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If Your Rum Can Make It In Singapore, Your Rum Can Make It Anywhere: A Chat With The Rum Cartel's Honcho & Rum Scene's Go-To Rum Guy, Frederic Langlois

 

A private tasting event of Neisson's Rhums organised by The Rum Cartel.

 

When someone in the local rum scene murmurs ambiguously, "I know a guy who knows a guy," Frederic Langlois is nine times out of ten either one of those said guys. He’s something of an elusive character to a casual drinker – he doesn’t sell rums, doesn’t run a bar, and doesn’t represent a brand. Yet, despite his low profile, he’s on first-name basis with the owners of the world’s most sought-after rums and friendly with the all acclaimed spirits bars. You may catch a glimpse of him slipping between VIP tastings and organising spirits events while sporting his signature panama hat.

Frederic is the man behind The Rum Cartel – a private club in Singapore that boasts one of the region's largest collections of rare rums. For four years, they've hosted meticulously curated rum appreciation events, with tastings that focus on coveted independent bottlings, exclusive releases, legendary distilleries, and up-and-coming rum producers from intriguing new rum regions.

 

 

I've gotten to know Frederic after attending several events organised by him. Jokes and hyperbole aside, Frederic really does have on speed dial the living rum luminaries of today – Luca Gargano (Velier SpA), Richard Seale (Foursquare Distillery), Gregory Vernant (Neisson Distillery), you name it. Yet, if you speak to him, you’ll realise that what makes him special isn't his ability to name-drop, but rather his warmth and genuine love for people, matched only by his knowledge and extensive collection. And with a wink and a nod, he’ll open doors to experiences that most rum lovers only dream of.

Frederic's been promising me an interview for ages. We finally found time for it last month. And instead of meeting at a bar, he invited me to his personal liquor storage ­– a veritable treasure trove of coveted bottles – for a drink and a chat.

 

 

As we settled into the comfortable surrounds of his rum haven, we delved into current trends, like the surge in popularity of high-ester rums with their bold, funky flavours and the ever-more exotic cask maturations that distilleries are experimenting with. We identified the underrated gems of the rum world – distilleries rapidly gaining a cult following – and how these shifts can create some opportunity for rum lovers and collectors seeking out the next big thing.

And of course, with Frederic’s base in Singapore, we couldn't ignore the city's growing status as a hotbed for new premium rum brands seeking to gain a foothold in Asia. Frederic shared his insights on what makes Singapore so attractive for these up-and-coming producers.

Let’s get to it! 

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To learn more about joining The Rum Cartel: Official Website

It’s unfortunate that you see some great releases today that people never try, never drink, and they just collect and keep it. So I have the club where it's all about tasting, it's all about events, it's all about discovering together and hopefully following up with an opportunity to purchase.

[88B]: Hi Frederic! Thank you for having us over at your space! You’ve amassed an incredible collection of rum that goes beyond simply that of a collector, but it’s really giving off the vibe of someone who truly appreciates the craft, the history and context behind the bottles, and just someone who really loves rums through and through.

So perhaps for a start, could you give us a little introduction of yourself?

[Frederic]: Absolutely. I've been living in Singapore since 1998, so it's coming to 26 years. My wife is Singaporean, and I started off my career in banking, which, in about 2009, I decided was not going to be my retirement job. So I slowly took a step to get closer to my passions, and I did a couple of things in between. I ran an APAC startup that did social media for the hospitality industry. Then I moved to India for a couple of years, while my wife was staying here, and I had a Mexican restaurant in Mumbai. That's another topic in itself. And then I came back in 2017, and that's where I started to get into rum.

I was observing a little bit of what was happening in other countries, particularly in the US and Western Europe, and seeing a lot of clubs, regional clubs taking shape and rising all across Europe. And I thought, okay, that would be interesting to have something like that in Singapore, because there were none that were at least public or known. Perhaps in Japan, there are some similar initiatives, but I guess they are specific for the Japanese market.

That's when I started discovering rum. I started tasting more and came up with the idea of setting up a rum club in 2018. So it came to six years now and all of that, stepping back, it brought me closer to my passion.

 

Frederic (in them middle), carousing with some of the most renowned makers and bottlers in the fine rums world – Neisson's Gregory Vernant (1st from left), Foursquare's Richard Seale (2nd from left), The First Pour's Derrick Quek (3rd) and Velier's Luca Gargano (last person).

 

[88B]: So were you passionate about the drinks industry in general, or was it mainly the spirits industry? How does rum get you closer to that?

[Frederic]: I'm quite a foodie. I do like to eat. I like to cook. I probably started off earlier buying a little bit of wine and a bit of champagne. Like everyone, I moved on to whisky, and I'm still interested and do drink whisky, but now not as regularly as rum, obviously.

 

 

I wanted that journey to continue and to really discover a new spirit that was starting to rise again and which had a lot of diversity, with a lot of origins, a lot of rules from each country of production, and so much diversity of flavours. So I started off with what I guess everybody starts off with here in Singapore, the brands that are quite well represented being Diplomático, Havana Club, Bacardi and Plantation – which is Planteray Rum now.

I started with that and then obviously kept digging and went through my own little rum discovery journey. But I think rum provides so much emotion. It represents the islands, the water, the sun. It's a huge part of culture for a lot of these producing countries. Whether it's drunk neat, whether it's in a cocktail, you have so many flavours coming onto the palate and so many experiences. So I think it's limitless, the experiences you can have with rum, particularly as new distilleries and new independent bottlers, new blenders also rise and offer more and more products and experiences.

I don’t just buy a cask and sell it to [my members]; we all go in together.If there are six people, ten people, or twenty, we divide the cask accordingly. Everybody tastes, and if they want to be in, they're in.

[88B]: Also we’re well aware that you’re on Whatsapp basis with the likes of some of rum’s greats from Luca of Velier, to Richard from Foursquare and Gregory of Neisson – more on that later. So how did you first get into rums, and what is it about rums that inspire in you such passion?

[Frederic]: It's not WhatsApp for everyone, right? *Laughs* Some are on WhatsApp, some Facebook, some email, some Instagram. Each rum maker has his own preferred way of communicating.

