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The messy J'can legacy of Captain Morgan rum

Published:Friday | November 15, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Richard Browne, Business Reporter

It's a tale of two rums and one brand. One is produced in Jamaica only for the Jamaican market and is largely forgotten.

The other is mass-produced in the US Virgin Islands and is denied access to the Jamaican market.

The brand, Captain Morgan, had its start in Jamaica in the 1940s.

Control of the international brand of Captain Morgan rests in the United Kingdom with Diageo Plc.

Ultimate ownership of the Jamaican version of the brand now resides in mainland Europe with Italy's Campari Group, new owner of local distillery J. Wray & Nephew (JWN) and its famed Appleton rum.

Bacardi is still the world's biggest international rum brand. Captain Morgan is in the top five.

"The Captain Morgan trademark is owned by J. Wray & Nephew Limited in Jamaica, WI, and we produce this product locally with our Jamaican rum," says Greta Bogues, senior director of corporate affairs and external communications at JWN.

"As such, Diageo has no right to use the trademark in Jamaica," she said.

Both rums can trace their ancestry back to the original Captain Morgan distillery which was founded at Long Pond estate in Trelawny by Seagrams, the Canadian distillery, which ended up being taken over in parts by both JWN and Diageo.

The rum is named for Henry Morgan, the infamous buccaneer, who built his career looting gold from the Spaniards, but ended it as the governor of Jamaica. Henry Morgan is immortalised not only in the brand's name, but also in the Diageo version's motto - 'To live, love and loot'.

Diageo has built the brand to the point where it has now transcended its Jamaican roots. Production has moved from Puerto Rico to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands and Captain Morgan is selling 10 million cases per year globally, in markets such as United States, Canada, United Kingdom and others. Diageo's Captain Morgan products are made from Jamaican rum, or a blend of Jamaican, Guyanese and Barbadian rum.

The Jamaican trademark was acquired "many years ago from Seagrams when we acquired their assets and ageing facilities at 473 Spanish Town Road," said Bogues.

"This brand is manufactured and sold in Jamaica only by JWN. It is a niche brand and performs consistently in the local market," she said.

But just as Diageo's rum can't be bought in Jamaica, the JWN version can't be found abroad.

"As we don't have the trademark outside of Jamaica, we do not export it," Bogues said.

The situation was confirmed by Sean Yelle, Diageo's head of rums for Western Latin America and the Caribbean.

"We don't distribute Captain Morgan in Jamaica; it's now Campari," said Yelle.

"Captain Morgan - at least our Captain Morgan - is not able to be distributed in Jamaica, which includes Captain Morgan Black," he said.

The brand is a "tremendously large part" of the Diageo portfolio, Yelle said, with the Captain Morgan Black Spice brand marketed to the 21 to 24 age group.

Even so, much of the rum in Diageo's version originates from Jamaica, according to a reliable source in the rum industry.

"Diageo still buys substantial quantities of rum from Jamaica, not just for Captain Morgan but for Myers dark rum," he told the Financial Gleaner.

According to the Captain Morgan website, Captain Morgan Black "is a blend of pot and continuous still rums from Jamaica, Guyana & Barbados and is aged in oak". Its label bills it as a "Jamaica rum".

The dark Captain Morgan rum

sold in the UK also contains rum from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados. The largest-selling versions for the US market, however, contain no Jamaican rum.

Despite its association with Jamaica and its global popularity in North America and the UK especially, the brand has never really been big in Jamaica except for a brief period in the 1950s.

"That type of spicy rum wouldn't sell in Jamaica," said Rene McDaniel, a rum aficionado and former bar owner. "I haven't drunk it for god knows how many years," he said.

In one supermarket in Kingston, JWN's Captain Morgan was selling at $920 for a 750ml bottle, less than a similar bottle of Appleton Special for $1,492.

The local Captain Morgan also sells at the Port of Call shop at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston for $730. It does sell well "when we have it" in stock, said a Port of Call spokesman.

The label on the JWN version of the rum is largely yellow and beige and carries a portrait of an older, overweight and statesman-like Captain Morgan.