‘Cheeky, sharp and charming’: Lula is the voice of a new rum rebellion

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‘Cheeky, sharp and charming’: Lula is the voice of a new rum rebellion

Lula Rum founder Jesse Stowers

Lula ‘speaks with a wink’ using dialogue that is ‘cheeky, sharp and charming’.

This description comes naturally to young entrepreneur and Lula Rum founder Jesse Stowers who envisages his product to be as real as the free-spirited friend you love hanging out with on a Saturday night.

“I can’t ever tell you what Lula looks like because it’s up to the customer to create their own imagery,” Stowers tells Business News Australia.

After spending years in the beverage sector, working in marketing and business development roles for liquor distributors as well as time mixing cocktails behind a bar, Stowers has taken all that he has learned in the industry to create a new white rum that he describes as ‘creamy, buttery, soft and smooth’.

“People just want fun, pretty, tasty approachable drinks and that’s what Lula brings to the party,” Stowers says.

This sums up the inspiration that led the Brisbane-based Stowers to establish Lula Rum in 2021 and the novel approach he has taken to grow the brand.

“Throughout my career, I have always invested in emotional experience, trying to create escapism for customers - and nothing personifies escapism more than sitting on the beach at Waikiki and sipping on a Mai Tai.”

Produced from the company’s Fortitude Valley distillery, Lula has developed a loyal base of advocates through strategic partnerships with local venues on its home turf.

Among them are some of Brisbane’s most popular night-time haunts such as Hellenika, Southside. and Sixes & Sevens, which are among the influential cocktail bars that deliver the ‘social proof’ to leverage Lula Rum’s distribution.

“Our focus has been in the on-premise because that is where you can build the brand through liquid on lips and personal engagement,” Stowers says.

“I can put a bottle of Lula on every single bar in Australia but that does nothing for me - and it does nothing for the venue either.

“We’ve always gone for a quality rather than quantity approach by identifying the market leaders where we want to be seen.”

It’s a strategy that has led to exponential growth over the past three-plus years for Lula Rum which was founded with the backing of Brisbane entrepreneur Ben Pullen.

Lula is also stocked in select Southeast Queensland and Far North Queensland outlets of Dan Murphy’s and BWS, while in early January the company launched into Western Australia where it is collaborating with The Beverage Company to open new distribution channels.

Stowers recalls his first orders of product in December 2021, which comprised 10 bottles or a mere 1.6 cases. In December last year, it dispatched 261 cases for the month.


“Lula has grown at a crazy rate, and we’ve done this with no loans, no credit cards and no overdrafts,” Stowers says.

Prior to launching Lula Rum, Stowers was a hospitality consultant for Liquid Specialty Beverages, helping licensed venues to develop ‘more successful, relevant and efficient’ beverage strategies. More recently, he was business development manager with Craft Revolution.

“These roles gave me an incredible platform to identify some significant gaps in the market,” Stowers says.

“Characteristically and traditionally, the consumers perception of rum has been a product or category directly marketed towards ‘pirates and punching on’ or ‘masculinity and motorsports’.

“Lula was born out of the desire to break the mould and capitalise on this market gap.

“My time in the industry has seen me learn some key marketing fundamentals, namely that you drink with your eyes before you drink with your mouth and that people don’t shop for what you offer, but rather how you make them feel.”

Stowers confesses to be an ‘outside the box’ thinker, but he is keen to make the point he is not ‘Willy Wonka crazy’. That means he is not afraid of taking a ‘cheeky’ approach to marketing.

Lula Rum’s first billboard campaign urged people to ‘drink rum because gin is just flavoured vodka’.

“I always want to have fun with the market,” he says.

While he appreciates the gin category, Stowers points out that Australia has been ‘drowning in juniper’ over the past five years. He chose the white rum category for his entrepreneurial journey because he sees the product as ‘synonymous with Australia’ and not least because there are just four major players in the market led by Bacardi.

Born in New Zealand, Stowers spent time growing up in Mackay where his father had a range of bottle shops. Surrounded by sugar cane farms in the tropical north, it was the perfect storm to inspire his rum-distilling future.