I think the fact that we're the only rum club in Singapore, helped gain a little bit of interest in what we're doing, because just like other industries, the global spirits industry is quite interested in what's happening in APAC due to the market opportunities it represents. Naturally, we came to discover the more premium rums, the rums that we really like to drink. And that brought us to also, based on what we can find and source locally, because that was my main initial process into sourcing bottles. It would have been indeed Velier, La Maison, Foursquare, Neisson. These are the brands, the premium brands that we can find locally. Also there were big festivals like Whisky Live that brought these people into town.

 

Taken at an Appleton Rum and cocktail masterclass held at Campari's private bar for The Rum Cartel members.

 

It was an opportunity to meet them. That was step one. I think what was also difficult, but turned into an opportunity for us, was actually COVID. With a lot of these rum makers were not able to travel, they became quite active online to do a lot of online masterclasses. That’s probably how we started off our classes and our relationship with them which was through online classes during COVID for The Rum Cartel.

After meeting them in person at events like Whisky Live Singapore, we at The Rum Cartel speak to them, tell them what we're doing, as the members of the club are also going through their own rum discovery journey. They're moving towards more premium products. And of course, the palates are different. Some people gravitate towards Foursquare quite early on because of the blending expertise, Velier because of the rarity aspect, the diversity of profiles, the focus on single origin and tropical aging. Then, what came into play, but only maybe in the last three years, was the investment opportunity. That also has driven people to collect earlier releases or smaller releases.

 

Thanks to his connections, Frederic and members of The Rum Cartel received exclusive previews of new bottle releases as the Foursquare Raconteur before they were available to the public. 

 

We want to share that passion with the makers themselves, although not all of them, I understand, appreciate the speculation that has been happening with a lot of their rums. They want their rums to be appreciated, to be drunk. It’s unfortunate that you see some releases today that people never try, never drink, and they just keep it. So I have the club where it's all about tasting, it's all about events, it's all about discovering together and hopefully following up with an opportunity to purchase, should there be enough volume or stock made available. 

“Keep in mind that Singapore has always been a bit of a different market because it's very small, but very sophisticated. Not all brands will come in and be successful here, but there's a lot to look forward to.

[88B]: As a side question, could you tell us about your signature This Panama hat that you’ll always be wearing at the events?

[Frederic]: That's the thing. When you work in rum, you can be a little bit more casual than when you work in other industries.

 

 

I do like to wear Panama hats, not only the one with The Rum Cartel, but a few others. I have to thank a great Panama hat shop in Singapore called Hat of Cain. The owner, Bill, is a friend of mine. He's also a cigar and rum lover. So whenever I feel I need to refresh my hats, I just go down to his shop in Joo Chiat and make an appointment, do a couple of tries, and then he can do some form of personalization. So I thought it'd be nice to at least have one that has the name of the club. For the others, they're just plain. And sometimes I put a pin of one of the distilleries that was given to me to decorate it a little bit.

 

Run by Bill Cain, the Hat of Cain hat salon in Joo Chiat offers a wide selection of classic Panama hat styles for both men and women.

 

[88B]: You’re the frontman of The Rum Cartel, one of the region’s most exclusive private rum club.

You mentioned to me that it started in 2018. How did the club come about? We’ve also heard that unlike most member’s clubs that pretty much take anyone in hand over fist, The Rum Cartel has an informal vibe check – tell us about that!

[Frederic]: It took me about a year to see that maybe there was an opportunity to develop some form of activities and have a social angle to my rum discovery.

Our vibe check is very informal. Because the club is not too big, it allows us to really have an individual and personal relationship with every one of the members. My only criteria, since it's an event-based club, is that we just have people who are normally curious, friendly, and want to learn, and just in general, not overly showy—perhaps just somebody who's going to fit in and make sure that everybody gets along at all the events. That's, for me, a good event. I just provide a venue, I provide educational and drinking elements. The whole balance of the event and its success always involves the members. The fact that they consider themselves part of a big family, that they come by themselves without their partners, that they stay on after the event, and just feel comfortable, and everybody's becoming friends with each other. So that's more the aspect to keep that family growing.

 

A Flor de Caña rum tasting with The Rum Cartel.

 

We have a lot of diversity as well. In terms of origins of the members, we do have slightly more males than females, and about the same number of locals versus foreigners, but 98% are Singapore-based, because our events are Singapore-based. So we have one or two cases of members who used to be in Singapore, relocated somewhere else, but because they travel back regularly, they're able to attend some of the events.

Every distillery should produce according to their history. One of the objectives is to achieve sales, so you might find a core product that generates a bit more volume. I think high ester rums are fantastic. They're truly wild experiences, but perhaps not the rums you're going to have throughout the entire evening.

[88B]: You’ve ran The Rum Cartel for over 4 years now. How would you say the club and membership has evolved over the years?

[Frederic]: The club was launched exactly four and a half years ago. I think people who have been drinking for a couple of years have evolved both in terms of their sophistication and interest in discovering new distilleries.

While our members have become more sophisticated, those who have been with us from the start may have become a little bit more selective about which events they attend, whereas the new members are very excited both for the social element and for the rum discovery, so they tend to come very early on to a lot of the events. When we have rum makers coming from Laos, Reunion Island, or Vietnam, these are still quite fresh and new rums in the market. There is an appetite to discover and try new things.

 

Frederic has recently played host to Laodi Rum from Laos for a showcase in Singapore with The Rum Cartel.

 

We try to maintain diversity. We’ve done white rum neat tastings, obviously dark rums as well. What also helps to continue gathering interest from the members is the fact that now we work quite well with the brands. So the brands, when they have lesser stocks or when they don’t plan to do a big launch, will do a preview or a pre-launch with The Rum Cartel. We’ve done it with Havana Club, Mount Gay, and Plantation. We get a bit of a preview, which is a benefit for the members, and that’s also something they particularly enjoy.

[88B]: Do you have in mind what the next phase of The Rum Cartel would be?

[Frederic]: Good question. We've already taken some activities which we are exploring whether we're going to continue further. First, one obvious activity is doing our own bottling for the members. When we select a cask and we have enough interest within the club, then we'll bottle that cask under The Rum Cartel, with the purpose being to share it within the club, not to be commercialised or shipped anywhere else for sales.

