Trinidad-born Marc Farrell founded Ten To One Rum in 2018 after noticing differences in how rum is consumed and perceived in the Caribbean compared to the U.S. Rum’s storied history has been tainted throughout the years as the narrative has shifted to a more narrow and caricatured one of pirates, he said. 

With Ten To One, Farrell aims to elevate the authentic back story of rum for the U.S. consumer, including sophisticated blends that reflect his Caribbean heritage.

“Rum is a spirit that was born out of struggle,” Farrell told the TRiiBE. “You can trace the roots to sugar plantations and ultimately the fermenting and distilling of rum were byproducts of the sugar refining process.”

In keeping up with his goals for the brand, he’s celebrating this year’s Black History Month in a big way. Ten To One is joining forces with fellow Black-owned Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey on a special-edition Bourbon Cask-Finish Rum. 

Additionally, Ten To One is publishing an illustrated cocktail manual called “Kindred Spirits.” It’s inspired by Black pre-Prohibition bartender Tom Bollock’s pioneering book The Ideal Bartender, the first cocktail book published by an African-American author, in 1917. Ten To One’s manual features recipes and stories from 28 BIPOC bartenders and mixologists across the U.S., including Chicago’s own Brittany Triche of Three Dots and a Dash speakeasy tiki bar in River North. 

Both the special-edition Bourbon Cask-Finish Rum and the illustrated cocktail manual were released on Feb. 1.

On Feb. 2, the TRiiBE caught up with Farrell via phone while he was on the road between New York City and Washington, D.C. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).

Rum has a complicated history. Can you speak to that in your home country of Trinidad and Tobago specifically?

Marc Farrell: Trinidad is similar to what you’ll find throughout the Caribbean. Rum is a spirit that was born out of struggle.  If you fast-forward to the present day, that history and heritage has been lost a little. The narrative today seems a little bit narrow and caricatured. It’s about pirates and plantations and it’s not celebrating the authentic backstory that surrounds rum as a category. To be super clear, it doesn’t have to be a story that is super heavy and dour and dark. There’s so much about the evolution of the spirit itself and the broader culture around rum in the Caribbean that’s worth celebrating.

Even today, there aren't that many Black-owned rum brands. Why is that?

MF: It’s an extension of the history of the spirit. If rum is an offshoot of plantations and sugar refining factories, then the capital, the land and the resources that are required to bring one of these operations to life was cost-prohibitive for folks of color for many years. Fast-forward to the present day and you don’t have many Black people that have had a chance to shine a light on the spirit in their own way. I hope that we inspire people to ask this same question and inspire more Black people to create their own rums.

If somebody is new to rum, what should they look for to identify a high-quality rum?

MF: The majority of the volume of rum, 75-80% in the U.S., is priced below $20. We are trying to introduce a more elevated and inspired view of the spirit. For somebody getting into the category for the first time, do a little exploration into the provenance of specific rums. One of the most beautiful parts about rum as a category is how much variety there is. Is it a molasses-style rum or an agricole rum made from fresh sugar cane juice? Is it from one country or a blend? Is it barrel-aged or unaged? I think there’s a ton of intrigue and beauty for new consumers. I would encourage folks to look for brands that are very transparent in how they are created. 

Your rums are blends from multiple countries – Dominican and Jamaican for the white rum, and Barbados, Dominican, Jamaican and Trinidad for the dark. Is it rare to find rum that's blended from multiple countries like yours?

MF: It’s pretty rare. You can create a really nuanced profile with a multi-country blend. We are exploring different distillation methods and soil compositions and what notes that brings to life. If you can combine those in a particularly unique way then you end up with a final product that can be of really extraordinary quality. 

You get a lot of Jamaican pot distillation on the nose of both of our rums, and in our aged rum, Barbados forms the backbone. All of our rums are distilled from molasses. Typically in the English- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean, you’ll get molasses-style rums. Agricole tends to be more popular in the French-speaking Caribbean.

