Two Hong-Kong based Bahamian entrepreneurs are seeking to “ramp up” their rum distribution business within the next six months, as they aim to capitalize on Asia’s growing interest in premium and fine spirits.
Bahamians Shane Stuart and Andre Carey, co-directors of Caripelago Trading, which was founded 18 months ago, said they have been surprised by the reception to their line of Caribbean rum offerings, which include Blackwell Rum from Jamaica, English Harbor from Antigua and St. Nicholas Abbey, a 350 year-old spirit from Barbados.
The duo said they were looking to “ride the wave” of growing demand for high-end spirits in Asia, drawing on the commercialization of rum in the Caribbean.
The duo, who have branded themselves, ‘The Rhum Boys’, purveyors of fine rum, acknowledge there was a limited knowledge about rums in Asia beyond the likes of Bacardi, and they are moving to create a rum society and facilitate rum tastings.
The former financiers set up their company along with another Bahamian, Ricardo Bowleg, who is based in Jamaica, to exclusively distribute premium Caribbean rums in Asia. They already have distributions in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.
“The idea is to introduce Caribbean products, starting with rum, and see where it goes from there. When we traveled to the Bahamas we would buy some rums and bring them back. Our friends would always want to know where they could get some. We took it on as a business idea,” said Mr Stuart.
“We had been talking for years about what we could do in Asia. One of things we decided was we needed to play to our strengths. In Asia, especially China, given the growing middle class and disposable income, we decided that we needed to find products to meet that demand,” Mr Carey said.
“We always appreciated rum and realized that there was a growing appreciation in this region for fine spirits. We also realized that there was a distinct lack of knowledge about rum in particular, and we wanted to address that.”
Mr Stuart said the company was looking to capitalize on the growing interest in fine spirits. “There is a trend. People are getting into it and we are capitalizing on that interest. If you can bring quality rums to Asia, they are receptive to it, women and men,” said Mr Stuart.
Mr Carey added: “There is a desire for unique products. A lot of the top bartenders in Hong Kong are keen to have unique products behind their bar. Bartenders are coming to us and saying they want something special.
“What we have found quite surprising has been the reception from the retail customers. There isn't a huge knowledge base about rum in the region. We try to do tastings for retail customers and private individuals. A lot of liquor sales in Hong Kong is done on the retail level, but in bulk. Retail buyers like to buy particularly for gifting purposes. They all want the unique thing.”
Mr Stuart described the company’s growth strategy as conservative, noting that they were taking time to familiarize consumers with its offerings.
“The knowledge base here is non-existent,’ he said. “It’s going to take time to build up that knowledge base, get people familiar with the different styles of rum, the tastes, the history behind it and then we will see where we are.
“It’s fair to say that we have been surprised by the reception, and we may have to ramp up what we are doing over the next six months.”
He explained that the company has been doing business with a number of highly regarded food and beverage groups and hotels, with all food and beverage groups in Hong Kong tending to have 20 or more restaurants and bars in their portfolios.
“We currently have contracts with three such groups, and will be adding a few more in the coming weeks. As for the hotel groups, these tend to have hotels/restaurants/bars throughout Hong Kong/Kowloon, as well as Macau and regionally. We have recently signed with two groups that have properties in Hong Kong/Kowloon as well as throughout the region,” said Mr Stuart.
He added that the company was always open to new products, with a key focus on the Caribbean. “We feel that as far as rum is concerned, the story is more plausible if you are getting it from the Caribbean. We’re open, always open, to any product as long as they’re in the Caribbean.”
Mr Carey said: “We are starting to see a lot more brands come to us. We are clearly interested in promoting any product that comes out of our country. We have been speaking to various brands. There are people doing interesting things in the Bahamas as well. We also want to bring this back home. There is a place for some premium spirits in the Bahamas.”
Mr Carey added that the company matches the taste profiles of cigars with their rums. “One of the things that we know naturally goes with rum is a good cigar. Typically, what we have found in Asia is that people will have a whisky with their cigar or cognac with their cigars,” he said.
“We pair it with a rum and that is because a rum and a cigar is a much better pairing than any other brown spirit. If it grows together, it goes together. Sugar grows right down the road from cigars. They share the same soil and they share the nutrients, so naturally there is an affinity there.
“As we started to introduce people to high end rum as a natural pairing to cigars, they have been blown away. Some rums have a slightly sweet tinge to it that actuality compliments the more peppery notes you’re going to get from a cigar. In Asia, one of the big things people go for here is the cigar. We naturally want to align ourselves with the cigar groups.”