We've started; we plan to do another one this year: distillery visits. We've done Cambodia’s Samai this year. We're probably going to do Vietnam’s Sampan, starting with regional visits because it's a little easier to organize. But there are a lot of great distilleries in the region, so why not maybe also visit Philippines’ Luisita in the months or year to come, and then perhaps later down the road, venture all the way to the Caribbean? That would be great.

 

 

Smaller rum distilleries cannot afford to do as many [cask] experiments… Neisson has maybe 800 casks, which is tiny. And when your rum is in such high demand and aged rum takes a lot of time, you can only experiment selectively.

[88B]: Now going back to the heart of the topic here – that is the rums. Do you recall what has been some of the most pivotal expressions for you that have shaped how you thought about the cane spirit, or has ignited such fervour in you that keeps you going?

[Frederic]: I think the answer is in the question itself. Because of the diversity of rums, you never know what to expect. And you can be surprised by any bottle. We understand how to read a label and see whether because of its origin, ABV, or the cask in which it was aged, there are going to be some aromas and profiles that are more likely to impress you. But the whole journey has been to find interest in products wherever they come from and whatever stage of production they are in. It’s not just because you’ve enjoyed Caroni that you won’t find pleasure in drinking a young Sampan rhum or young agricole products from great origins like the Savanna Distillery in Reunion Island. They are not subject to Geographical Indications, they can use molasses and sugarcane juice, which makes for interesting releases.

 

Apart from the mainstays of the rum world, The Rum Cartel's extensive collection includes rums of more eclectic origins such as from Hawaii, Seychelles, Réunion Island, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan. 

 

It's also interesting to see what's happening in other markets. Asia, still very much a single cask operating market, but many European countries, and Italy have been famous for the art of blending - blending casks, obviously. E&A Scheer in Amsterdam - it's their whole business model. But I think blends can be quite interesting as well to discover new experiences. Whites, especially from Neisson, are absolutely amazing. More and more distilleries in Martinique are producing bio (organic rhums), which is a very commendable effort, although I know there is a high cost associated with it.

 

 

White rums from Jamaica, high ester pot still, the long fermentation from Foursquare, the LFT white, are really fantastic products. The Clairins from Haiti, River Antoine Distillery from Grenada. There's just a lot of experiences in white that made me start to drink neat white rums. And not only in a cocktail or in a daiquiri. As for the age, through drinking over a period of time, you're going to find that for full tropical aging, an ideal age is from 12 to 20. That's probably still fine. Beyond that, it’s going to get a little more woody, a little more astringent. You come across some distilleries which have had some very interesting vintages.

 

 

I like TDL, especially those from 2003, Bellevue from 1998, New Yarmouth 1994, Monymusk from 1995. There’s a lot of Caroni 1997. So, I think you come to some vintages that maybe you will particularly look for if you're looking to get the best of that expression.

 

 

[88B]: One of the biggest trends as of late has been for rum lovers to chase the ester – it’s been a real game of chicken for distilleries to bottle marques that toe the line of what is at times a legal limit, as is the case with Jamaican rums, and also drinkability. Yet another big trend has been the breaking down of rums produced by any one distillery into their individual marques, providing access to single marque expressions. These trends sometimes seem to outweigh the aspect where distilleries focus on creating a signature style or iconic profile – and vis-à-vis, drinkers today seem to care less about appreciating that aspect as well. What do you make of this?

[Frederic]: I think, first of all, every distillery should produce according to their history. One of the objectives is to achieve sales, so you might find a core product that generates a bit more volume. I think high ester rums are fantastic. They're truly wild experiences, but perhaps not the rums you're going to have throughout the entire evening. It's not the rum you'll have two, three, or four glasses of in a row. It's quite niche. In my rum journey, I think the highest ester rums come second to the last category of rums that people discover. They're very interesting for high impact, high emotions, they’re hair-pulling. There’s a bit of a geeky element, too, where you go for the highest ABV and the highest marque. I think it's an interesting experience. Some of these bottles are must-haves in a collection.

Yet I also believe the ones you're going to return to more regularly will have a good amount of aging, a bit of funkiness, but not too much. A good high ABV, but not, you know, 70%. There's a sweet spot that everyone finds. High esters are part of that discovery journey. And if some people focus solely on them, that's absolutely fine by me if that’s where they find their joy.

A true collector is never fully satisfied; there's always something missing, always more we could have done. We often think about things we could have gotten earlier but didn't; there should not be regrets, as decisions were made based on budget and availability then.

[88B]: And that aside, what are some of the trends you’re most excited about with rums, or that you think we should watch closely?

[Frederic]: Obviously, the diversification in the wood used for aging is exciting. We’ve seen a lot with cognac, bourbon, whisky, peated whisky, Mizunara casks, amburana casks, and wine casks, both white and red. Experimentation is good, but it doesn’t always work. So when they release a product, you must not assume that their first attempt is always a success. Plus, you have the production rules in some countries that limit how much experimentation can be done, at least if they want to keep the appellation.

We're going to find interesting flavours, but it's got to be done right. New distilleries often have difficulty sourcing quality casks. When you're a big name like Neisson, Velier, or Foursquare, you know where to source. You've been working for many years on these casks. The quality is going to be great. When you're young and there’s a shortage in the industry, you take what you're given, and it might not be the best cask, or you might need to leave it longer in the cask to get the desired aroma. That's the beauty of it.

With sherry casks being used a lot, it appeals to whisky drinkers, as does smoky whisky cask and continental aging. Now, there are rums infused with botanicals, almost similar to gins. And a lot of people say agricoles have notes similar to mezcal—herbal and fresh. So, it really can appeal to every consumer of every spirit and look interesting.

[88B]: In the whisky scene, it’s been very fashionable for whisky makers to dabble into exotic cask maturations and finishes. Why do you think we don’t see more exotic casks used with rums?

[Frederic]: First of all, I think sugarcane is already somewhat exotic in itself. Like I mentioned, a major limitation is sourcing for experimentation. Some woods leak a lot, so if you're going to lose much more of your liquid during the aging process, then maybe it doesn't make sense to use them on a large scale. I think if you visit distilleries, you'll probably find that there have been many experiments and attempts, but they may not have made it to commercialization yet. But I believe there should be no limit to exploring.

