Rum connoisseur interview of the week: Lance Thomas – Owners of Black Bart Navy Rum brand & Chairman-CEO The Great British Trading Company

Lance Thomas
Owners of Black Bart Navy Rum brand & Chairman-CEO The Great British Trading Company

1) Who is Lance Thomas

Of Welsh heritage, I was born in California into a family of sailors. Some of my very first memories were off sailing with my father and two older brothers in Newport harbor. When we weren’t sailing, we were working on my father’s boat. When we moved to San Diego in 1955, we had a much larger harbor to navigate. My brothers and I grew up watching Errol Flynn, Robert Newton, Stewart Granger, Basil Rathbone, Tyrone Power movies. As long as the film involved the sea, rum, sword fighting, pirates and the navy, we watched it.  (We would also sneak rum from our father’s ship’s pantry to enhance the experience!)

As an adult, my career began as an actor in California, England, and Italy. Eventually, my professional life transformed into becoming a Chief Executive for several decades, managing banking, recruitment, media and clothing companies in California and Europe. I later became very involved in British politics, both as an elected official as well as Chairman of a Parliamentary constituency association. Throughout my life, the idea of creating an authentic rum brand had always appealed to me. The time has come.

2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

Growing up in a family of sailors, rum was part of our household convention. A bottle or two was always available on the boat. As adolescents, my older brothers and I would surreptitiously make rum and cokes (Cuba Libre), and rum and tonic. Of course, at the holidays it was always Egg Nog with rum. In my late teens and early twenties, I started to prefer daiquiris and the ubiquitous Mai Tai. In later years, just rum neat (of course, still enjoying the spirit in all its other cocktail manifestations!).  My brothers and I always preferred our drinks to be stronger than most people.

3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.

As Bartholomew Roberts Black Bart Navy Rum is a very new product, it would be difficult for me to feel that I have accomplished anything for the industry itself. Any sense of achievement I have only come from the fact that I have created a new, perhaps more traditional, brand that is currently gaining some traction in bars and retail stores in Southern California.

4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?

It is exciting for me to be part of an industry that has such a rich maritime history, no many product varieties, has been so popular for so many centuries, has influenced economies and political fortunes, and continues to be consumed in substantial quantities.

5) Favorite Rum Drink?

Although I like my rum (or whiskey) neat (as long as it’s good rum!), I do like one that we created called the Black Bart Broadside.

Black Bart Broadside
2 oz. Black Bart “Royal Fortune Reserve” Navy Rum
1 oz. Dolin rouge vermouth
3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters
wide lemon peel

Stir rum, vermouth, and bitters with a little ice to chill and strain into a chilled coupe glass.  Express lemon peel over cocktail and perch on the rim of glass with a strategic lengthwise slit.
Note: For less dilution, stir ingredients without ice and pour over a large format ice cube (1.5” or 2”) in a double old fashioned glass.

6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?

Despite the weak global economy, nearly 1 billion liters per year are consumed in the top 10 rum sales countries alone, and the number of liters consumed per-capita remains substantial. Premium and super-premium brands (above $30 retail) seem to be growing. In the United Kingdom, rum cocktails have pushed vodka from the top spot for the first time since the 1960’s. Demand for rum remains robust within the United States (and elsewhere). There are currently over 25 million consistent rum consumers in the U.S. alone. More recently, High-End Premium and Super Premium brand rums seem to have enjoyed the highest volume sales growth in term of case sales, and also revenue growth from new suppliers. While overall sales for rum have declined ever so slightly, Super Premium sales have increased. I believe the re-emergence of craft rum distilleries in the U.S., as well as the eventual relaxing of embargoes on Cuban rums in the United States, will spur more competition and desire for quality rums.
I think the next five years will witness continued growth in Super Premium and over-proof varieties. The “value” (below $12) and “premium” ($12-$20) categories will continue to supply the bulk of everyday demand, but will not grow sales appreciably. In the United States, as mega-distributors (such as Southern Wines & Spirits and Young’s Market) pretty much control new brand introduction, and more often than not decline to even engage in conversation with new suppliers, new brands will have to discover smaller regional distribution partners willing to provide the necessary delivery logistics, although any sales, promotion or marketing support will remain solely with the supplier.

7) Share some (2-3) of your mentors and how they have helped you.

II have not had very many mentors in the process of developing my brand. Ian Cutler, owner of Cutler’s Artisan Spirits (Santa Barbara) has been the most consistent adviser regarding the issues facing a new supplier. He is our company’s rectifier and bottler, is an expert on flavor profiles and the distilling process, and is a member of our Board of Advisers. He has provided us with a good deal of insight and critical assistance regarding suppliers, distribution and sales challenges and general pitfalls to be avoided. There have been others who have helped in depicting a broad spectrum of issues to be considered, all of which helpful, but seemingly more what to avoid than what to create.

8) What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 months?

1. To be sold in 200+ outlets in Southern California
2. To commence production of our 100-proof silver rum – Black Bart Navy Rum-Silver Oar
3. To reach sales of 600 bottles a month by month 12.
4.  To secure equity investors to grow the business/brand.

9) Any last words?

Although this question may be synonymous with someone about to meet their end (gulp!), we are entirely committed to our brand and the belief that a certain segment of the rum-drinking world prefers their spirits non-spiced, non-flavored, non-colored, and strong!  My brothers instilled in me that if I were to create something distinctive, it must come as close as possible to the taste profile of the 80-year old Royal Navy rum ration flagon that was purchased at auction and served at my father’s 80th birthday party aboard the Star of India in San Diego. I hope I have done just that.

10) Where can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?

We have a website, www.blackbartrum.com which can provide a bit more detail about the rum, some history behind the brand, and the association between Bartholomew Roberts and the Thomas family heritage.

Author: Fede

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