Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Now more than ever, Black-owned spirit brands are finally taking the stage in households in the U.S. and around the world. Uncle Nearest Whiskey is the fastest growing independent American whiskey brand in history, thanks to powerhouse CEO Fawn Weaver. Celebrities like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson launched tequila brands in 2020 and have grown to be massively successful in a relatively short period of time.
Rum, however, hasn’t had quite the same level of growth.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council, tequila/mezcal revenues increased by 12.3% from 2018 to 2019 and American whiskey revenues increased by 10.8%, but rum revenue only increased by 2.2% during the same period. Even with record alcohol sales in 2020, rum has been a bit slower to grow in the U.S.
“Rum is a very popular liquor amongst the Caribbean islands, but that hasn’t translated into mainland America,” says Broderick Robinson, founder and CEO of Legendaire Peach Tea Rum.
Part of the issue is that the Americanized image of rum has gotten dumbed down over the years, associated more with swashbuckling pirates and spring break parties than the creative and complex spirit that it is.
“Rum is represented in the hearts and minds of many consumers here as, typically, sort of a lower-end spirit,” says Ten to One Rum founder Marc Farrell. “I thought we had an amazing opportunity to tell a different story. And show a different side of not just rum and rum culture, but Caribbean culture more broadly.”
Despite its sordid past and colonized history, more people should take rum seriously. And while not every Black-owned spirit is easily accessible in your neighborhood retailer, these rum brands are telling stories that go beyond what’s in the bottle.
“It’s about having a brand and being founders of color,” says Troy Bigby, the co-founder of Devil’s Reef Cinnamon Spiced Rum. “But it’s also about empowering the next person of color to take a chance on creating something that makes sense and doing the same kind of legwork.”
These five Black-owned rums are changing the narrative, while also modernizing the spirit’s outdated, pirate-themed reputation. Consider adding these to your home bar.
The world’s first African and Caribbean Rum, Equiano Rum is a collaboration between two prestigious distilleries. It combines an 11-year cognac cask rum from Gray’s Distillery in Mauritius with an eight-year bourbon cask rum from Foursquare in Barbados. Ian Burrell, Global Rum Ambassador, and Richard Seale of Foursquare Distillery combined forces to create a natural rum with no additives or added sugar.
The premium rum is actually modeled after the Nigerian-born writer, entrepreneur, abolitionist, and freedom fighter Olaudah Equiano. He was enslaved as a child in what would be considered Nigeria today, and later taken to the Caribbean where he was sold to a Royal Navy officer. Landing in England, Equiano eventually purchased his freedom in 1766 with savings he’d made by selling rum. Equiano takes its mission seriously and gives 5% of global company profits to ground level freedom and equality projects annually.
Ten to One’s logo is the Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad’s national bird. The side labels reference old shipping labels from the days when sugarcane made its way through ports of the Americas and Europe. And the brand’s name was inspired by the Original Caribbean Federation which consisted of 10 countries. “Trinidad’s Prime Minister at the time said, ‘One from ten equals zero.’ He was making the point that if you remove one from the collective, the whole thing falls apart,” says CEO Marc Farrell. “Ten to One is a brand that is grounded in community. The idea that we’re stronger together than we are apart.”
The brand’s rum really is a collaborative process, the dark rum being a blend of eight-year-old Barbados and Dominican column still rums, combined with Jamaican pot still rum, and Trinidadian rum, all aged in American white oak, ex-bourbon casks. Farrell says that Ten to One is for everyone, regardless of where you are in the world.
Broderick Robinson created Legendaire, the world’s only peach tea rum, for two reasons: to create generational wealth and to provide an option not currently on the rum market. Based in Houston, Texas, Legendaire Peach Tea Rum is a blend of ripe peaches, tea, and rum that tastes like a summer fruit salad.
But, Robinson wants people to know that Legendaire Peach Tea Rum is not just a seasonal drink. While Legendaire is delightfully peachy, it’s about more than selling rum. “Our goal is to create a nonprofit organization ‘Legendaire Cares,’’ he says, “targeting communities of color with educational programs, business insight, and other contributions to help build better living conditions for the communities we serve.”
Launched in May 2021, Kingston Bay Rum was founded by sisters Donnica Martin and T’ka Martin-Hines. Born in Jamaica, they want the world to know that rum isn’t a niche product.
“I do not recall any time in my life where rum was not involved,” Martin says. “It was a staple in our household. but I want rum to be more than just a Caribbean beverage. It is a wonderful staple spirit. People can love and enjoy rum the same way they enjoy whiskey, tequila, or vodka.”
Gluten-free with no added sugar or flavoring, Kingston Bay Rum is light bodied with a sweet taste, perfect for blending with various ingredients to make personalized cocktails.
Chicago-based Halo 7 Rum was created by Ashley Jackson and JeNai Stanley, both huge fans of rum who wanted to flip the conception of rum as a party drink on its head. The idea was to offer a luxury experience to their customers, something more typically associated with high-end whiskey or cognac brands.
The result is a coconut, vanilla, and caramel-flavored rum that clocks in around 70 proof in order to enhance the drinking experience. Though it’s meant to be sipped neat, the rum’s honey and toffee notes would lend themselves nicely to a Rum Old Fashioned. An added bonus is the beautiful, constellation-inspired packaging.
Devil’s Reef is an 80-proof, cinnamon-spiced rum that can be enjoyed on the rocks or in a cocktail. Inside of every bottle is natural cinnamon and sugar that settle at the bottom reminiscent of Caribbean sand. Brothers and founders, Troy and Kieron Bigby, dreamed up the idea of a rum at their mother’s kitchen table.
“The idea of Devil’s Reef is to have a product that would be highly mixable that isn’t really available in the spiced rum space and something that would grow with the consumer,” Troy says. Not only have the Bigby brothers created and formulated their own rum, but they also self-distribute.