The rum revolution is growing strong, so we had a chat with the founder of The Duppy Share, George Frost to reflect on the growth of both the brand and the category.
“Premium” wasn’t a word I encountered all that often when I first started working in the spirits industry. There was expensive stuff, good stuff, and cheap stuff, but the p-word seems to crop up a lot these days. What does it mean? It all sounds a bit VIP booth at the local nightclub to me. But scratch beneath the surface and this is a far more welcoming, approachable, and even appealing descriptor, aimed at all of you with a leaning towards the tastier side of things, quality products, made with care.
What is premium?
Rum has been gaining traction over the past few years in the UK. We’re seeing the spirit undergo a period of premiumisation, with new producers stepping in to fill the place of more well-established brands on back bars. I had a chat with George Frost, founder of The Duppy Share, to find out all about growing a rum brand from scratch and “Aiming to do for rum what Hendrick’s did for gin”, when it comes to bringing decent rum to the masses.
Son of famed broadcaster David Frost, he founded The Duppy Share in Notting Hill in 2015. The brand has since grown its range to include Duppy Share Spiced, White, XO, and most recently, Pink Ting A Ling in a ready-to-drink can (Yep – an official team-up with Ting! As a rum fan who doesn’t particularly like cola, this grapefruit soda has offered salvation in many a pub/bar where I’d otherwise suffer). With investment arriving from Diageo’s investment arm Distill Ventures in 2016, and the liquid consisting of a blend of rums from Jamaica and Barbados (more on that later), the brand got off to a promising start.
“Never waste a second” has become George’s mantra. This nugget of advice from his dad has guided his approach to expanding the brand, and now even appears at the bottom of the label. Taking every opportunity to network and promote, George modestly puts a lot of his initial success down to good fortune: meeting the right people and being in the right place at the right time. “I believe in making the most of coincidences, and the number of coincidences we’ve had.” From bumping into investors in bars to a fateful introduction at Selfridges, they’ve had no shortage of good fortune. But George doesn’t put it all down to fate. “I think that the only way you can create all of those coincidences is through being out as much as you can.”
Breaking it down
I do love my rum, so was keen to find out all about the liquid and what George’s aims were. Here he gives me an answer so knowledgeable and informative, he had to break it down into three bitesize chunks.:
“Number one was to create an incredible rum, but one that was representative of the modern Caribbean, and that could bring new people into the market. And that could satisfy those rum nuts.”
Oh hi there!
“We felt that the way of doing those three things was to create a blend of rum, because that allowed us to tinker with rums to create something that ticked those boxes.”
Number two on the list, George explains, was “To make a really approachable rum, because you know, we can’t sing this song about rum being great for all tastes and things without that approachability.” It also needed to perform well in cocktails.
OK, this is sounding good, tell me more…
Number three, “We don’t campaign for rum without sugar – as many people, like Richard Seale, do – but we feel that if you can create rum without sugar, you let the rum sing so much more.
You got me, rum nut interest levels peaked!
“We then built our own rum spider…”
So the aim is to both bring more people into the rum category, and allow people who have already been introduced, to find something different. “Now you can’t do that if you then charge you know, £50 a bottle. So we very quickly realised that we had to create a blend.” This necessitated two things. “We had to be empirical in our analysis of rums, and then we had to create something different, not niche, not crazy, but just with its own market.”
Alongside his business partner and former Innocent Smoothie veteran Jess, George embarked on the task of mapping out a “Duppy Taste Spider… essentially we had legs like openness, molasses, perceived alcohol, and sweetness.” To do this, they tasted and mapped about 30 different rums. “We then you know, built our own rum spider.” That last sentence isn’t one I ever saw myself typing, but makes sense right?!
The aim was to achieve a relatively low level of perceived alcohol (no rocket fuel here thank you!), a medium smooth texture, and a medium sweetness, with a “beautiful gold colour in terms of molasses”, retaining the “for want of a better word, ‘tartness’” while forgoing the bitter treacle aspect of molasses. This enabled them to look at the various styles of rum produced on different Caribbean islands and begin experimenting with blending, to achieve the desired profile.
Why source from the Caribbean, rather than distill in the UK?
This is the bit where some might fear that the story ends, and full disclosure can’t be given on the exact origins of the liquid, but refreshingly – not the case here! George reveals they settled on a three-year-old rum from Worthy Park in Jamaica and a five-year-old rum from the Foursquare distillery in Barbados. “Barbados provided that smoothness, the oakiness, that honey, butter taste. Jamaica created that funk, the kind of higher-ester stuff which cuts through the cocktails.” No rum nut in their right mind would argue with Worthy Park and Foursquare, some of the top names in Caribbean rum.