“My baptism by molasses started at a very young age,” he jokes.

Stowers’ passion for hospitality also stems from his Polynesian heritage.

Jesse Stowers: "Lula has given me the freedom to create experiences and emotional attachments to the brand."


“In Samoa, food is love. As soon as you walk into a Samoan household it’s always about how we can service you. Food is a reflection of our love and it’s how we communicate this.”

As a self-confessed contrarian, Stowers seeks to ‘do the opposite of everyone else’.

“Rum has always been characterised by a testosterone-driven demographic, but I created Lula to cast a wider net for the category. Now I want to diversify people’s perception and relationship with rum.”

That’s reflected in the likes of marketing initiatives such as the Piká-Kolada, which comes in its own Pikachu mug provided to venues by Lula. It’s among the many ideas to spread the love for Lula that Stowers’ imagination conjures.

And Stowers is not afraid to take the Lula concept to the extreme when discussing his business, as he always refers to Lula as ‘her’ or ‘she’.

“Lula speaks with a wink using dialogue that is cheeky, sharp and charming - and I want everybody to be able to drink her,” he says.

“Lula was launched as a means to diversify the rum market by creating a brand that has greater appeal than the traditional consumer base through putting a feminine dialogue and aesthetic. 

“But it’s not only about creating delicious, pretty and ‘Instagrammable’ beverages out for people. By launching Lula in the market, it has given me the opportunity and freedom to create experiences and emotional attachments to the brand.

“We work on relevance with our venue partners. If I can support them and add value to their consumer experience, then their consumers want more of Lula.”

With higher alcohol by volume of 39 per cent compared with other rums in the market at 37 per cent, Stowers says the ‘taste on lips’ has hit a note with consumers as it provides ‘the perfect ethanol content that balances the viscosity’.

The lure of Lula saw the brand awarded a silver medal at the coveted San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2022, shortly after Stowers launched to the market.

Spreading the word has since been aided by the in part by the transient nature of the hospitality industry with bartenders ‘taking the product with them to new locations’.

Jesse Stowers: "This year we are heavily devoted to liquid on lips" 


“We get messages on our social media or from places in Northern Territory or Canberra looking for Lula,” Stowers says.

Lula Rum has even fielded inquiries from Brazil, although Stowers suspects this is driven by his rum sharing a name with the country’s president Lula da Silva.

“It’s amazing to also see the response we are getting from awesome markets like China, Thailand and France.”

But while exports are an appealing long-term goal for Lula Rum, and also more lucrative due to the excise charged on distillers for domestic consumption, it’s not on the agenda for the company for now.

“Exports are the cream, but our strategy remains to grow the brand domestically,” says Stowers, who notes that each bottle of Lula rum attracts $31 in liquor excise.

Last year, the company’s mission was to seed the brand and build relationships with key venues.

“This year we are heavily devoted to liquid on lips and to activate in front of consumers,” Stowers says.

“We’re now one of the major sponsors for the Noosa Eat & Drink Festival, which hasn’t been held in four years and is on again at the end of May.”

Lula Rum is also heading to Cairns for one of its biggest events of the past year, the Salt House Food & Wine Festival.

Stowers says Lula Rum’s entry into Western Australia, in collaboration with The Beverage Company, has started off strongly.

“The interaction, response and feedback we are getting has been incredible,” Stowers says.

And the young entrepreneur remains happy to ‘hustle my own muscle’ to continue growing the brand, ploughing back all profits into the business and shying away from any need for capital markets.

While he has a target of doubling distribution volumes by July, Stowers is not losing sight of his original vision for Lula Rum as the business expands. The vision fundamentally informs his impact in a market that has been largely overlooked by the boutique distilling sector in Australia.

“We have options to expand at our existing premises and at this rate, to quote the classics, we’re going to need a bigger boat,” Stowers says.

“But to see what we have achieved over the past 18 months, the brand perception and reciprocity we are getting from venues, that is how I really measure the success of Lula.”

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