However, it ultimately comes down to how much time you allocate to your own research for the purpose of experimentation versus producing, increasing, or improving your core range to ensure that you become more premium with older aging expressions that resonate more with the consumer. So, it’s probably that balance between the two.

But with whisky being finished in rum casks and rum being finished in whisky casks, the difference in experience when sipping neat becomes more minor. One is barley, one is sugarcane, but they both go through fermentation, distillation, and aging in casks that impart flavors. The processes are really similar. And surprisingly, you will have rum drinkers who say they don’t like whisky. You could surprise them with a whisky that has a finish in a rum cask. And more commonly, whisky drinkers who say they don’t drink rum because it’s too sweet might be surprised by rums that are now made with no added sugar, very dry. Like I said, if it’s continentally aged and not in too funky a cask, then you can really have an experience similar to whisky.

 

 
Artisanal rhum distilleries such as Martinique's Neisson face a disproportionately larger market demand than their capacity to produce rhum. This means that cask experimentations have to be done judiciously.

 

Smaller rum distilleries cannot afford to do as many experiments. For example, when you go to Barbados, most of the distilleries would have a stock of casks in the range of 40,000 to 50,000, which is massive. That allows a lot of opportunity to explore and try new things. When you go to smaller distilleries, like Samai, Sampan, or Neisson, it's a different story. Neisson has maybe 800 casks, which is tiny. And when your rum is in such high demand and aged rum takes a lot of time, you can only experiment selectively. Then again, you might get something very special. And, you know, Neisson has plans to probably release another Mizunara cask by the end of the year. That should be very interesting!

 

Taken during Frederic's visit to the well-known Rhum JM Distillery in Martinique.

 

[88B]: We see rums come out of many countries that were never rum producers or ever associated with rums. Some of the many producers in the region include Taiwan’s Renaissance, Vietnam’s Sampan, Laodi, Japan’s Nine Leaves, Philippines’ Luisita, India’s Amrut, and so many more.

You’ve been a huge supporter of rums coming out of Asia, often being the first to bring them into Singapore and going above and beyond where it comes to organising masterclasses for these producers to showcase their work, and also as we’ve heard, playing the role of a wonderful host to them for whatever time they have in the city. What drives you to take such a keen interest in them and to promote their work?

[Frederic]: First of all, I think the quality is very good. On top of running the club, I host rum chats here in Singapore for rum lovers and many brands, because one thing I don't do is distribution. They want to enter the Singapore market believing it's a good platform to perhaps next access the rest of Asia. So, I say, “Look, I can't help you with distribution, but I can organise an event.” And that's where I put on a second hat. We do tastings for the community, for rum lovers, and for professionals, independent bottlers, media, also distributors, and importers. We’ve done that with Laodi rum.

 

 

I think we have a lot of quality rum coming from the region, from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan. There's a new distillery that just started their first production of liquid this week, and it's going to produce agricole in a Müller still, which has the capacity to switch from pot to column. I know this because one of my members is setting this up in Okinawa. Then we have another member who has been working for quite some time to set up his own distillery in Fiji. Fiji, Vanuatu, and even Australia are also coming up with a lot of independent bottlers and a lot of rum.

It just represents the mood and the appetite for what consumers want to try. Keep in mind that Singapore has always been a bit of a different market because it's very small, but very sophisticated. Not all brands will come in and be successful here, but there's a lot to look forward to. And while I try to represent global brands in Singapore, I also think I need to showcase regional brands to the global brands. When around Whisky Live, I had Luca and Francesco from Velier in this office, and I managed to pass them a sample of Luisita because they had not tried it and wanted to.

“[Rum brands] want to come to Singapore because they believe that they will have access to the whole of Asia, but that is not necessarily true.

[88B]: There seems to be an Asian renaissance of rums – in regions that are not traditionally rum-producing. What do you think is behind this wave of producers coming forward in Asia?

How do you think these craft producers were able to develop the expertise to make outstanding rums despite not having a long history of rum production?

[Frederic]: I would expect that the main driving factor is local consumption, but I think every country would have different reasons for getting into rums. For India, I suspect that the tax level is quite high for a brand to enter that market, just like they did for wine. It makes sense for them to produce quality rum domestically and be more cost-efficient for sales locally. India is a huge whisky-drinking market, so there is no doubt that at some point, people will move beyond Old Monk Rum and start exploring, including those distilleries that already have success with whiskies.

 

Read our Philippine contributor's review of the Luisita Single Barrel (OR-1004) Philippine Rum here.

 

It seems like a natural extension for Luisita. In the Philippines, with Tanduay being one of the biggest producers and sellers, the palate is there; people are consuming rums. The question is, how much can Tanduay cater to the premium market, and can it cater to the single cask market? If not, then it makes complete sense that another local producer caters to that premium market.

Also, understand that it's always good to get some international recognition, either through award ceremonies or through some form of distribution. For instance, Singapore for Philippines’ rum producers. That's why Luisita is being distributed and represented in small scale. I think Vietnam’s Sampan is a great quality agricole rum. They also have high ABV and are experimenting with aging. I think they are already pretty much everywhere in Vietnam – you look in a lot of hotels, their rum would be present there. 

 

Read our review of Vietnam's Sampan Rhums here.

 

In terms of developing expertise, Laodi has actually been producing for at least ten years, except most of their production, like 90%, was going back to Japan because it's Japanese-owned. So they do have some experience. I think it is a challenge to define your style of rum and probably takes several rounds of sales and feedback from consumers and listening to the market to find out what your core product is going to be. But probably, it's hiring the expertise at the beginning in the form of permanent staff or through consultancy services to bring in the people that have been doing that for a long time.

Coming back to India, you’ll notice that a lot of Italian and French winemakers have gone to become consultants in these regions to give the best advice on how to produce wine. They help to optimise the distillation process, the fermentation, the aging, and the equipment. Then again, what will define your product and success will be how you price it and how your product range is able to cover the different markets that you want to target.

[88B]: What do you expect to see more from this region from both producers and consumers, and what are your thoughts on the Singapore rum market?

