I've read a lot of pontificating about why rum—even though it can be as delicious as a well-aged scotch or bourbon— hasn't really taken off in terms of a spirit category. It's a puzzle worth exploring.
The ever-fascinating David Driscoll (the wizard of K&L's spirits department) had an interesting answer: we're in an era that's now beyond anything taking off. Trends move so rapidly that what might have been the next big thing 20 years ago is basically rendered into a fad. Blame social media, shortened news cycles, millennial hipster-ism, the death of consumer loyalty, or any combination of the above.
Me? I barely know my ass from a hole in the ground compared to a guy like Driscoll, but I think some of rum's sluggishness can be attributed to the legacy—maybe infamy is a better word—of a few brands. A lot of people I talk to associate Tequila with Jose Cuervo (and the awful nights / mornings left in the wake of JC), just the same as a lot of people associate rum with either Captain Morgan or Bacardi.
As such, while cognac and scotch have enjoyed the reputation of being a drink for sophisticates (or for people willing to spend money to convince others of their sophistication), rum often gets left on the shelf. I mean, think of the likely reaction to a boyfriend hoping to impress his squeeze's father with a nice bottle of rum instead of scotch: "What, is this guy a fucking pirate or something?" For better or for worse, rum isn't really thought of as either a gift or luxury product.
Aside from the lizard-brain level of association we have with rum—whether it's deserved or not—there's also the slugglishness caused by a one-two punch of brand saturation and drinking culture. Even at good bars, I'm shocked that Bacardi white label is always the go-to for any drink requiring a white rum. It's really quite a bad, bad, very garbage liquid I would never touch, and any ingredients combined with Bacardi as a mixer are given an unenviable job of both having to provide actual flavor while simultaneously paving over all of the off-tastes.
It's all the more surprising that Bacardi is not only the default choice, but often the only option at a typical cocktail bar. Many otherwise talented and insightful mixologists and culinarians have a total blind spot when it comes to white rum. And when consumers come to expect that a mojito, pina colada, or mai tai is supposed to be made with Bacardi, it makes it hard for them to imagine anything else. That's the occasional flipside of cocktail culture—the expectation that any spirit that goes into the drink is only there as a vector for getting people drunk. At best, the mixer should taste like nothing, and at worst, that's why all of the other stuff has been added in. It sounds weird, but few are asking the question, "Can my mixer not be bad?"
With the state of affairs as they are, there is a glimmer of hope. Right now, our dollars go an awful long way as far as rum is concerned. With demand (relatively) low for an ample amount of supply, I'd say that a $25 rum often has the depth and enjoyment of about a $40 scotch or cognac. The value is just off the charts. Additionally, there are styles and varieties of rum to suit just about every taste, and enough information through very good and knowledgeable communities that can help point the way forward.
In the end, rum aficionados might feel a little lonely. Sometimes it's slightly demoralizing to see that something you're really excited about is met with a large degree of apathy. The silver lining here is that good, cheap rum is an open secret. No rum brand will probably ever become the next Macallan or Grey Goose, but if it means I can continue to drink exceptionally crafted spirits for mere pocket change, that's something I can easily live with.