Bottle #33: Captain Morgan Light Rum

Nov 1, 2023

At the end of Bottle #32 – Seagram’s Amandine, I wrote that it wouldn’t be long before we had another bottle from Seagram’s. And here it is, where you’d least expect it, disguised as a bottle of Captain Morgan Light Rum. Not the spiced rum we instantly associate with the Captain Morgan name, but a just barely gold rum labeled as “light” in English and “leger” in French.

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If you didn’t know Captain Morgan was originally a Seagram’s brand, you’re in good company, because I had no idea either. But there’s a big tip off on the label, which lists “Captain Morgan Rum Distillers Limited – Waterloo, Ontario.” This is where the original Seagram’s distillery was located.

While blended whiskeys were Seagram’s primary focus during the post-Prohibition period, they didn’t limit themselves just to that. Rum grew in popularity in the 1940s, as whiskey production in both the US and Scotland was curtailed due to World War II. Seagram’s launched the Captain Morgan brand in 1944, using rums from a variety of Jamaican distilleries. They also had facilities in Puerto Rico, and in 1953 purchased the Long Pond distillery from the Jamaican government to ensure their rum supply.

Seagram’s mostly marketed the Captain Morgan brand in the UK and Canada. By the 1960s there were four different rums: Black Label – recommended for egg nog and hot buttered rum, De Luxe – unexcelled quality, Gold Label – golden in color with a rich and full-bodied taste, and White Label – an extra light rum for daiquiris and rum & tonics. By the 1970s, advertisements proclaimed Captain Morgan to be Canada’s best-selling rum.

Then came the 1980s. According to a great article on boozebusiness.com, the company reviewed its portfolio, looking for new product opportunities. While the author doesn’t say it, I’m assuming this must have been specifically for the US market, because a wide array of Captain Morgan rums were still being sold in Canada.

They identified rum as a gap, but didn’t see a way to compete against the big dog in the white rum category: Bacardi. So they decided to come up with something new and create a “value added” product. They added flavorings – especially vanilla – and dubbed it a spiced rum. After some squabbling about the name, someone suggested using the name of a rum brand the company already owned: Captain Morgan.

The rest is, as they say, history. Test markets in 1982 went well, and the brand was released in 1984. Strong marketing, featuring such things as appearances by Captain and the Morganettes, helped propel the brand as the standard bearer of the new spiced rum category. And to pretty much obliterate the prior history of the Captain Morgan brand; Wikipedia doesn’t even acknowledge it existing before 1984.

As we’ve previously established, my bottle is not spiced. So when is it from? A commenter – thanks Lisa! – suggested that I reach out to Don Maitz, the artist who created the iconic image of Captain Morgan that graced the labels of the spiced rum on its release. He told me he started working with them in 1982, and confirmed that the tiny Captain picture on my bottle is not his. Which makes sense; the US Captain Morgan presence wouldn’t release a non-spiced version until the 1990s. (I hope I have a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced in the boxes as well, because Don’s got a really fun story about creating the art for that!)

However, in Canada, things were different. Captain Morgan was still selling non-spiced rum there all through the 80s, and they weren’t using Maitz’s art to do it. Looking at the ad campaigns between the 70s and 80s, the coloration of the Captain is very similar, but it looks like he went on a diet and slimmed up a bit in the 80s. My tiny bottle Captain seems more like the stately 1970s version. The label is bilingual, which means it’s 1974 or after, because that’s when Canada required bilingual labels. It also has a “blended and bottled in bond under government supervision” notice on it, but I haven’t been able to attach that to a specific time period. And – here’s the really interesting thing – I have not, after way too many hours of looking, EVER found another bottle that is labeled like mine. There are Extra Light white rums. There are Gold Label rums. But what I have is a gold label, with a very pale rum in the bottle, with just “light” – not extra light. So I’m going to guess 1974 to 1980 as a range, but I’d love to hear from anyone who can help me track this one down!