[Frederic]: Honestly, I think the distilleries in the region are moving quite fast. They are going in the direction of single cask, producing quality, and going with higher ABVs. So, I think they're naturally evolving at a pace that allows for new products to come naturally to the market without me having any particular requirements. Bigger format bottles would probably be interesting, maybe more magnums or more three-litre bottles. I think that would be more practical for events on my side.

 

Read here our rum contributor's review of the Silver Seal bottled Enmore EHP 1977, 32 Year Old from Auld Alliance.

 

The Singapore rum market has been doing very well for the last five years. There were three main players: Auld Alliance, Limehouse, and Sugarhall. Then a whole series of new bars came up, like Bar at 15 Stanford at Kempinski Hotel, and a bunch of others. Limehouse was doing well but unfortunately, it closed down not too long ago. Origin, obviously, is a big rum bar. So, I think Singapore is one of the most, if not the most interesting destinations in Asia for neat sipping spirits, not only rum but also whisky, and also for cocktails given the quality of the bartenders we have here.

 

Read here our contributor John's interview with Edriane, the manager of Bar at 15 Stanford at Kempinski Hotel.

 

But the market is small, saturated. Like I mentioned, there are not that many importers and distributors. The ones that are the bigger ones, traditionally representing multiple brands, are not taking any new brands at the moment. One or two came up and tried to take on some new brands, but they're having difficulty. The tax structure is also done in a way that if you buy a very decent Damoiseau Rhum in France for or 15 Euros, but it's a high ABV of 60%, by the time you reach here, it's going to be 100 to 130 Singapore dollars. So it does not make sense to bring in entry range or more affordable products. It makes more sense to bring in very premium products where the tax structure can easily be absorbed as part of the retail price. But it's good there're big festivals, including the wine festivals like ProWine that showcase some of the spirits.

People want to come to Singapore because they believe that they will have access to the whole of Asia, but that is not necessarily true. Every country has their own rules. Only one or two distributors here have a little bit of presence in other countries, but they're definitely not the main player in those other countries. So every country you want to go to, you need to build up a new relationship with a new importer and distributor. And it's not often that you select the right partner at the first attempt. You may switch to another one, and another one until perhaps it's a third one that you'll be happy with and then you can really look into growing that market. You also need budget to develop marketing for these markets. Singapore is a small but sophisticated market which will always have appetite for limited quantity releases. But not every rum is made for the Singapore market.

[88B]: And we hear that you will be organizing a rum weekend on the 26th to 28 July this year. So could you tell us more about the event? What can we look forward to?

[Frederic]: Well, thank you for asking. We're not calling it a festival; it’s going to be called the Rum & Roll Rendezvous, in reference to rum and cigars. We will provide four to five activities throughout the weekend associated with rums and cigars for those who are interested. On Friday the 26th July, we will have a salsa night, a Latin night, that will be sponsored by one rum brand. On Saturday afternoon, in the hotel lobby lounge, there will be a 'Meet the Rum Makers' session from 12 to 5 PM. This will include cocktails, some finger food, neat sipping, and some classes. Then from 6 to 10 PM, there will be a poolside party with a DJ, also featuring 'Meet the Rums' with some prizes to be won. 

 

On Sunday, we'll have brunch with a free flow of rum cocktails, featuring a single brand partner. All of these activities will be promoted on the Intercontinental website, and probably in May, people should be able to start buying tickets. It’ll be fun, well-priced, and based on activities rather than just a hall with mini stands where you stand around and taste all the rums in a ballroom-style format.

We're going to hopefully leverage the Intercontinental's membership-based clubs, food clubs, and distribution lists to really bring in new rum drinkers. Obviously, the established rum drinkers can look forward to some interesting rums. We have just finalized a list of brands that will participate with us, including two independent bottlers, which should be quite interesting. And then, just the logistics and the support of a five-star hotel, the Intercontinental in Bugis, will ensure it is well-organized, clean, and there will be food—yes, food to go along with everything.

[88B]: Going back to the incredibly expansive collection that The Rum Cartel holds, you seem to have a deep interest in particular rums – of course, no collection can exclude Trinidad’s Caroni, Barbados’ Foursquare and Jamaica’s Hampden – these are but staples of any serious collection – and yet you’ve been able to get your hands on incredibly rare expressions such as Hampden’s New Beginnings which was bottled only for the wedding of a notable family member from the distillery’s owners. Could you point out some of your rarest bottles from these otherwise well-known distilleries?

[Frederic]: Yeah, I'm happy to share about our collection. To start with the New Beginnings, this was indeed bottled for Christelle Harris’s wedding—she is the niece of Andrew Hussey, the director of Hampden Estate. I believe there were only 600 bottles produced, and it never officially made its way here. However, we managed to acquire two bottles directly from Christelle. We’re very grateful to her and hope she can visit Singapore soon, especially since she hasn't had the chance yet.

 

The aptly titled Hampden New Beginnings was bottled specially to celebrate the wedding of Christelle - the niece of Hampden Estate's owners.

 

Regarding Hampden, we also possess the full collection of the 26 bottles of Hampden’s Endemic Bird Series, which we consider quite special indeed.

We have a strong angle on Caroni, Velier bottlings and the old Demeraras as well. We don’t have complete collections, but we do have substantial quantities, including many magnums, and the oldest Caroni from 1974. We also have selections from Blairmont, Uitlvlugt, Diamond, and Albion. These are part of any serious collection, and we wish we had gotten more.

 

 

We have a strong interest in Neisson. We particularly admire the Neisson Tatanka release a lot. They're affordable, they're reasonably priced at the distillery, and the bottles are just beautiful. The Neisson XO Full Proofs are also excellent products. And of course, the older releases—the 15, the 18, the single cask, the Armada, the Mizunara cask, the Neisson Sasha, the Zetwals—are all amazing and very limited releases. We would tend to have at least one of these bottles.

 

 

We have many more bottles that we've tastd through our journey and we were lucky to kind of keep one of each. We have some of the old Silver Seals including a Silver Seal Demerara from 1977 that is simply exceptional. Our collection also includes all the Velier Foursquares and the Appleton series, such as the Appleton Joy, which is limited—the 30-year-old, the 17-year-old that just came out, the Appleton Decades, and the Appleton Heart collection. We’re fans of Mount Gay’s limited series, including the Mount Gay Single Origin, which was launched with The Rum Cartel, allowing us to keep a couple of bottles aside.

