This is the true story of a young man born and raised in Trinidad, who landed at MIT at 16, later graduated from Harvard Business School, and after a conversation with Howard Schultz (yeah, THAT Howard Schultz) went on to become the youngest VP at Starbucks. And for most people, that might be all the happy ending they need to call it a day.
But for Marc Farrell, the story doesn’t end there; It's only just the beginning. The history of Trinidad — and the Caribbean, really — had another story to share. And this one was going to be told through Rum.
Marc took the thread of that tale and started Ten To One Rum with the intention of changing perceptions around the Spirit. In his mind, the sugary spring break Daiquiris people associated with Rum were doing the Spirit a disservice. He’s on a mission to elevate Rum’s image, one sip at a time. And so we took a few moments of his day to talk about why he left a successful corporate career for Rum, how Ten To One approaches Rum distillation and what it means to disrupt the image of age-old Spirit.
Tell us more about Ten To One Rum.Marc: The story of the brand begins in Trinidad and Tobago. That's where I am from, born and raised. I spent the first 16 years of my life living in Trinidad before I moved to the U.S. for college and have now spent the better part of the last 20 years living here in the U.S. — Boston, New York, Seattle, etc. But at the heart of the inspiration for Ten To One is really this gap that I have always observed between the way in which Rum, Rum culture and Caribbean culture come to life where I'm from, versus the way that I typically see it brought to life here in the U.S. market.
As our prime minister at the time said, "One from 10 equals 0." He was making the point that if you remove one from the collective, the entire thing falls apart.
If you look at every other Spirits category over the last 5, 10, 15 years, they've all undergone their own revolution of sorts — Vodka, Tequila, Gin, and more recently, American Whiskey, and Mezcal. It kind of feels like Rum has been left off to the side, and I think a lot of consumers in this market don't necessarily approach Rum with the same appreciation and reverence of the Spirit.
If I look at the narrative around Rum, for a long time, it has appeared fairly narrow, and somewhat caricatured, mired in a lot of these old, post-colonial vestiges, right? Lots of references to pirates, sea monsters, fables and plantations. But I think that we actually have a massive opportunity to move past that. And so, again, I think you'll see a lot of that intention come to life with Ten To One as a brand.
I didn't actually want it to be just the story of a Trinidadian creating a Trinidadian Rum. There’s a real beauty in bringing to life different distillation methods, different provenances and different terroirs through a single blend.
And so, our Ten To One Dark Rum is a blend from four different countries: Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. It's an eight-year-old Rum. Three of those Rums are column still Rums with the exception of the Jamaican, which is pot still. Aged in ex-Bourbon barrels. We always love to point that out because we say it's very much a Whiskey lovers' Rum. And certainly, no added sugar, no color, no flavoring. We think that great Rum should just stand on its own.
Where does the name come from?Marc: The name Ten To One is inspired by the original Caribbean Federation, which consisted of 10 countries. As our prime minister at the time said, "One from 10 equals 0." He was making the point that if you remove one from the collective, the whole thing falls apart. We really harnessed this idea of Ten To One in reference to these ideals of community, strength in numbers, the notion that we're stronger together than we are apart.
We want to create something that feels very modern, very contemporary and very elevated in its articulation. But it's still grounded in real, authentic Caribbean history, culture, and heritage.
If you had a bottle in front of you, you would see that the logo is actually a scarlet ibis, which is the national bird of Trinidad. The side labels on the bottle are references to old shipping labels. They reference the days of products making its way from the Caribbean through the ports of Europe, and we repurposed that to tell the story of the bottle and the blend. You would also see that we abbreviate Ten To One as TTO on the side label. TTO is Trinidad and Tobago. That's our country code. So there's a hidden cipher tied to the home country as part of the whole thing.
We wanted to create something that feels very modern, very contemporary and very elevated in its articulation. But it's still grounded in real, authentic Caribbean history, culture, and heritage. We sought to reject this idea that you need to have a map of the islands or some pirate ships to reference the Caribbean. You can do it in a way that feels both contemporary and authentic in the process.
1. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
That's a great question. Probably mind reading.
2. How would you describe Ten To One in three words?
Versatile, elevated, authentic.
3. What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
That's a hard one because it depends on the mood. Obviously, I'm going to have to go with my Caribbean music — so Soca and Reggae. I'd probably just be drinking like Ten To One Dark and soda water. But when I'm on vacation, I definitely love a lot of EDM (electronic dance music). For that, I’d go with something a little more refreshing. Maybe a daiquiri but served on the rocks instead of up.
4. What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
I'm a big meat eater, so I would definitely do rack of lamb, medium-rare. Probably add a little side of hanger steak in there, too. We have a dish in Trinidad called macaroni pie. It's basically like a baked mac and cheese, but way more delicious. It's among every Trinidadian's favorite dish, so I would have that as my carb. And then I'd just add a bunch of other stuff there, right? Like, I'll probably also have a roti. We have amazing Indian food in Trinidad. And you know, we're obviously gonna do Ten To One. I would have an Old Fashioned.
5. Assuming Ten To One is your favorite, what's your second favorite Rum?
Actually, just to pause on the answer — nothing about Ten To One is predicated on a belief there aren't great Rums out there, right? Because, actually, there are lots of great Rums out there. Some people come into a business with this arrogance of, "Well, there wasn't a great 'X', so I made it..." No, that's not true. There are great Rums out there in the market. But my favorite would be El Dorado. Demerara Rums, overall, are generally excellent, and I have a soft spot for them. If you were to come to Trinidad and hang with me and my family around Christmas time, we drink a lot of the Angostura Rum that is sold down there as well because that's the distillery in Trinidad. But El Dorado — whether it's the 15, the 21 or the 25, you'll find us sipping some during those special moments too.
How did you end up in the Rum-making business?Marc: I left Trinidad when I was 16 years old to move to the U.S., and went to MIT to study chemical engineering. I'm a long way away from those hallowed halls now. I did a master's in public policy at Cambridge, but it was really an excuse to go play basketball for a couple of years. I then started my early career at Bain & Company as a management consultant, focused primarily on retail and consumer. I've always been consumer-oriented — whether it's consumer packaged goods or consumer retail. How you build a connection to the end customer has always been a point of interest to me.
I went into private equity and venture capital with Fidelity over in the UK before coming back to the U.S. to do my MBA. So I was at Harvard from 2008 to 2010. Obviously, a very interesting time to be in business school, with the world kind of falling apart around us. But that was a great catalyst for not just myself, but a number of my classmates and friends, to explore this entrepreneurial path. What would it look like to get out there in the wider world and create something inspired that you could share with other folks?
Our mission is to create a contemporary and elevated blend that’s designed to challenge expectations and change the way that people taste, experience, and talk about Rum.
And so, I moved to New York in 2010, which was my first foray into entrepreneurship, and started a business, which was very different from this one, in the sports and media space.
In any case, after about five years of working on that business, I had a pretty serendipitous meeting with Howard Schultz, founder, CEO and chairman of Starbucks. He and I had a really immediate point of connection. The thing that was most impressed upon me was his sense of entrepreneurship. For all the success that Starbucks has had around the globe, he had this natural hunger for doing more, building more, and uncovering what's next. And he had this really clearly defined sense of purpose and around the brand, and its place in the world. It's about people, it's about community, and it's about connection.
Based on that interaction, I was convinced to go out to Seattle, where I spent three years as part of the executive team at Starbucks. I ran our eCommerce business, and then I ran a portion of our retail business as well. And that was a tremendous experience. But the point that I mentioned about Howard before is extremely relevant to the story because when you see, up close, what it looks like for somebody else to be living their purpose and living their passion, it really inspires you to go out in search of the same.
