It feels like rum has never been hotter as a spirit. New brands are popping up on a yearly basis and of all the categories, spiced rum is experiencing a tremendous boom in sales and attention. This spiced rum trend is particularly strong in the UK and one of the newest brands to put their own stamp on the category is SLY DOG.
Founded by brothers Bruce and Louis Goddard-Watts, SLY DOG is on a mission to do things differently and continue to change the perception that rum isn’t a premium spirit.
The Rum Ration caught up with the brothers about the making of SLY DOG, why they think spiced rum is having its moment and where the future of the category can go.
The Rum Ration: Glad to chat guys. Congratulations on the launch of SLY DOG Rum and it’d be great to start off by learning more about the story behind the brand and what got you into rum production in the first place.
Bruce and Louis: Thank you, Jamie. In terms of getting into rum production, we always drank rum while most of our friends were busy only drinking gin, we couldn’t understand why nobody was drinking the tastiest and most diverse spirit on the planet!
About a year ago we noticed a huge uptake in rum drinking, especially spiced, amongst our friends. We knew we could bring something different to the market, something that didn’t use the same style and themes as existing brands. We had wanted to start a young and fresh alcohol brand for a while, so there was no better place to start than with rum.
It’s attracting a much younger drinker and the image of rum is certainly livening up. There has been a lot to learn in the world of rum production, but we have really started to find our feet and enjoying every moment of it.
For us being a SLY DOG is doing what you want and not being worried about what people will think. Sly dogs work smarter not harder, and they have a way of always coming out on top. While the brand was in development, we were never afraid to reach out and speak to people that have been there and done it, we managed to team up with some of the best rum experts and flavour masters to help create the liquid.
It’s taken a little longer than expected as we wouldn’t settle for anything other than perfection, so you could say we have been champion sly dogs. We hope SLY DOG is a brand that the new wave of rum drinkers can get behind, after all we do need more sly dogs in the world.
The Rum Ration: As part of building SLY DOG, you’ve been working with your family to get it to market. How has that changed your family dynamic?
Bruce and Louis: We’re no strangers to family run businesses, so the dynamic hasn’t particularly changed much. We all understand and are totally committed to building SLY DOG into a lasting brand. We all share the same ethos, and all take pride in only wanting to put our name to something we really believe in and know we can take places.
It’s actually mum we feel most sorry for – Covid has meant we’ve moved back home, and she’s unexpectedly had 2 fully grown children back, and has to contend with all their washing and their appetites.
The Rum Ration: What kind of cocktails would you recommend making with SLY DOG?
Bruce and Louis: Although SLY DOG Rum is perfect to drink on the rocks, while developing the liquid, we were desperate to create a spiced rum that enhances a cocktail. We wanted a rum that’s instantly recognisable in any cocktail, which our reviews would suggest we’ve achieved. We were lucky enough for Rich Woods (aka The Cocktail Guy) to want to work with us and he’s developed some proper sly cocktails, all of which will be available on our website.
Our favourite sly cocktail would have to be Rich’s sly take on an Espresso Martini – think the classic on steroids. This cocktail uses Guinness syrup, tonka and chocolate bitters and the result is outrageously delicious.
Our SLY-jito and the SLY-Tai (no prizes for guessing what they are inspired by) are perfect for the summer months and drinking outside, which is what everyone will be doing for a while. If you’re after a simple mixer to pair with SLY DOG, ginger beer or tonic are a great way to enjoy a sneaky SLY DOG with minimal fuss.
The Rum Ration: SLY DOG joins an ever-growing list of emerging spiced rum brands and it feels like the category is more popular than ever before.
With that said, spiced rum isn’t without its detractors and I’d be interested to get your thoughts on what you think the strengths of spiced rum is and how SLY DOG can elevate the category.
Bruce and Louis: As rum becomes more popular, and new brands are brought to the market, they all seem to be following the same trends as the big dogs, still focusing on the traditional picture of rum as a bit of a “pirate’s drink”.
While the history of rum is still important, we want to be the Sly Dogs of the pack, doing things differently, focusing on the flavour of our rum more than anything else. So, we went to the best in the flavour business, and working with the UK’s leading “Flavour Master” and rum experts, we crafted a spiced rum that would stand out, and created a bottle that would stand out with it.
