An Interview with Alexander Kong (Worthy Park Estate, Jamaica)

Interview Worthy Park Rum ReviewOur latest interview is with Alexander Kong (pictured in the grey jacket, alongside Gordon Clarke Co-Managing Director) who is the Export Sales Manager for the recently resurrected Worthy Park Distillery.

As you will see from the answers in this interview, since their re-birth in 2005 Worthy Park are determined to do things the right way.  Their return to rum production after almost 50 years in the wilderness couldn’t have been more timely.  Authentic Caribbean rum is becoming more sought after and valued by both casual rum drinkers and in particular with more seasoned rum conisseurs and aficionados.

Traditional Jamaican rum is enjoying a bit of renaissance and as this interview will reveal you have probably been enjoying rum from this company without even realising……

Q1.  Worthy Park is one of the oldest and most respected distillers in Jamaica.  Why has it taken so long for Worthy Park branded rum to hit UK stores as opposed to only in other blends?

You are 100% correct; Worthy Park was established in 1670 and has been commercially cultivating sugar (unabated) since 1720.  There is actually historical in the Spanish town Archives (Spanish Town is the capital and the largest town in the parish of St. Catherine in the county of Middlesex, Jamaica) that shows rum being produced at Worthy Park as early as 1741.  That is years before any currently operating distillery. That being said, after World War 2 there was an over supply of Jamaican rum in the market. With the over supply forcing prices down, the Spirit’s Pool Association of Jamaica met with the distillers and in agreement with them we stopped distilling rum in the 1960’s.

In 2004, after the decision was made to build a brand new, state-of-the-art distillery we officially re-entered the rum market in 2005. We were essentially “out of business” for almost 4 decades. Upon re-entering the strategy was taken that we could immediately sell our bulk rum to others, which would give us time to develop and build our own brands.RUMBAR

Three years after opening, we were ready to launch our White Overproof rum, Rum-Bar Rum, in Jamaica as it is a product most preferred by the local market. We developed other brands thereafter, including Rum-Bar Gold, and Rum-Bar Rum Cream. We always felt that it was most important for us to establish our brands locally before exploring the international markets. We wanted to be known as a brand with “substance” in our back yard, before venturing abroad as Jamaican rum!

Q2.  What segment of the market are you hoping to squeeze into? The UK market is very competitive and dominated by the global giants

The rum market is dominated globally by a handful of very strong brands. That being said we consider ourselves purveyors of rums that are different than the current market leaders. Jamaica is famous for creating rum with a specific taste and flavor profile. The traditional pot still method made Jamaican rum famous for being heavy bodied and full flavoured.

We are continuing this tradition and maintaining this standard by distilling rum that is completely un-adulterated due to our adherence with to the Caribbean Rum Standard with no additives (other than some caramel for color consistency and water).

We intend to be in the UK as top quality rum at an affordable price with the versatility of being able to being enjoyed at home while relaxing or in a cocktail for a night on the town.

Q3.  Do you sense a change in attitudes around the world to rum? In particular to more authentic rums rather than the additive laden “premium” rums?

Yes. It is evident in some markets more than others but you can feel that the mindset of what defines “rum” is changing. Coming off the heels of RumFest, UK in London (Oct-2015), the feedback from not only industry insiders but also consumers is that a product’s authenticity is a huge influence on a consumers buying decision. You see it in other areas of the spirit and alcohol industry as well and I do believe a lot of it has to do with the proliferation of not only the internet but with the advent of social media and it’s influence on the younger generations.

A couple of decades ago, there was a shift to wanting to be “mainstream” and being part of the crowd was seen as the way to be “cool and accepted”. What you are seeing now is that consumers are yearning for the story behind the brands, what makes the brand original, unique and differentiates itself from the competitors. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s product will be different in some form, but what you are finding is that what really makes you different is if you can put out a relevant product while managing to stay true to your heritage, history and tradition.

WORTHYPARKFIELDI digress a bit, but bringing it back to Worthy Park, there are many producers out there who have zero control over their raw material inputs; some don’t even know the source of their raw materials. We can proudly stand behind the our product and say we are the epitome of authenticity because we grow our own sugar cane, we produce our own molasses, we do our own fermentation, use only our pot stills for distillation, blend, bottle and brand 100% of our products. Plus, we have over 9,000 barrels of rum aging up to 10 years old. So, we control every aspect of production and believe by maintain that control and emphasis on quality, we do not need any additives to make a premium rum!

It helps the story that we are the oldest and longest established sugar estate in Jamaica; and easy to find being that the estate is 10,000 acres pretty much dead center in the middle of Jamaica.

Q4.  Dunder Pits are rarely spoken of but how important are Dunder pits to Jamaican rum?