This thing had to be brought to life. It had to be done. So here we are, Ten To One.
People always ask where you get your entrepreneurial courage from and I say that on some level, you have to be a little nuts to go do it. But in my experience, when you have an idea or a point of passion, it literally becomes impossible to ignore. It doesn't take that much courage because you can't fathom doing anything else other than it. And by the time we had gotten to the end of 2018, that's where I was. This idea had to be brought to life. It had to be done. So here we are, Ten To One.
Tell us about Ten To One Rum. What makes it special? Can you speak to the flavor profile?Marc: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I'll talk about the dark Rum and then talk about the white a little bit. The dark Rum, like I said before, is a blend from four countries: Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, and Dominican Republic. Three of those Rums are column still Rums. The idea of adding an unaged pot still Rum to the blend, was actually fairly unique. For a Flaviar member who's gonna crack open a bottle of the dark for the first time — I would love for them to try the Rum on its own because it was created with that intention in mind.
In terms of the notes that you would pick up, on the nose, you get some baking spice, for sure. Consumers aren't always able to pick up whether it's cinnamon versus nutmeg, for example, but they get the natural spice. And they get a bit of cooked fruit, which has a very natural, pleasant, almost fall-ish scent to it. But those are the two primary notes you're gonna get on the nose, along with a little bit of banana and ester. On the palate, you're gonna get some of those characteristics that come through, along, with some of the notes from the barrel ageing. So you'll get a bit of cedar and vanilla. Some people get a bit of leather — like a worn leather texture — as well.
The Rum has a moderate acidity, and a dry and clean finish. And I'm actually gonna point that out because one of the things that we wanted to actively battle with the perception of Rum is that people think that it’s cloying, and a little bit of a sugar bomb. We wanted to battle that perception with a slightly drier note on the finish.
After you've sipped it neat or on the rocks, add a splash of soda water. It lengthens the drink, and is especially great if you want something refreshing on a summer day. Coconut water with the Rum is also an incredible compliment. And any Flaviar member who likes an Old Fashioned must try Ten To One Dark in an Old Fashioned. It will be the most incredible Old Fashioned they've ever had.
Okay. Now the Ten To One White Rum is a blend from two countries: Jamaican pot still Rum alongside Dominican column still Rum. So you're gonna get some grassy and herbaceous qualities, a bit of ripe citrus, jasmine and honeysuckle that are all parts of the nose on the white Rum.
And similar to the dark, the exercise of exploring the nose versus the palate, almost feel like two separate discoveries. People are always very surprised and very intrigued by what they taste. As I have said before, you're gonna get some of those notes coming through on the palate with a bit of white pepper. People say a little bit of zest or a little minerality, but overall, a very clean and a very refreshing Rum. You'll find people who tremendously enjoy sipping the white Rum with a couple of ice cubes, and a grapefruit or lime wedge in there. The white Rum with the coconut water is also incredible. It's a great baseline cocktail we love to introduce to Ten to One customers.
You'll hear the folks reflect on how much Rum they drank in college on spring break with some slushy, sugary daiquiri that, maybe, gave them a hangover and then their Rum journey just kind of ended there.
Just to kind of riff off of one thing here — a lot of consumers aren’t necessarily comfortable or familiar with what the baseline mixers for Rum might be. With our Rums, it's very important that you can enjoy them on their own, neat or on the rocks, and then have the right core set of mixers. To me, that includes soda water, coconut water, or tonic. Use those to really complement the Rum in some amazing simple serves.
In terms of the white Rum’s uses, the daiquiri, for many bartenders, is the simplest and most elegant cocktail you can make. The potential for the white Rum in a daiquiri is extraordinary. Because of the 90 proof, it stands up really well and it adds some body to the cocktail. It's also amazing in a Negroni. You wanna do a white Rum Negroni with that. And there are tons of opportunities to explore a split base between the white and the dark. Your uses are pretty endless. We call it a mixological game changer.
