Stuart and Simon Griffith, part of the team behind the creation of the new Substation No. 41 Rum, talk to Food Magazine about rum making, and the challenges of the Australian beverage industry.
Food Magazine (FM): How has the rum changed over recent years?
Simon: I think the general drinking culture has changed on the whole, not just with rum. It is very noticeable across the board with all aspects of liquor; beer, wine and spirits that the Australian market is becoming more attracted to the social aspect of drinking and the eventual quality of the drink in their hand. It is certainly less evident that the consumer is drinking for the affect of the 'grog'.
Alcohol and the Australian culture go hand in hand. During Australia's penal era, rum had been used as currency and it has been suggested that the colony's inhabitants drank more alcohol per capita than any other time in human history.
Nowadays Australia's love affair with rum may have changed, but it is still there, it's just different. As the country has evolved, so has the alcohol consumption and palate of the 'everyday citizen'. Less is more and quality is everything.
FM: You say that rum is undergoing a “strong renaissance.” Why is it seeing an increase in popularity?
Stuart: Spirits tend to follow a cycle of popularity and it just so happens that rum is seeing a huge spike in its fortunes that spirits like gin, vodka and whisky have had over the past twenty years or so.
Rum has often been categorised as a working class drink, which hasn’t been helped with stories of pirates and naval crew downing large amounts for 'Dutch courage' in the face of terrifying situations. I think the consumer has looked past these old anecdotal stories and made their own choice.
Rum can work on every level and doesn’t seem to discriminate like maybe other spirits do. Its versatility is its strength, it doesn’t matter what your gender is or your budget, it appeals to all walks of life for completely different reasons. And yet, when you strip it all back you find that its unique power is that it makes everyone equal.
FM: Are Australian drinkers more educated about rum than before?
Stuart: Yes, they absolutely are. The liquor market has definitely become a 'buyers market'. The customer is now in a position where they can ask a question about a product they are buying and not fear a reprisal from the person serving them.
Also with the advent of the Internet and information at the fingertips, customers more than ever can research before buying. It’s not uncommon for costumers to visit us at the Substation No. 41 Rum Bar with a list of the rums they may want to try during an evening. They have information on the rum, pros and cons, a tasting profile, prices etc. Our job is to help them choose the right rum for them, for the right reasons. Ten years ago, punters came into the bar with less pre-conceived ideas and were generally happy to get what they were given.
FM: In a market saturated with imports, how can Australian spirits compete?
Stuart: It's really important to not try and be something your not. There are so many amazing spirits on the market from a whole heap of international destinations. So many of these spirits tick all the right boxes and are perfect in so many ways. The key is to not try and replicate what someone else is doing really well and do your own thing to the best of your ability. It is the Australian way to barrack for the underdog and give everyone a fair go and so if you apply these fundamental values of Australian culture to making quality spirits then it can be an easy recipe to follow. Home grown ingredients coupled with this beautiful climate, love, tenderness and hard work and the end product can be a liquor that everyone can be proud of and sold at a reasonable price.