I arrived in Salem at the office of Pirate Dog Brand LLC, where I was greeted at the door by Rumson and Goliath, two friendly Boxers and the symbol of Rumson’s Rum. In 2015, Northshore magazine featured this brand-new Caribbean rum distillery and the writer extolled the virtues of the four rums offered in the company’s repertoire: the Grand Reserve, Aged Rum, Spiced Rum, and Coffee Rum.
I checked back recently to take a look at their progress. Being familiar with several spirit brands, I was aware of the new company’s challenges, since distillers are not allowed to sell directly to consumers but rather need to work with distributors. Restrictions also exist on the retailers and their ability to sell and ship outside of their home state.
Eric Glass and his second cousin, Steve Orne, are partners and run the day-to-day business. Although the partners did not start out as distillers—both Glass and Orne left successful careers in the healthcare and retail fashion industries respectively—rum is part of their family’s heritage. One of their ancestors owned a shipping company in the 1800s that took goods from Massachusetts to the islands and returned with rum.
Spending time at Orne’s wife’s family home in the Bahamas built the partners’ passion for the Caribbean and rum. During their visits, Glass would cut the tops off coconuts and, with the fruit from a sour orange tree on the property, would create their own specialty cocktails. On these trips, the seed of an idea was planted: to produce a high-quality rum to challenge sipping rums like Zacapa and Diplomatico. In 2010, Glass attended distilling school in Chicago to prepare for his new passion.
“Our path is to make a really great product,” says Glass, who spent time scouring the Caribbean in search of the best rum, finally settling on Trinidad as the source. Selecting just the right rums, barrels, and spices, to meet his high standards took over a year.
Rumson’s rums are blended and bottled in it small location in Salem, with approximately 500 bottles produced in each batch. The company regularly enters competitions, and just as regularly wins awards. Since December 2014, it has received 26 major awards for the different lines from competitions like BevX, The Fifty Best, Ultimate Spirits Challenge, San Francisco World Spirits, New York World Spirits, and Best of the North Shore, including many gold and double gold awards. In fact, Rumson’s is the most highly awarded New England rum brand.
Both partners work tirelessly on distribution, retail, and on-premise placement and, most importantly, to build awareness of the brand with their target audiences. Rumson’s has broad distribution in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and is currently working on international distribution in the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Australia, and several Canadian provinces.
As Rumson’s gains traction with regional and national distributors, overcoming obstacles such as product depth, margins, and advertising support, it continues to rely on its “boots on the ground” marketing and promotion.
“When we do a tasting, we convert people,” says Glass—and they do a lot of them. The company focuses on the sailing, skiing, and golf markets, with Glass or Orne personally attending events sponsored by yacht clubs and golf courses, and Northshore magazine events. In fact, the entrepreneurs rarely know when an event is over because the crowd is so deep—Rumson’s typically ends up being the after party.
Their community participation in tasting events goes beyond just handing out samples, however. The brand supports important causes, regularly donating gift baskets for silent auctions with a sampling of different rums and pirate dog hats for silent auctions. Charities range from Kids of Veterans to Next Step to Marblehead Arts Association and cancer research and patient support.
“If the bidding is going well, we will pitch in a second basket and an experience,” says Glass. “I will offer to take the winning bidders out fishing on my boat.” He makes it clear that he doesn’t know much about fishing but he does know how to smoke cigars and grill. “In the future, we would really like to support a dog-related cause,” says Orne, relaying the story of a customer who toasted the passing of his dog with a Rumson’s blend.
The business partners’ theory that good rum should be an integral part of an adventurous life drives their decision making, while the quality of their blends wins over an ever-growing customer base. When asked about the future, Orne and Glass simply say that they want to be bigger than they are, and as they continue on their own entrepreneurial adventure, we’ll be here to sip every delicious milestone along the way.