Together in spirit: creating a new rum brand in the midst of a pandemic

Harpalion Spirits was founded during 2020 in response to an in-depth feasibility study and strategy project that looked at the spirits sector worldwide. The project quickly revealed an unmet demand for a high-quality sipping rum amongst a growing competitor set in an ever-appealing spirit category.

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Creating Cabal 

The company was formed with the purpose of creating high-quality premium spirits that meet consumer demands. Less than a year later, they’ve created a new rum brand Cabal, and the first expression Cabal No.1513, which was launched to market in May 2021.  

Cabal No.1513 is created using a combination of pot and column distillation techniques with rums from prominent distilleries in Guatemala, Guyana, Trinidad, Panama and the Caribbean, tropically aged at origin. The liquid is finished in Pedro Ximénez casks in Speyside, creating a distinctive, complex, yet smooth taste profile.  

No challenge too great 

Harpalion Spirits faced many challenges: creating an equally delicious, high-quality sipping rum that would appeal to sipping spirit connoisseurs as well as spirits and rum enthusiasts; finding a way to create and commercialise a new spirits product; and developing a consumer-focused product and brand during a pandemic lockdown that limited access to people. Chairman of Harpalion Spirits, Richard Dixon said “The spirts sector is fascinating – it constantly needs to reflect the changing nature of consumer behaviour and is always innovating. Never more so than in the current climate where despite a real shift in consumer behaviour and the obvious challenges the sector has faced, this brings real opportunities to think differently, and that’s what we’ve done with Cabal.” 

Using the power of Zoom, Teams and household to household taste testing, the company sampled, trialled and tested a range of liquids with different combinations of tropically sourced, high-quality liquids each with a different finish. The resounding favourite was sample No.1513, upon which the team then built a superb supply chain, including MCC, to help bring the brand and product to market in May 2021.  

A label worthy of the brand 

A strong product like Cabal No.1513. also requires a high-profile and strong label. During the process, a number of production challenges were faced. MCC Glasgow was up to the task and worked closely with the team at Cabal to achieve the desired result. 

The initial request from the customer was to use a material with a strong structure. Since they opted for digital printing, MCC’s expertise guided the designer towards using a material with less structure. To help the customer make a choice, label samples were used in combination with material samples.  

The design called for a distinct background color, so it was important for the MCC team to color match to this. MCC Glasgow was able to convert this into CMYK values, initially for the mock up print which was then transferred as the color standard for production. 

The primary idea was to have the brand “Cabal No.1513” as heavily embossed as possible. MCC Glasgow suggested that the brand would stand out more with a hi-build tactile varnish against an uncoated/matte varnished background. 

We were fortunate to be able to put all of these ideas into print by utilising our mock-up capability. The customer was delighted with the outcome. For volume production using HP digital technology, we were able to improve the print definition even further.

Cabal is about a group of people, a collective, intrigued by rum. The ‘core’ Cabal involved in liquid development comprised a range of consumers from those who love whisky, to rum, to gin. Some had never tasted rum before, or even sipped a spirit before. We started with the Board to identify flavour territories we liked. We wanted something authentic, unflavoured and natural. With our liquid specialist, Brian Woods, we developed eight trial liquids with different finishes. These were tested one household at a time (and remotely by post across the UK!) with 32 people. No.1513 was the sample name from our first research project that was the absolute favourite across all consumer groups. The bottle shape, label and branding were also shared in terms of concept development across this ‘core’ Cabal to gain feedback and ideas.” 

Claire Kinloch, CEO at Harpalion Spirits