Chatting about Worthy Park Estate is almost as good as drinking their rum. Especially when it is with Alexander Kong, their charismatic Export Sales Manager. If, after reading all this, you need more information about the distillery and their products, I've written about them here, here and here.
You were born and raised close to Toronto, how did you end up working for a rum company in Jamaica?
Yes, I grew up in Mississauga; but being from a big ass Chinese-Jamaican family, I’ve always felt very connected to the island. I studied Hotel and Tourism in University and after graduating I decided to make the move to Jamaica to work in the resort industry. Bounced around a few years from different spots in Jamaica, to Turks and Caicos and Florida before moving back to the island. While working in my previous job I crossed paths with Gordon Clarke (Worthy Park's Managing Director & CEO) . The rest is history as they say.
What is your proudest Worthy Park achievement so far?
Every bottle we sell is a proud moment for me lol. I mean, I’ve been with the company for coming on 5 years now but overall just seeing the positive recognition that Worthy Park is getting on the international stage makes me really proud. I mean, no matter how many times I see our products on a back bar or in a cocktail menu I still get giddy.
There’s 800+ employees that work at Worthy Park – across the Farm, the Sugar Factory, the Distillery and administrative staff. I do feel like I represent everyone when I’m out on the road promoting the brand and it’s a good feeling when I can come home and tell them how well received our rums are worldwide.
Now, specifically rum speaking, the launch of the Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve is a proud moment for me since it was the first rum launch that I was able to be a part of from the conception of the product, through blend and packaging selection straight through to the sales, marketing and promotions of the rum. It helps that we win awards like Spirit of the Year from The Whisky Exchange (UK), that always makes it more rewarding!
What do you find frustrating or challenging about the rum industry?
I’d say the biggest challenge we have (specifically speaking as a small Jamaican rum brand) is that we are competing in a rum market that is dominated by a few big brands. For us it’s always a challenge to get seen and hard in the market place. Thankfully, with the rise of social media, we’ve been able to get in front of people at a very low spend but it’s still a fight to get those shelf placements. I mean, you live in LCBO territory, you know all too well what I’m talking about!
Don’t even get me started on the misconceptions we are fighting in the rum world. The same ones you’re all aware of: rum has no rules! Rum is sweet! Deceptive age statements! Rum is only cheap and only good for mixing etc. etc.
How has the Rum industry changed in the years you’ve been involved in it?
In my few short years in the rum world, I’ve already seen the shift in consumers demanding higher quality rum. At the same time there is more interest in the backbones of what makes a rum a rum. Not the catchy marketing slogans but the interest in where is the rum from, who is making the rum, what are their practices and ultimately who owns the company. Most answers are only a google search away but there’s still a lot of BS to sift through before you get to the real answers.
You’re also seeing rum crossing over where it’s not only the Tiki and Rum bars where you are finding good rums but bars that are focused on beer, on whiskey or even the more “mainstream” bars; these bars are looking to up the quality of their rums. So while they may not be stocking 200+ rums, the few that they do have are better quality.
Worthy Park is becoming a household name in rum enthusiast circles, while not too long ago the company didn’t even make rum. What are the major factors that have contributed to this quick rise to fame?
The timing of us starting to push in the export market coincidence with the demand by the rum enthusiasts to have honestly made, top quality rum. Shout out to some of my colleagues in the industry who have been paving the way and we’ve been able to help spread their message – people like Dr. Joy Spence from Appleton, Richard Seale from Foursquare. They’ve helped to introduce rum as a premium spirit. It didn’t hurt that the palates and demands for the ‘funky’ Jamaican rum was increasing and that we were one of the first brands to launch with 100% pot-still distilled rum. It was very serendipitous.
If we step outside of rum for a moment and think of the whole ‘farm to table’ and ‘eat locally’ movements that have dominated the food industry recently. That is now finding its way into the spirits industry. So it helps that there are not that many true single estate rum brands out there, especially one with (this year) having 350 years of history. Plus, being family owned/Jamaican owned and operated doesn’t hurt!
Worthy Park produces and sells a lot of sugar. Does that make Worthy Park rum production totally self sufficient? Cane to bottle?
We’ve been the biggest sugar producer for the past 4 years (with the smallest sugar factory in operation). But yes, our rum production from cane to bottle is all done at Worthy Park. We’re proud of it and you’ll hear us talk a lot about being a Single Estate producer.
What differentiates Worthy Park from other Jamaican distilleries like Hampden and Long Pond, specifically in how the rum is made and aged?