum being traded through whisky auctions, particularly ours, it was clear that those that obtained the best prices still owed much to whisky connections, with bottles from established whisky brands like Samaroli and Silver Seal among the most popular. In recent years however, a better understanding of rum has developed which means that its value is less and less viewed through the whisky lens and increasingly through its own. Casks aged in their native climates now supersede those bottled in Europe by the whisky elite, with names like Foursquare, Hampden, Neisson and Saint James becoming the new hot-ticket brands, and a knowledge of the history of countries like Guyana mean buyers now see value in its many historic stills and marks rather than buying an Uitvlugt labelled rum (for example) simply because it is a closed distillery (a key metric for investing in whisky). One of the key goals for Rum Auctioneer was to provide a resource for enthusiasts to share and engage with a rum on a platform that encouraged this deeper understanding of what is a complex drink with a complex history. Although whisky has undoubtedly had a hand in its exposure, the increasing popularity of rum is on its own merit, and we hope that Rum Auctioneer continues to illuminate this to global audience.
4. Obviously whisky auctions have been going for years and are seen as good investments if you are savvy. Would you say the same is true for rum?
As interest continues to grow around rum, new collectors and drinkers are increasingly entering the market, often willing to pay increasing premiums to obtain older bottles. The idea of collectible rum is still a newer phenomenon than with whisky, and many outstanding releases from the last 20 or 30 years have been consumed. The effects of this are increasingly visible on our platform when you consider the likes of Caroni and Foursquare. These remain popular with drinkers but the increasingly collectability has added a new competition in the bidding for them that is likely to continue and spread.
Rum prices are creeping up, and while we are not in the business of giving investment or financial advice, it seems only likely that as demand increases, the prices at auction, particularly for the rare and collectible bottles, will continue to increase as well.
5. Do you get many casks coming up for auction?
We are beginning to witness more casks feature in our monthly auctions, in our recent December Auction we featured a 1997 Caroni cask which achieved a hammer price of £27,500. As discussed previously, when evaluating the parallels between rum and single malt whisky in regards to growing interest and collectability, and as demand for private whisky cask sales has never been stronger, it is very likely that we can expect to also see a rise in interest for private rum cask sales.
6. Can you tell us about any memorable lots that have come in that you were excited about putting up?
For the first time since we launched our online platform, with thousands of rums consigned through our doors, it was a huge pleasure to welcome the Foursquare 1998 Bourbon Cask 10 Year Old (their first Exceptional Cask Selection release) to our July 2020 Auction. Following the wild success of subsequent ECS releases, this first mark has become increasingly sought-after amongst rum devotees, however its scarcity has dubbed it an 'endangered rum'. Those few that are lucky enough to have tried it attest to its rumoured quality. Couple this with the fact that it is near impossible to find, and it's the perfect combination. With so few seen 'out in the wild', it was a real privilege to be able to offer this rum on our platform!
The standout highlight however was the spectacular Wray & Nephew President's Reserve that we auctioned in the April 2019 rum auction on Whisky Auctioneer, which achieved £31,500. One of just twelve bottles produced for President Reagan’s visit to Jamaica in 1982, that was a truly special bottle though! There are many unique and fascinating bottles out there though, so be sure to check Rum Auctioneer every month to see what surprises it holds.
7. Did they do as well as you expected?
Yes we have been delighted with the results and attention that these coveted bottles garnered, in particular, the Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve which set a new world record for an individual bottle of rum sold at auction.
8. With regards to just drinking rum, what kind of rum do you tend to go for.
I am very fortunate in my job that I am surrounded by rum all the time. Working so closely with the bottles means that my interest is constantly piqued, and the products are always at the forefront of my mind. As a result, the bottles I am most intrigued by is a constantly changing an evolving list and covers a broad spectrum of this incredibly diverse spirit. Having said that, I have to admit that I have a particular soft spot for Barbados rum, particularly those from Foursquare distillery.
9. If you had to pick your top 5 rums to enjoy, what would you pick?
Working with some of rarest and sought after rum ever produced, this list could easily be a wish list of things I have not yet been fortunate enough to try, however I will stick to those that I have been fortunate enough to sample and “enjoy.”
1. Foursquare Empery 14 year old
a. This was my gateway into the world of rum and to this day my favourite bottle.
2. Albion AN 1983 Velier 25 Year Old
a. A real holy grail bottle and a legendary cask marque from the sought-after Velier and Demera Distillers collaborations of the mid-2000s. Believe the hype.
3. Caroni 1983 Velier 22 Year Old High Proof Heavy
a. Another classic from Velier and a real rarity from Trinidad’s legendary lost distillery. 1983 was the final vintage before the old iron pot still and wooden coffey stills were replaced, so this was a special opportunity to try a rum, some of which was produced on some truly historic stills.
4. Damoiseau 1989 Full Proof Rhum Vieux
a. Born in the same year as me, this vintage was an exceptional example of the excellent Agricole rums produced at Guadeloupe’s esteemed Damoiseau distillery.
5. Hampden 8 Year Old Overproof
a. Mercifully more accessible than anything else I have mentioned here, this is about as great value as you will find for a core range product in any spirits category. Both this and the reduced strength counterpart shine a bright light on one of Jamaica’s finest and previously lesser known distilleries.
10. Finally, are there any rums or rum producers that have you excited for 2021.
There is a lot to be excited about in the world of rum at the moment. Brand new distilleries like Providence in Haiti is one to watch for the future, while fledgling producers like Privateer in the US and Nine Leaves in Japan are finally at a stage where their output is able to show its true potential. Personally, I am always excited by the next Foursquare Exceptional Cask release, and I will be following the increasing number of aged Clairin releases closely. Clairin is a fascinating an unusual spirit from Haiti, and I am eager to see how their unique flavour profiles evolve in contact with various refill casks