What are some great food pairings?Marc: When we launched Ten To One, we actually also created our own chocolate. We created a single-origin Trinidadian cocoa, which people are in love with. Every time they try it, they're like, "Dude, your Rum is amazing, but you guys might wanna get into the chocolate business as well." Like, it's really good.
But that's a good example to me of creating a simple pairing with some intrigue around the product. We've done tastings with the dark Rum and the chocolate alongside it. Whether you want to just do that as a sipper or on the rocks, to bring forward some of those notes. I kind of reference the baking spice and some of the other elements that come through with the dark Rum. That, to me, is a pretty incredible pairing for sure.
With the white Rum, I think because of its nature, you get some of those grassier notes, the esters, a little bit of a citrus. I would think about things that might accentuate some of that citrus as the ideal pairing for something with the white Rum. Particularly if you've created a cocktail that, again, can really highlight those flavors.
Now, if you're talking about actual food, one of the things that we were about to launch right before COVID was a Ten To One pairing series. We wanted to challenge this idea that Caribbean Rum has to go with Caribbean food. So, we created an Omakase tasting with the Rum, which, like any great bartender or chef will tell you, is actually more about the specific notes you want to accentuate and feature.
So, really, the world is your oyster. I would focus more on using the notes — and we have fairly comprehensive notes for both Rums — to try to pick out ingredients that can really complement these Rums exceptionally well.
You talk about repositioning Rum in the US — what exactly does this mean?Marc: I think about that in two parts: the product and the brand. In the case of the product — and by product, I mean Rum, the category — there are a few key issues. First, the “occasions” in which Rum makes its way into people's consideration set. You'll often hear folks say, "Oh, I had some amazing Rum when I was sailing in the BVI." Or, "I went on holiday to Barbados," but, somehow, that Rum passion doesn't make it back home with them. It kind of stays in the Caribbean, or it stays on vacation. Or you'll hear folks reflect on how much Rum they drank in college on spring break with some slushy, sugary daiquiri that, maybe, gave them a hangover and then their Rum journey just kind of ended there.
But if you think about any other spirits category — sure, we all drank shitty Tequila and shitty Vodka in college but your path to education and elevation continues from there. Now you sip your Tequilas and your Mezcals, and you're into elevated cocktails and the love affair with the Spirit continues to grow and evolve. And that, again, isn't as universally true when it comes to Rum in the U.S. market.
Coconut water with the Rum is also an incredible compliment. And any Flaviar member who likes an Old Fashioned must try Ten To One Dark in an Old Fashioned.
Those are the things you’ll hear me speaking about when I talk about creating new "occasions" and that need for disruption.
On the brand side, there’s this ecosystem that sometimes feels a little bit narrow and limited. This is a Spirit that was born in the Caribbean — Caribbean and Latin America by extension. Why are we not doing more to celebrate the story and the heritage in a more authentic and more inspired way? Let's expand that purview for today's customer. I think, as somebody who is of the soil, from Trinidad and Tobago, that is as critical a part of the crusade — that brand side, that storytelling, and that narrative. It’s just as critical as the product side.
Everything we do is about challenging your expectations.
I took both those challenges and flipped them on their head — and that’s how Ten To One came to life. We’ve managed to create two extraordinary expressions that we’re tremendously proud of; Both of which are remarkably versatile and we think have the ability to change the way many consumers will think about Rum. From a brand perspective, the name, the bottle, the logo, the design, the storytelling, the people we partner with... it's all meant to present you with a much more contemporary view of Rum, Rum culture and Caribbean culture.
And I'll actually end where I would typically begin, which is reflecting on Ten To One's mission statement, and the fact that everything we do is about challenging expectations. Our mission is to create a contemporary and elevated blend that’s designed to challenge expectations and change the way that people taste, experience, and talk about Rum. If I can do that through the lens of the product, and through the lens of the brand, I think we'll have something that feels pretty iconic when it's all said and done.