 

 

Then it's more about a bottle here, a bottle there. For instance, the Don Q Reserva De La Familia Serralles 20 Year Old, which won Best Rum in the Caribbean Rum Awards, and the Flor de Caña V Generaciones Rum. We also have KoHana from Hawaii—not extremely rare, but just very hard to get here—and some older Reimonenq from Guadeloupe. We rely on our traveling friends and friends of the club to procure them.

We have Plantation, obviously, including some of the old Plantation Extrême rums - the Extrême No. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. We're also quite proud of our Japanese bottle collection, which includes some Teedas. Amd other bottles for the Japanese market that we've brought back in luggage, fully declared, obviously, from our trips. I'm going there soon, so I look forward to bringing back some more.

A lot of independent bottlers: Caroni bottled for the European market retailers, a bit for the Taiwanese market, and a lot for the Singapore market, such as Auld Alliance, Mitch, Interco-MLE, and Malt Grain & Cane. We support all of these who are our friends in the industry.

Another one that we have a little bit more of is Nobilis – we really like what they do. We usually take two or three of each new release as they have some great origins. A little bit of Samaroli - they had some very interesting things in the past, so we've kept some of those.

Finally, we also have a little bit of whisky, mezcals and other spirits as well.

[88B]: How do you go about figuring whether something goes into the collection? How are you going about thinking about your collection?

[Frederic]: We need to remember that I wear two hats: I am both a collection builder and an event organiser. For an event, anything that can provide a nice experience can go into it. So my collection covers these two angles. It includes discoveries, new things that people haven't gotten to try yet, or maybe something like the Damoiseaus, where we had an event, so we got a bit of stock through, and we have a little left of that. For the rarer bottles, we do open them for special events, like when we have events with Gregory Vernant, Luca Gargano, or Richard Seale, then we'll open some of the more special and limited releases.

 

 

Now, in terms of sourcing, obviously, we get what we can locally, but because the demand is quite high, we've identified a network of retailers across Europe that ship to Singapore. I have a few contacts in Japan and the US who help me source some products. And through France, where I have a residence, I manage another way for those who don't ship to send some there, and then I bring it back when I return.

Solely based on the label, there are distilleries or independent bottlers that you can just buy without tasting because you know are going to be good stuff. Others, perhaps you might want to wait and taste it, try it to see whether it delivers. And if it delivers, we absolutely will get a few bottles either to share that experience with the club or to keep for later events.

[88B]: As a collector, what do you think of your collection at the moment and which areas are you most satisfied about?

[Frederic]: It's a good question. A true collector is never fully satisfied; there's always something missing, always more we could have done. We often think about things we could have gotten earlier but didn't; there should not be regrets, as decisions were made based on budget and availability then. I think the collection is strong based on the location that we're in. We do cover most of the big names, most of the classics, but there are a lot of things we don't have. Like I mentioned, I would love to get more Hawaiian Kohana over to Singapore, but we haven't yet found a solution at a reasonable price to bring it here.

We're always on the lookout for missing pieces in a series, missing one bottle here or there. If we see it, then we may add that to the collection. But we're not strong at all on all areas. Besides Neisson in the agricole or Martinique category, and besides a handful of Bielle, we're not very strong on aged agricole just because it's much harder to source here. But with regards to regional production, we're quite okay with Renaissance and Luisita.

 

 

We do support all the local independent bottlers, so we ideally have at least one bottle of each local release. It’s probably Velier’s range that we have the most complete set, including a lot of older releases as well even though we’re missing a number of bottles. Diplomatico Single Vintage 2002 is one of the rums I got started on, so I continued buying a little bit over time. Neisson, we're very happy with it even though it’s not complete, but we're missing bottles like the Armada Collection 88. Maybe we'll acquire them over time. We’ve got the Hampden Great House too.

We've got a good little selection, obviously, but there’re a lot more things we want to acquire. We're not very strong in Spanish style rums and big names. We're more interested in the independently bottled Spanish rums because of the higher ABV; they're going to provide a little bit more interest. But besides Diplomatico Single Vintage, we're not very strong on that.

[88B]: What are some exciting names in rum that we should be keeping a closer eye on?

[Frederic]: First of all, Savanna for me. They are quite in demand in Europe and, interestingly, they aren’t officially represented in Singapore yet. You can still find some bottles at La Maison, but those are more from old French stocks. The good news is that they will be coming around Whisky Live Singapore, and we'll also do an event with them here in Singapore. They have a lot of high-ester releases, their high esters made for the Japanese market have become collectibles because they are very much in demand in Europe. So, I think Savanna is definitely one to look out for.

 

Savanna Distillery (Source: Carte de La Réunion)

 

I really like what Mount Gay has been doing. It's very hard when you're such a big name to listen to consumers and change direction to doing smaller releases - high ABV, single origin, different cask aging rums — I think they've done that very well lately. Their range now includes Madeira, Sherry, Port, Andean Oak, and peat smoke. They have really a nice premium range of different expressions. And I think the single origin releases are not actually that easy to get, and these appreciate.

 

 

Appleton’s recent releases, like the 17, going back to the 25 and the 30 years, are quite hard to get now. So I think those will appreciate. Always go back to the big brands, the big names, and obviously Velier, because by definition, they do small releases. So if they have a single cask from, you know, Last Ward or something, you should always look out for those because they are going to be very much in demand.

 

Read our review of the Appleton Hearts Collection 20YO (2002) & 29YO (1993) Jamaican Rums. 

 

[88B]: Besides the very intense work of curating such a massive collection, working closely with producers, brands, bottlers and bars, you’re also deeply thoughtful in curating great experiences for rum lovers and those just discovering rums.

So if you could offer some advice, what is a good map for beginners to begin on their journey of discovery for rums? What about those who’ve already well acquainted with rums – how should they keep the excitement alive?

[Frederic]: So this is a real dilemma that, you know, I have to think at every event I organize to make sure I completely cover the interest of everyone in the club. I think for a new consumer, I would just not come with any preconceived idea and just go naturally to what I find on the shelves, you know, in a supermarket or in your retail store nearby. And taste and move category by category. Make sure that when you're done with the category, you move to the next one and you don't stop, because the experience is going to be quite different.