The numbers speak for themselves in terms of the sales of spiced rum. Even before the pandemic it was growing incredibly quickly, regaining parts of the market after the “gin-boom”. What the closure of hospitality venues has allowed for is a chance for experimentation at home. We ourselves have had new rums delivered every week to allow us to sample what’s available.
This has also given rise to the popularity of more expensive choices to what is normally available behind a bar, and with that a newfound appreciation for better tasting spirits. When hospitality is allowed to re-open, this change in taste will have to be catered for by the industry, and we hope to see SLY DOG at the forefront of that shift towards higher quality, flavourful spiced rums behind every bar.
The Rum Ration: How has your interpretation of rum changed through the years?
Bruce and Louis: Our early perception of rum was shaped by the fact that our grandfather was a big rum drinker, always drinking one off bottles from the Caribbean. The fact that he was drinking rum meant that for a while we assumed rum was a drink only for experienced drinkers and seemed slightly intimidating (a bit like how whiskey is still perceived these days).
University was probably our first foray into drinking rum and as we got older and sampled more of what the world of rum had to offer, we realised the versatility of it as a spirit and the different ways it could be developed and tweaked to carry all kinds of amazing flavours.
Our perception of rum now is that it’s fun, youthful, diverse and rum brands have lots of energy behind them, which is seriously exciting. We now see that rum is about more than just pirates, parrots and palm trees and we think the new wave of drinkers are seeing it too.
The Rum Ration: How important do you feel transparency is in the spirits industry and how do you think producers can champion this honesty?
Bruce and Louis: Consumers nowadays are as informed as ever, with access to all sorts of information about the brands and products they buy. It’s the role of every industry to meet these demands for transparency and the spirits industry is no exception.
The best way for producers to be honest, is for them to realise that what consumers really want is authenticity. While the word “sly” doesn’t always make you think of honesty, as a brand, we believe in being completely transparent with our consumers. The only thing we can’t reveal is what makes up our ferociously guarded secret recipe.
The Rum Ration: If either of you could share a bottle of rum with anyone in history, what brand would it be and who would you crack it open with?
Bruce and Louis: Obviously, we’d be choosing a bottle of SLY DOG. There have been many sly dogs throughout history, but being big fans of sport, the one that springs to mind would be the slyest dog in the game, Diego Maradona. I’m sure at some point we’d be able to ask him for the truth about the Hand of
The Rum Ration: What other rum brands in the UK would you recommend that people keep an eye on?
Bruce and Louis: There are so many new rum brands starting up right now, making it a really exciting time for rum in the UK. To us, The Duppy Share are the pioneers of the new wave of rum brands. They were the first rum brand to make it big in the UK that wasn’t from the ‘big boys.’ We’ve looked up to their brand while starting out, so it’s important to mention them.
The Public Spirit is another new rum brand that people need to pay attention to. They are run by an awesome couple based in Manchester, they have delicious rum and even better, they donate ¼ of their profits to fighting homelessness in Manchester!
The Rum Ration: Where do you see SLY DOG rum being in ten years’ time?
Bruce and Louis: Obviously 10 years is a very long time, and we have huge ambitions for both SLY DOG and the spiced rum category as a whole. As we convince more people of the enjoyment and satisfaction of spiced rum, we see SLY DOG leading the way in the transition from gin-heavy bar menus to ones that reflect the immense popularity of spiced rum.
Hopefully by then, we’ll have chewed up the Rule Book and introduced and converted people to the fantastic taste of SLY DOG rum.
The Rum Ration: What would your best advice be for someone who’d like to launch their own spirits brand?
Bruce and Louis: Ask for help. Talk to as many people as you can. It’s been surprising just how helpful the industry has been. Everyone we’ve spoken to has been so friendly and willing to help, even if it’s just to point us in the right direction.
Obviously, you need to have a solid, well thought through idea of what you want to produce. But once you’re happy with it, talking to the right people is going to help you turn your idea into reality. And as is always true, you need to taste your competition. Sample the market you want to become a part of to really know what your brand can do.