Should you invest in rum?
Old rum could be worth thousands of pounds. Is it worth auctioning off?
The market for old rum in Britain has been having a... well, a rum old time. Sales of all types of rum passed £1bn last summer for the previous 12 months – a 51% increase on 2019, according to market watchers CGA by NielsenIQ. Younger drinkers in particular have acquired a taste for the spirit and that in itself bodes well for rum prices. But drinkers are also becoming discerning. The premium segment of the market grew by 85% in the second quarter of 2022.
In other words, rum has come of age. However, while rum of all types now counts for a bigger slice of the market than whisky in terms of the value of sales in the UK, it still has a fair way to go before it rivals its Scottish cousin in the market for rare, collectable bottles.
A long way behind
The most expensive single bottle of whisky sold at auction fetched £1.5m in 2019. For rum, it is in the region of £30,000. Whisky Auctioneer sold a bottle of Wray & Nephew from 1982 that had been created to commemorate the visit of US president Ronald Reagan to Jamaica for £31,500 before fees in 2019 as part of its inaugural rum auction. That sale was so successful that the auction site has launched a dedicated platform, Rum Auctioneer.
“From an investment point of view, I think the jury’s out,” Simon Aron, founder of cask whisky specialists Cask Trade, told me recently. The market in rare, aged rum is still “very young” and it is “a bit of a Wild West”. The trouble is partly down to the tropical climate in places, such as the Caribbean where the rum is made, and partly because, unlike with Scotch, the industry regulations have yet to be put in place to ensure quality. “You can put... [new-make rum] in a barrel, stick it in the sunshine or somewhere nice and warm, cook the stuff... [and] it will smell super sweet, it’ll look amazing and give you nightmares, because it will be sitting at 63% [ABV] or higher,” says Aron. This is a particular problem with older rums. Aron advises collectors to buy young rum in the cask – “You know where it came from, you know how it’s been stored... and then you are onto a winner”.
For these reasons, some buyers choose to age their rum in the British Isles. Last year, Cask Trade partnered with Renegade, a new rum distillery in Grenada founded by Mark Reynier, who is a veteran-expert of the whisky-making industry. Buyers can choose the wood for their barrels and whether to mature it in Grenada or in Waterford, Ireland.
Still in its infancy
“The world of collectable rum is in its youth compared to whisky,” Rum Auctioneer agrees. “In many ways [that makes it] more accessible, with more affordable prices.” Rums from “lost” distilleries, such as Caroni from Trinidad, are “generating particular interest”, along with rums from new distilleries, the platform notes. Regions, individual distilleries and bottlers “are all things to think about when starting a rum collection”.