Created in 2009 by formerly retired distiller Tom Maas, RumChata is one of the most popular cream liqueurs in the world and was recently named one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S. The rum-based, horchata-inspired beverage is made from five-times distilled Caribbean rum, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, and Wisconsin dairy cream. The liqueur is inspired by Mexican horchata, a plant-based beverage typically made from rice and flavored with cinnamon and sugar.
Maas, who retired at the age of 50 after working as director of bourbon for brands such as Jim Beam and Knob Creek, began to find himself restless — wanting to get back into the distilling game. After trying horchata for the first time in 2006, he immediately began dreaming up a recipe for a spiked version.
While RumChata’s original recipe features flavors of sweet vanilla and cinnamon, the brand also offers RumChata Limón for a citrus kick and RumChata Peppermint Bark for a holiday-inspired edge. Now that you know the basics of the world’s first rum-based cream liqueur, here are nine more things you should know about RumChata.
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Creator Tom Maas has been involved in the distilling business since he was a child.
As a child, prior to working for world-famous brands like Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, and Knob Creek, Tom Maas spent time traveling with his father Duane Maas, a renowned distillery engineer who constructed distilleries in eight countries over the course of his career. When Maas was just 11 years old, while on site with his father at a recently constructed distillery, he helped make his first batch of whiskey.
A focus group at Jim Beam sparked the idea for RumChata.
While working as Jim Beam’s worldwide director of bourbon, Maas was looking to bring the spirit to people of Hispanic descent. To conduct research, Maas began organizing focus groups. It was during these meetings that Maas recalls some respondents joking, “If you mixed Jim Beam with horchata, everyone would drink it.” While Maas had not heard of horchata prior to the focus group, he instantly recalled the name years later, when he was confronted with the beverage at a burrito shop shortly after retiring. After trying the plant-based beverage, he concurred that it would pair delightfully with booze.
The recipe for RumChata was developed in Maas’s own kitchen.
Desperate to develop a recipe for spiked horchata, Maas began mixing various spirits with the Latin American beverage in his own kitchen. Recalling his interaction with Hispanic participants in focus groups a few years prior, Maas started with bourbon as his base but quickly realized that rum would be a better pairing for the various spices in horchata. He was able to acquire a custom-made light Barbadian rum from his father — who was consulting for the West Indies Rum Distillery — and found it to be the perfect complement.
It was also during the recipe development phase that Maas decided that the traditional base of Mexican horchata, jicaro seeds, and ice water, might not offer the consistency he was looking to create. Instead — having previously developed the dairy-based Starbucks Cream Liqueur at Jim Beam — Maas used real cream to elevate and perfect RumChata’s recipe.
RumChata got its name by pure coincidence.
Shortly after creating the foundational recipe for RumChata, Maas by chance bumped into a friend who had recently trademarked the name “RumChata.” The reason why? He just thought the name sounded catchy. Maas responded, “Well, that’s a great name for a product I just invented,” and thus, RumChata finally had a name.
RumChata was a multi-generational retirement project.
Not only did developing RumChata pull Tom Maas out of retirement; the project also launched his father Duane into a brand new career at the age of 80. After settling on the liqueur’s name, Maas’s father convinced him that opening his own bottling plant, rather than selling the product idea to a producer, would allow him to ensure that every batch of RumChata was made with guaranteed cleanliness. Like father, like son: Retirement was driving Duane a bit stir crazy, and he was desperate to get back in the business. From 2008 until a few years prior to his death in 2016, Duane Maas ran the Midwest Custom Bottling facility where RumChata was produced and bottled until it was sold to E. & J. Gallo in 2021.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch was an essential part of RumChata’s marketing strategy.
For the first few months after its release in 2009, RumChata was still not performing in the way that the Maas duo would have hoped. Sales remained low, and interest in alcoholic dairy products showed no indication of increasing any time soon. Backed into a corner, Tom began a marketing tour of his own, bringing the product to bars and restaurants across the Midwest. It was at one of these bars that Maas introduced a 20-something patron to RumChata, who went on to describe the flavor as “the milk left over after eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.”
After trying the cereal for himself, Maas agreed with the comparison and purchased thousands of single-serve boxes of the General Mills product, bringing it to bars and restaurants and asking bartenders to give out the cereal with a shot of RumChata. Running with the idea, bartenders began adding a bit of Fireball to the liqueur, which only has an ABV of about 12.5 percent, to kick up the proof. The shooter was an instant success — Maas even claims that it was the No. 1-selling shot in Wisconsin from 2011 to 2015. By the end of 2011, the first year using Cinnamon Toast Crunch as a promotional fixture, Maas had sold over 20,000 cases of RumChata.
A stock market crisis threatened the brand’s ability to fulfill orders.
While an overabundance of orders could be considered a Champagne problem, it became a real issue for RumChata in 2010, when the United States economy was still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession. During that time, Tom Maas was unable to secure the loans needed to fulfill a massive purchase order for America’s largest spirits distributor, Southern Glazer’s. Unable to use these funds, Maas was forced to pay for over $220,000 worth of glass bottles on his personal credit cards. While this would have been an incredibly risky decision on his part in even the best of economic times, it proved to be worth the reward. One year later, he found a sign pasted on the door of a supermarket allocating RumChata purchases to one per customer.
The decision to sell RumChata was an easy one.
Despite the growing popularity of RumChata prior to the pandemic — the brand was selling over half a million cases every year by the late 2010s — Maas says that Covid scared him immensely. When thinking about his 80 employees and the families they all had at home, he worried about what could happen to these hundreds of people if he made a decision that took the brand south. Rather than facing this possibility, Maas made the decision to sell RumChata to E. & J. Gallo, another family-owned business. As part of the sale, E. & J. Gallo also gained control of the Midwest Custom Bottling facility, retaining all RumChata employees.
Don’t be shocked if you see RumChata stored on the shelf.
Despite the fact that RumChata contains real dairy cream, it’s actually completely safe to store it at room temperature. According to the brand, “the cream has been homogenized with the rum, and the alcohol acts as a preservative.” Typically, a bottle will stay fresh on a shelf at room temperature for about six months, though many still prefer to keep it refrigerated. While RumChata won’t immediately spoil on your bar cart, it is important to keep an eye on the modifiers you choose to mix with the liqueur — high-acid mixers like citrus or soda can curdle the beverage.