 

Frederic at a Bacardi event at 1880 Club in Singapore. 

 

The rum journey that I've seen for people living in Singapore is obviously starting like I did. Diplomatico, Plantation, Havana Club. They are available here. The good thing, for instance, with Plantation (now Planteray) is because of the variety of origins. You can go through that journey, but staying within the same brand. So that's a good way to start. Spanish style rums probably increase a little bit, you know, the ABV, to a bit higher ABV.

 

 

Probably transition to English style rums through regions that have a little bit of both, like, you know, Travellers Distillery from Belize. A great transition to English style rum. Go to the classics English, you know, Chairman's Reserve from St. Lucia, obviously Foursquare. Continue exploring the diversity.

Then El Dorado, which is also a mix between Spanish and English style. Go to higher ABV English style, and then probably finish off with, you know, high ester Jamaicans. And then because of the way the market is represented, probably continue your journey through agricoles. Just like tequilas and mezcals. You know, a lot of the purists really drink the non-aged one, the white one, I would suggest spending quite a bit of time on the white agricoles and then slowly go into aged agricultural products. That's probably the three main regions, Spanish, English and French, probably in that order, going from white to aged and from lower to higher ABV until you’re done exploring, And then you move to the next vertical. That's how it was for me and that's how I think, based on the availability and the prices here and what you can find in Singapore, I think this is probably a reasonable evolution for a new rum drinker based in Asia. This might be a simplified and personal approach to rum discovery here. There of course exist more established rum classifications such as the Gargano classification.

 

Read here our rum contributor's review of the El Dorado Grand Special Reserve 1966, 50 Years Old, 43% ABV, Guyana

 

For the sophisticated drinker. Then it's all about wild emotions. So it's a new DOK release. It's something funky that they didn't know, they didn't have, like the Savanna. Probably something that's going to provide them an emotion that they miss through their journey and that will be of interest to them because they will have gone through that same journey. Maybe not all the way to the aged agricoles. So maybe an aged Agricole that they don't know or high ester that they don't know or a particular Trinidad 2002 or 2003. There's a bit of funkiness into that. Each cask is different. So if you really find a cask that is really special, then get them to try that and get them surprised with that.

[88B]: On your end, you’ve also gone beyond simply building a collection, you’ve also bottled your own rums! It always felt like a matter of time for someone who’s job has been to assess if a spirit makes the cut. You’ve called it the Domino Series and you’ve thus far bottled a Hampden and then a Foursquare. Why did you decide to call it the Domino Series and how are you thinking about the subsequent releases?

[Frederic]: So, Domino. First of all, the name didn't already exist for bottling, which was appealing. Just like you've seen with cards for whisky, it allowed us to associate with a game that is specifically related to the Caribbean and South America, where it's played everywhere in rum-producing countries. And it has a number of tiles—close to about 30—which hopefully one day we will complete the set. And then we'll have to find another.

 

The Rum Cartel has till date procured casks from Hampden and Foursquare to bottle two rums under the "Domino Series".

 

What drives our selection of barrels is, first and foremost, a collective exercise we do with our club members. I don’t just buy a cask and sell it to them; we all go in together. If there are six people, ten people, or twenty, we divide the cask accordingly. Everybody tastes, and if they want to be in, they're in. If they don't, they're not. Our goal isn't to do very rare and very premium bottles since we don't commercialize them; we keep them. It's really to have something at an affordable price that you can drink, enjoy, and share with friends and family—something you can have two, three, four glasses of in a row.

It was obvious with Hampden; we did it at a time where the prices were still okay. Now, the prices have gone up, so it wouldn't be the same. Foursquare is a known crowd-pleaser because of its balance, making it very easy to drink. People have loved that. We’ve had an event in Singapore with the Main Rum Company and several more The Rum Cartel events where we'll be tasting three or four new casks with the intention of selecting one or two for the next Domino Series. We are particularly going to be tasting Trinidad and Diamond to continue the diversity.

But once again, it should remain affordable, approachable, something that people enjoy, not something to speculate on. It's about creating a nice rum to drink with friends.

[88B]: Of course, we have to circle back to your close relationship with some of rum’s most highly regarded producers and bottlers. Could you tell us alittle bit more about how you came to meet Luca (Velier), Richard (Foursquare) and Gregory (Neisson)? Any particularly memorable moments with these living champions of rum that you could share with us?

[Frederic]: Absolutely. Gregory is more than a contact; he's a friend. A very special moment is when you visit the distillery in Martinique, and he takes you around, shows you everything, explains what he's been doing, introduces you to his family, and lets you taste things directly from the cask. That’s an experience I wish every rum lover could have—being welcomed like that.

 

 

For Richard, it was in the tasting room where we tasted the Foursquare Raconteur with Gayle. He even gave me a bottle to bring back in preview for The Rum Cartel to enjoy before it hit the market, two or three months later. That was very special.

 

 

Probably the last event we did with Luca at Whisky Live was when we tasted some absolutely amazing rums with him. It’s the overall communication with him, seeing what we're doing for the rum community here, what we're doing for rum lovers, and making sure he had a great time. It's getting the appreciation of an event well organised and him wanting to do more things with us.

 

 

So, each one offers a different form of satisfaction. You can see the products being made, touch the molasses, smell the fermentation, and you can see the fizziness in the tanks. It's really special. Over time, these experiences create that bond, that proximity. The best way is to go and visit them in their homes. And that’s something I have yet to do with Luca. I haven't been to Genoa, but I hope it will happen sooner rather than later.

The Caribbean is on the other side of the world from Singapore. But of course, you can also visit closer rum distilleries in the region. You could visit Samai which is right in the center of Phnom Penh. Within a single place, you can see the molasses arriving, the casks of rum aging and the whole production happening in front of you, which is quite amazing. You don't have to go to the other side of the world to see that happening. But the Caribbean is one of the birthplaces of rum, so it's always a bit more special to visit there.

 

A worker preparing molasses in Samai Distillery in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Source: Sam Jam)

 

[88B]: Because we have readers from all sips of libations, could you tell us how any person, whether they’re trying their first rums or 500th dram, what’s a simple thing they could do to elevate their experience?

How should someone totally new to rums begin their journey?