It’s clear that sourcing and blending have proven a successful move for the brand, allowing the team to tinker to create a balance of approachability and character But, when starting out, I wondered whether George had ever considered distilling himself. “It was the first thought I had ‘How cool would it be to blend or distill rum in the UK?’” He explains that the number one reason he decided against distilling was due to tropical ageing in the Caribbean: “Rum ages three and a half times quicker than whisky in Scotland.”
Suffice to say he’s not stating that time warps and goes faster as you cross the Atlantic. Climate and humidity play a huge part in a spirit’s maturation in cask, causing evaporation and concentration of the liquid inside. In the cooler climes of Scotland, you might hear this evaporated liquid referred to as ‘the Angel’s Share’. It tends to happen with less rapidity than ‘the Duppy’s Share’ in the tropical heat and humidity of the Caribbean (see, told you we’d get to the name). George gives the scenario of ageing some rum for five years – one barrel in Scotland, one barrel in Barbados. The Caribbean-aged rum would have more to offer in terms of characteristic change imparted by the cask during that time frame, including increased complexity, and mellowness.
The brand, the name, and its overall message certainly wouldn’t have as much grounding if it were distilled in the UK. “That Caribbean outlook – life, music, sunshine” are imparted in the “very distilled version of the Caribbean that is rum.” Rather than ascending to heaven with the angels in Scotland, folklore has it that spirits known as duppies steal rum from the cask in the Caribbean. “That really got me hypnotised,” George excitedly tells me. His favourite part of the legend is that these fun-loving island spirits would go off with their haul to enjoy “the most incredible parties”. What better way to stay grounded than to summon your inner duppy? “Within all of that is everything – seizing the moment, bringing people together, having a great time.”
“To revolutionise the category, you’ve got to premiumise the category”
The ‘rum boom’ has been much talked about. We prefer rum revolution. Whatever you call it, rum is here! It’s here to stay, it’s here to grow. A boom? We prefer. Duppy Share cites Hendrick’s as an aspirational brand within its category, but when I ask George more about this, it’s clear his inspiration spreads further than just the gin boom. “In a business growth sense, we say we want to do to rum what Hendrick’s did to gin… Casamigos for Tequila and you know, Grey Goose, Belvedere or Absolut [for vodka]… and definitely the consistent factor between all of those is premiumisation.”
It seems to be a matter of making the right kind of waves – and assessing where the brand will sit among others in the category. “It’s almost that, to revolutionise the category, you’ve got to premiumise the category.” George elaborates, “I’d hope people say Duppy is more premium, more exciting or relevant, more current than the likes of Bacardi and Captain Morgan. But we’re never going to try and out-premium, you know, Mount Gay Black Barrel or older expressions of Appleton and things like that.”
Seven simple aims
When it comes to scaling up successfully, many aspects come into play. Branding, marketing, investment and distribution are all factors, and George has created a kind of shopping list of important aims when it comes to growing a brand. “I would say then a very simple seven is ‘look’, ‘taste’, ‘price point’, ‘individual sites’, ‘group of sites’, ‘grocery’, and then ‘national’. There you go. Seven. I never remember when I say”
Something that George is emphatic about is the importance of brand awareness, versatility, and recognition among consumers, not just regionally but nationally (and even internationally). “Cheesy as it sounds, I genuinely believe if you show me a bar that doesn’t have Duppy Share in it, I’ll show you it’s a bar that should because I think that we still have a really, really great uniqueness in our product.”
Why should consumers care about concepts like “premium” when it comes to rum?
George is certainly an ambassador for and lover of rum as a category, as well as owning a brand within it. “Right at the beginning, I backed the fact that rum was going to grow, whether that’s in terms of volume or of people talking about it, and I suppose that has definitely happened. So that makes me feel incredibly proud.” With Duppy Share, he’s keen to bridge the gap in the spectrum of rum drinkers by offering an optimum balance of price and quality. “I mean, what we found quite quickly, is that if you’re a gin drinker, it’s incredibly hard to ‘convert you’ into a rum drinker.” Instead, Duppy Share is angled at rum drinkers looking to scale their premium up or down to that sweet, relevant, and fun spot.
“This rum is not the one that you are forced to have because it’s the cheapest. Here is a rum that is incredible value for money, but doesn’t require all the money in the world. So without wanting to be all things to all people and (that’s actually why we launched the other lines), we feel that that’s the joy of rum – to be able to connect those two types of consumer again.” So while the word “premium” still remains in my dictionary of words you probably won’t find me overusing in relation to spirits, I may actually take it a bit more seriously when I see it on a menu, or bottle shelf.