Ciara recently signed on as your investor and co-owner. How did that connection come about and what kind of creative projects can we look forward to this year?

MF: She’s amazing. Right as I called you, she just texted me to say hi. She’s an incredible friend and partner to have. We were connected through mutual friends and the conversation was very organic. She’s very entrepreneurial and was inspired by the story behind Ten To One and the opportunity to take our Caribbean soul and bring that energy to new audiences. Even though Ciara is not from the Caribbean, she shares the joie de vivre and spontaneity that I associate with the Caribbean spirit. She’s leaning in with us on the marketing side, figuring how we can integrate Ten To One in the many different projects that she has going on. 

Will she be name-dropping Ten To One in songs?

MF: If I was a betting man, I would say yes. She’s been hard at work in the studio these last few weeks.

With Ten To One, founder Marc Farrell aims to elevate the authentic backstory of rum for the American consumer, including sophisticated blends that reflect his Caribbean heritage. Photo courtesy of Ten To One Rum.

What are your favorite cocktail bars in Chicago?

MF: Name-dropping always gets me in trouble! I’ll say Starbucks Reserve Roastery has a very cool program with Ten To One and that was such a cool full circle moment because I was part of the Starbucks team before founding Ten To One. The Aviary in New York was one of our first accounts pre-pandemic. Now, The Aviary in Chicago and a bunch of other spots in the Alinea Group have been great supporters.

For Black History Month, you're joining forces with Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey on a special-edition Bourbon Cask-Finish Rum. How is this different from your dark rum, which is also finished in bourbon casks?

MF: One thing that we pride ourselves on is being very innovative with what we bring to market. And we have an opportunity to do it through unique cask finishes. If we can show customers how much depth and intrigue there is in the rum category, we can change how people think about rum.

With our core dark rum, we pick up more notes of cooked fruit and baking spice on the nose, a little bit of banana and toffee on the palate. With the Uncle Nearest finish, you get more spiced apple and a crème brûlée finish that some people pick up. And it’s done at a higher proof. The core Ten To One is 80 proof and Uncle Nearest is 86 proof. It’s a great sipper either neat or on the rocks.

My favorite cocktail is the rum old fashioned and that could work really elegantly with either of our dark rums.

How many bottles of the special-edition Bourbon Cask-Finish Rum are you making and where can we get our hands on it?

MF: We did about 10,000 bottles and launched on February 1. It sold out online in 24 hours, but Binny’s is probably the best place to start and some independent retailers. You can find it at The Aviary and Starbucks Reserve Roastery as well.

Try Ten To One in this cocktail recipe by Chicago’s Brittany Triche of Three Dots and a Dash:

Mood 4Ever Recipe

1 ½ oz. Ten To One Dark Rum 

½ oz. maraschino liqueur 

½ oz. lemon juice 

½ oz. pineapple juice 

½ oz. guava juice 

Shake and serve up or on the rocks. Garnish with pineapple and leaves.

Triche’s story behind the drink:

“Mood 4Ever is a cocktail that instantly brings me to some of the best times in my life. It’s a combination of flavors that remind me of who I am and the people and places that I love. The island spice from Ten to One dark rum will forever remind me of one of my favorite countries with some of my best memories – Jamaica. Ten to One combined with fresh pineapple alone is already a harmonious combination, but it sends me to the day I married my best friend in Jamaica surrounded by some of the most wonderful people in my life. 

Guava will always transport me back to my second home, Miami,. In Mood 4Ever, the tart but sweet flavor of the guava compliments the pineapple and spice, gives a great balance, and instantly makes me crave a Pastelito. 

The opportunity to support a Black-owned rum brand, with amazing and authentic flavor, and a fellow lover of spirits and cocktails is very special to me. The flavor and versatility of Ten to One is unmatched and the passion that goes into this rum shines through. TTO is a new favorite in my home and is truly a forever mood.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.