While a fun story to talk about, to clarify, less than 10% of Jamaican rum involves fermentation from Dunder pits. Worthy Park does not use Dunder pits in our production nor do we feel it is necessary to produce a good quality Jamaican rum. Now, we do produce high ester rum for blending purposes exclusively for our Rum-Bar Rum; but this involves a very lengthy three-month culture development process.

With this high ester rum and our commitment to the Pot Still distillation method, we feel that we do have the most important factors covered in producing traditional Jamaican rum.

Q5.  You recently exhibited at the UK Rumfest.  How was the response to your rums?

It was a long time coming. Since 2007, we have experienced tremendous success with the “Rum-Bar” brand in Jamaica. Add to that the positive response we have been getting globally through our Bulk Rum production and you could say that it was overwhelmingly positive.

For those that are familiar with the traditional Jamaican rums, we were able to provide some familiarity and a taste they might not have had in a while. For the customers who were experiencing our expressions for the first time, it was a mostly (pleasant) surprise. Rum-Bar Rum, while very strong at 63%, I was actually shocked at the amount of people that choose to drink it “neat”, but received a lot of surprise that after the initial burst of flavor, it is a smooth drinking rum that doesn’t leave an unpleasant aftertaste.

The Gold stood out for people much as we discussed before, that even though there are no additives it is still rum they like to drink on its own without having to add cola or another chaser to it. It’s always fun as well to talk about the age statement on the labels for Caribbean rums versus others worldwide (being that Caribbean standards state that any age statement is of the YOUNGEST age in the blend).

Far and wide though the biggest surprise for customers was on the Rum Cream. The expectation that people had was for a drink that is very creamy and with a muted rum taste. Our Rum-Cream uses 100% real cream but the use of our Rum-Bar Rum is able to cut through and actually let’s you enjoy the rum in the Rum Cream!

Q6.  Your partnership with the Duppy Share has produced a fantastic blended rum (mixed with some great Bajan rum from Foursquare) what other products may our readers have been drinking without realising they were tasting Worthy Park rum? 

Since our first batch of rum came off of the pot still we have been selling un-aged (and followed shortly by aged) rum through a bulk rum broker for further blending. There are a lot of rum distilleries in the world and it was an absolute honor to see how many brands at RumFest have chosen to use our liquid in their blends and products. It really is the highest compliment to the quality of our rums.

Speaking specifically about Duppy Share, at the RumFest, it was the first time we wereALEXKONGWORTHYPARKSIGN able to experience the rum itself. Richard Seale from Foursquare is a genius when it comes to his rums, so having our rum be chosen to be blended with his then ultimately chosen by the gang at Duppy share is very humbling. They did a fantastic job and came out with a great brand.

There are some great products that use our blends, some of which you know about as they very proudly state they use Worthy Park example, Mezan, Bristol Spirits, Velier just came out with a great expression and earlier this year Bacardi came out with a Single Cane Estate Rums line featuring Worthy Park. There are others but I’ll leave it to them to announce where they get their rum from .

Q7.  Are there any producers/distillers that you take inspiration from? When you aren’t sipping Worthy Park rums what kind of rum is popular amongst the staff at Worthy Park?

Of course, when not drinking Worthy Park rums, we are drinking rums like Duppy Share and Mezan – rums using our blends of course.  I cannot speak for all of the staff at Worthy Park but personally speaking Appleton estate is the market leader in Jamaica and produces a good quality rum so that is what was in my cup. However, since Worthy Park came out it’s only Rum-Bar for me!

Q8.  Finally where do you see the Rum World in another five years time? Do you feel the increase in awareness of what is actually going into many rums (sugar and other additives) will force a change in how producers think and consumer perception?

If I were to compare the rum market to a riding a bike, I’d say right now we are transitioning between riding a tricycle and moving to big-kid bike with training wheels. LOL. The shift away from the sweet, rum and coke style drinks is starting to happen but we are not at the point yet of mainstream acceptance of the heavy bodied, full flavoured, no additive rums.

WORTHY PARK DISTILLERYNow, there is always going to be a market for the sweet, mixed rums with less esters and a lighter taste profile; but I do think there will be a greater number of people looking for a sipping rum that they can drink neat or on the rocks. Rum is so versatile; consumers just haven’t caught up with its versatility as yet. Just look at the Whisky industry. For every neat scotch being drank there is someone having a honey-bourbon shooter!

We are committed to the Caribbean rum standard, which allows no additives (without declaration) other than caramel and water and have no plans on changing this down the line. With this commitment and authenticity, our control of our supply chain, we are comfortable that our uniqueness in the market will lead to our success internationally.

So there you go quite a story and a testament to the way attitudes to rum are perhaps changing for the better!

 

 

 

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