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Bottle #33: Captain Morgan Light Rum

Nov 1, 2023 |

At the end of Bottle #32 – Seagram’s Amandine, I wrote that it wouldn’t be long before we had another bottle from Seagram’s. And here it is, where you’d least expect it, disguised as a bottle of Captain Morgan Light Rum. Not the spiced rum we instantly associate with the Captain Morgan name, but a just barely gold rum labeled as “light” in English and “leger” in French.

If you didn’t know Captain Morgan was originally a Seagram’s brand, you’re in good company, because I had no idea either. But there’s a big tip off on the label, which lists “Captain Morgan Rum Distillers Limited – Waterloo, Ontario.” This is where the original Seagram’s distillery was located.

While blended whiskeys were Seagram’s primary focus during the post-Prohibition period, they didn’t limit themselves just to that. Rum grew in popularity in the 1940s, as whiskey production in both the US and Scotland was curtailed due to World War II. Seagram’s launched the Captain Morgan brand in 1944, using rums from a variety of Jamaican distilleries. They also had facilities in Puerto Rico, and in 1953 purchased the Long Pond distillery from the Jamaican government to ensure their rum supply.

Seagram’s mostly marketed the Captain Morgan brand in the UK and Canada. By the 1960s there were four different rums: Black Label – recommended for egg nog and hot buttered rum, De Luxe – unexcelled quality, Gold Label – golden in color with a rich and full-bodied taste, and White Label – an extra light rum for daiquiris and rum & tonics. By the 1970s, advertisements proclaimed Captain Morgan to be Canada’s best-selling rum.

Then came the 1980s. According to a great article on boozebusiness.com, the company reviewed its portfolio, looking for new product opportunities. While the author doesn’t say it, I’m assuming this must have been specifically for the US market, because a wide array of Captain Morgan rums were still being sold in Canada.

They identified rum as a gap, but didn’t see a way to compete against the big dog in the white rum category: Bacardi. So they decided to come up with something new and create a “value added” product. They added flavorings – especially vanilla – and dubbed it a spiced rum. After some squabbling about the name, someone suggested using the name of a rum brand the company already owned: Captain Morgan.

The rest is, as they say, history. Test markets in 1982 went well, and the brand was released in 1984. Strong marketing, featuring such things as appearances by Captain and the Morganettes, helped propel the brand as the standard bearer of the new spiced rum category. And to pretty much obliterate the prior history of the Captain Morgan brand; Wikipedia doesn’t even acknowledge it existing before 1984.

As we’ve previously established, my bottle is not spiced. So when is it from? A commenter – thanks Lisa! – suggested that I reach out to Don Maitz, the artist who created the iconic image of Captain Morgan that graced the labels of the spiced rum on its release. He told me he started working with them in 1982, and confirmed that the tiny Captain picture on my bottle is not his. Which makes sense; the US Captain Morgan presence wouldn’t release a non-spiced version until the 1990s. (I hope I have a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced in the boxes as well, because Don’s got a really fun story about creating the art for that!)

However, in Canada, things were different. Captain Morgan was still selling non-spiced rum there all through the 80s, and they weren’t using Maitz’s art to do it. Looking at the ad campaigns between the 70s and 80s, the coloration of the Captain is very similar, but it looks like he went on a diet and slimmed up a bit in the 80s. My tiny bottle Captain seems more like the stately 1970s version. The label is bilingual, which means it’s 1974 or after, because that’s when Canada required bilingual labels. It also has a “blended and bottled in bond under government supervision” notice on it, but I haven’t been able to attach that to a specific time period. And – here’s the really interesting thing – I have not, after way too many hours of looking, EVER found another bottle that is labeled like mine. There are Extra Light white rums. There are Gold Label rums. But what I have is a gold label, with a very pale rum in the bottle, with just “light” – not extra light. So I’m going to guess 1974 to 1980 as a range, but I’d love to hear from anyone who can help me track this one down!

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