[Frederic]: I would use an analogy from the wine world. Many wine drinkers go to a restaurant and order a wine they know because they are familiar with it and enjoy it. However, they end up paying a premium for it in a restaurant setting without learning anything new. If you're at a restaurant with a sommelier, use that opportunity to discover and learn. Tell the sommelier your budget, your preferred grape variety, and let them recommend something. This is how you expand your palate and knowledge.

 

Sugar Hall.

 

I would suggest the same approach with spirits. If you want to get into rum, visit your local rum bars—places like Kempinski, Origin, Sugarhall, Auld Alliance, and all the others in Singapore. Speak to the bartenders there. They know what they have and can make recommendations. They'll probably even let you taste different rums or try their cocktails. Starting with cocktails is a nice way to discover the spirit without the intensity of drinking it neat, which can be overwhelming for some. Try rum in your desserts, if available, to see the impact it has.

 

Origin Bar. 

 

Trust the people with the knowledge. Read up and trust the drinks media, the editorials, and go out and experience it. You might not like some things, but you will find new things that you do like. Discovering something new that you enjoy, which is also at a good price point, is one of the best pleasures of being a bottle hunter. It’s more satisfying than paying a lot for something very rare, where the surprise element is minimal.

[88B]: What do you think people should pay more attention to when appreciating rums?

[Frederic]: Similar to the practice of adding water to whiskies, I have absolutely no issue with that. However, I believe you should always first taste the product the way it was made. Show respect to the producer by tasting the product as it is. Then, if you find the ABV too high or if it's not to your taste, feel free to adjust it with water. But I would not recommend adding ice because it can mute a lot of the aromas. Instead, taste more quantities and then take more if you like it.

 

Frederic with Maison Ferrand's APAC Manager Maylis Berger at the launch of the Plantation Rum Extrême Series V. 

 

Trust your palate, but also trust that your palate will change over time. Something that may not have suited you at the beginning could become appealing as you progress in your rum journey. You can take notes or take photos to help you remember what you’ve tried, categorise them. Once you find a style of rum that pleases you, explore within that style—look at rums from the same country or similar countries, rums with similar ABVs, or those aged in similar casks. This approach allows you to learn deeply about an area you enjoy. Once you’ve thoroughly explored one segment, move on to another sub-segment and start exploring that. It’s a methodical way to expand your understanding and appreciation of rum.

[88B]: How should one go about building a collection of their own? How should they be thinking about it and do you have any tips?

[Frederic]: Well, first of all, you do need to have a little bit of a budget. Then I would suggest starting by going to your local retail store, getting to know the salespeople, and making friends with them so they can really give you good recommendations. Let them tell you what's special, especially if you're not yet sure what to look for. Alternatively, you can go to websites like 88 Bamboo, which cover very well the limited releases that people should be looking out for. Having access to media that informs you about what to watch for is crucial because if you're not informed by the media or a retail store that a new release has arrived, you will completely miss it.

Be proactive. If you like something, for instance from Foursquare, and you know another release is coming up that will be limited, then advise your store contact to let you know when the next Foursquare arrives. It’s about building relationships. I think that's the best way to build your collection.

 

Frederic, managing the slightly overwhelming collection of rums in The Rum Cartel's inventory.

 

In addition to building these relationships, it's also about being systematic in your approach. Decide whether you want to focus on a particular type of rum, such as those from a specific region or those aged in a certain type of cask, or if you want a more diverse collection that includes a variety of rum styles. This focus will guide your purchases and help you build a more coherent collection.

Lastly, attend tastings whenever possible. This will not only broaden your experience but also help refine your taste and understanding of what makes each rum unique. This knowledge is invaluable when deciding which bottles to add to your collection.

[88B]: You’ve met incredible producers from around the world, as well as rum fans from all walks of life, from the ones who’re just discovering rums to those willing to go all out on it. Can you tell us something about human nature that you’ve learnt through rums?

[Frederic]: First of all, there is really a solidarity among producers, and the community here in Singapore is absolutely amazing. Everyone supports each other when there are events. It also helps to be in a position where I'm not a single brand representative, which means everybody wants to work with us, and I also want to work with everybody. For me, it's about sharing experiences. One of my favourite pastimes is to receive two or three bottles that are very interesting, open them, go to rum bars, and get people to try them and experience them. There’s nothing available for sale—it's only one bottle that I have, but I want to share it to provide experiences.

 

(Source: @jerrygitany)

 

For me, it's a great way to spend my time because it’s a spirit. It relaxes the mood, people get comfortable, it brings good times, fun times, and the casualness of rum and learning about where it's made just adds more fun. It's associated with music, often with a lot of desserts, and with chocolate. Obviously, there are many things you can do with rum, including pairing it with food. Rum also gives me one more topic of conversation with people. But more importantly, I think it’s the experience you share that's a souvenir of that experience you share with people. I think that’s the most valuable thing, rather than the actual owning of something. It's creating memories and souvenirs around experiences that include rum. Let’s put it that way.

 

 (Source: Denise Khan Tan)

 

So what are people looking for in rums? I think rum represents the holidays, it represents everybody’s wishful retirement. It's shorts, it's floral shirts. It's a cocktail by the beach. The sun is not far. It's a little bit of tipsiness and high, with the sun hitting and just being relaxed, being fun, communicating with people, being open with people. I think it's the exchange and like I said, perhaps maybe the hope to travel to this destination and enjoy the true local rum experience per se.

[88B]: Now for our last question, Frederic, what’s the secret to happiness?

[Frederic]That is a big question… Everyone will have their own answers I’m sure. Personally, it is a balance of different factors such as environment, occupation, personality and approach to life. For sure, a healthy and happy family environment supported by strong relationships is important and necessary to reach happiness. But I find that doing what you love, what you are passionate about is also critical to waking up contented, and looking forward to your upcoming day. Furthermore, a curious and optimistic personality provide for openness and interest in new experiences which also brings me a lot of joy. Finally, perhaps I would say more humbly, gratefulness and forgivingness are essential to not hold on to things that weigh down on you. These are just some elements that have helped me reach closer to happiness.

 

  

 A rum tasting of a flight bottled by Compagnie Des Indes.

 

[88B]: Thank you for the company and the immensely insightful chat, Frederic!  


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