Diageo has made a number of moves over the past year with its Captain Morgan brand, including the release of Captain Morgan Black and Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish. These moves are more than just line extensions, they are a major attempt at navigating a massively successful brand into new waters. In the case of Black and Sherry Oak Finish, Diageo tried to steer the Captain Morgan ship towards the ever-growing American whiskey consumer, many of whom had previously jumped ship from the spiced rum category. Now Diageo is making one of the biggest moves for the Captain Morgan brand yet with the release of a white rum clearly designed to help the brand go to battle with the behemoth players already well intrenched in the rum space.
The white rum category is one of the most brutally competitive in the spirits space, dominated by Bacardi’s Superior, which has ruled by extremely aggressive pricing and key placement in almost every major hotel bar in the world. Although Bacardi has long been considered the 800 pound gorilla in the white rum space, their ability to maintain their dominance seems to be in question. Last year, Ernst & Julio Gallo caught Bacardi blinking and launched a head-on attack with their Shellback White Rum, a highly adulterated and aggressively priced rum.
Shortly thereafter, Diageo, who traditionally hasn’t competed in the white rum space, quietly got their feet wet with a little white rum brand called Naked Turtle, which was available in just a few markets. With some key learning under their belt, Diageo is now launching a full-on assault at Bacardi under the guise of a line extension. Captain Morgan White Rum isn’t just an extension for the Captain Morgan line, it is the brand’s future, and we may see a day when Captain Morgan Spiced Rum is as much as an also-ran as Bacardi’s Oakheart.
Captain Morgan White Rum (40% ABV / 80 proof, $15.99) - the nose on Captain Morgan White Rum is fairly light with vanilla, molasses, cola, light citrus, and black pepper. The bottle indicates that the rum is “5 Times Distilled”, but since it’s a column distilled rum, the number of times something is distilled is pure fantasy. That statement, combined with the nose, suggest that like Bacardi Superior and Brugal Extra Dry, Diageo is hoping that their Captain Morgan White Rum will appeal not only to white rum drinkers but also serve as a crossover to vodka drinkers. The entry for Captain Morgan White Rum is lightly sweet with vanilla, sugar, and light molasses. It’s pretty clear from the start that there is sugar added to the mix, and a sugary note is persistent throughout the flavor experience. In the midpalate we pick up some light caramel, a touch of coconut, banana, and some light char. At the end of the midpalate things dry out a bit with a spike of black pepper spice. The finish is medium length and dry with vanilla and black pepper spice.
Captain Morgan White Rum is much sweeter and softer but with a little less structure than Bacardi Superior. Bacardi’s finish is a lot drier and more acidic, but the flavors in Superior taste more true to the base molasses, and Superior also has a superior mouthfeel. Captain Morgan White Rum does significantly better when compared to Shellback Silver Rum, with greater complexity, better flavor, and less sweetness, clearly besting Gallo in its effort. Captain Morgan White doesn’t stack up as well with Brugal Extra Dry which manages to deliver a better flavor experience with more structure and balance. So is Captain Morgan White Rum a great rum? No, but victory in the white rum space isn’t only about producing the best rum. Diageo has done well enough with Captain Morgan White Rum to be seriously competitive in this space. With a little effort, and a good bit of marketing, Diageo should quickly capture much of marketshare that Gallo has gained with Shellback.
The big question is, will Diageo treat Captain Morgan White Rum like it’s the future of the brand? Besting Bacardi at the white rum game is no easy task, but with Captain Morgan White Rum, Diageo has an opportunity to really give them a run for their money. They have all the elements, a great brand, a massive company behind it, and a rum that does the basics well enough to appeal to the everyday white rum drinker. We can easily imagine a world where an order of Captain and Coke ultimately means this white rum, and for a brand of this size, that kind of reinvention would be truly remarkable.