Campesino Rum, a craft rum company based in Tennessee, was crowned the Rum Category Winner of WSWA’s 2021 Brand Battle. This brand is founded on transparency and authenticity, featuring the tag line “Unadulterated Straight Rum.”
Campesino Rum will compete in the Championship event on September 14.
To learn more about Campesino and the success of the emerging brand thus far, Michael Bilello, WSWA’s Senior Vice President of communications and marketing, as well as WSWA Access craft program manager, interviewed the Founder and President of Campesino Rum, Hatton Smith II, a 27-year old working to change the narrative about Rum.
MICHAEL BILELLO: Tell us about your brand and how you got into the spirits industry.
HATTON SMITH II: Campesino Rum started after I used to run an off-the-grid, illegal Rum still down in Panama. I did that for quite some time and wanted to turn it into a real business, so I moved back to the States and started the company. We produce a multi-origin barrel aged, blended Rum, that is free of all additives such as sugar, flavor, coloring and any additives of any kind.
I founded the company in Birmingham, Alabama (my hometown), but now I have just launched in Tennessee. Now, we do all our bottling in Chattanooga. Because the product is distilled in different origins, sometimes I'll use the phrase “local to nowhere” when talking about our products. This is more of an adventure themed brand, and a lot of this brand comes from personal experience living off the grid living in the jungle.
MB: Your labels on the bottles are very intricate and unique. Can you tell us about the label and your goal for including this level of detail?
HS: The label is designed so that anyone who grabs it, whether you're a very experienced mixologist or you're a Rum novice, you can pick up a bottle of Campesino Rum and get a quick overview about how Rum is made. We include an image and description on every bottle. The labels are very informative but also extremely transparent. We list the exact blend percentages – which is extremely rare in Rum and in Spirits in general. We also list every distillery and origin that we source from.
The goal of this company is to get people to change their perception of Rum by providing them information, education and transparency. Campesino wants to be a purveyor of unique Rums from around the world and highlight the places that they come from – not trying to mask it with big numbers, flashy labels, or the use of additives. We want to be authentic and transparent with these products.
MB: What does the future look like for Campesino Rum? What does your plan for expansion and growth look like currently?
HS: What you'll see in the future is an expanded portfolio. It will include products that are tailored to the collector, the enthusiast and people that are spending well over $100 a bottle on rare products. For example, you’ll see products coming in a cast strength and you'll probably see a type of over proof in the future.
Campesino has only been around for two years, come august. We're really just getting started. It has really been a one-man show, but my goal is for Campesino Rum to be a leader of the “Rum revolution” coming in the United States.
I've had the privilege to travel to places where some of our competitors do business now (like the UK), and they are light years ahead of the United States as far as Rum education, taste and preference goes for the consumer. Most people are more adapt so drink rum there were my experience in the United States, it hasn't been that way.
I don't think there's been a brand like Campesino to come in and make the category pop. With our future line expansion, I think that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to bring people into Rum and show them that Rum is not just spice, not just sweetened, and not just black. But that Rum truly is a quality spirit like a high quality, zero additive Tequilas or 10-year-old Bourbons out there.
There are brands out there doing awesome things for Rum and I hope it continues. The Rum category has a long way to go [in the U.S. market] but Campesino is going to be the brand you'll see to take it there.
MB: Tell us about the importance of the distribution partnership for your brand. What do you look for in a wholesaler or distributor partner?
HS: I have every intention of taking this brand national. So what I’m looking for is a distributor that will open doors for us. One of the great things about distributors, is their super vast network. I have every intention of doing exactly what I did today with on- or off-premise accounts, which is tell our story, taste our product, explain why we're different and why we're better.
I'm really thankful for WSWA’s Brand Battle to give Campesino an opportunity to get in front of some of these bigger distributors. This is an awesome opportunity to get in front of them and show them what we can do. I’m excited that we won because I’m hoping it can be a segue into partnering with one of the larger distributors and getting national distribution, so we can really change the Rum category.
MB: Many craft and emerging spirit brands are focusing on sustainability practices and social initiatives. Do you have any plans for the brand in this regard?
HS: As far as sustainability goes, the first thing we are doing is with our glass bottle. The top is always attached to the bottle, and the reason for this is that Alabama doesn't actually have a way to recycle glass. I wanted to create a bottle that can be reused verse recycled. What's beautiful to see is when I go to places that we do business and see these bottles given a second life, just as we had planned.
I am currently working on a new social initiative. I used to be a hiking guide in Panama before I started distilling Rum. The valley was a jaguar habitat. Right now, we're in conversation with a local jaguar refuge and conservation group out of Panama, trying to establish how our partnership is going to work. I have a great love for the outdoors and for animals in the natural environment (and particularly these big cats). I was fortunate enough to have a face-to-face with one of them in the jungle. It was an incredible scary experience but also beautiful at the same time and so I want to figure out a way to give back, while protecting them.
MB: What inspired you to enter Brand Battle this year?
HS: The first time I ever heard about WSWA was in a Tito’s video, and there was a story about him coming to WSWA convention for about 20 years. I don't have a big team, I don't have this crazy bankroll, and the spirits business is extremely competitive and expensive for emerging brands. I have to make every penny count. When I saw the Brand Battle come up, I knew this was something that I can compete in. I know I can be authentic and tell a true story about why I'm doing what I’m doing. I saw Brand Battle as leveling the playing field where dollars and cents don't matter, but authenticity quality of product and brand story do. I felt that was something that not only I could win in the Rum category, but I had (and still have) every intention of winning the Championship.