Do you like your rum wrapped in marketing BS?

A common problem that rum enthusiasts like us have started to come across is the lack of information on some rums. When you are looking at a bottle, you would expect to have at least some basic information such as origin, blend, minimum age or additives (if any).

This lack of basic information makes it difficult to buy a rum without having to do some prior research. This becomes more apparent when you are without internet access (more about our experience on this, keep reading). Frustratingly, sometimes the information you are looking for is not that easily accessible, concocted for marketing purposes, or written by freaking pirates. Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t affect only rum, but we are only dipping into rum, as we are Rumming after all.

On holiday a little while back in Canada, we came across the Cruzan Single Barrel rum. It was marketed as a Caribbean rum from St Croix that has been aged in a single barrel. We had no internet access at that time, and I got sucked in by the big and bold “Single Barrel” on the label, the “Premium” look of the bottle and its rather affordable price. Rebecca was more sceptical and questioned whether I was buying a fancy bottle rather than a good rum.  I thought I knew better.

I later realised that the rum was simply transferred to a single barrel (no idea for how long), rather than being the aged contents of a single barrel from start to finish. We thought that “Single Barrel” had a common definition in the rum industry, but apparently not in this case. When we asked about this rum on the Ministry of Rum forum, some questioned its origin (is it really from St Croix?) and ageing method (solera and wood chips?). For us, this is an example of lack of transparency (deception maybe?), which, unfortunately, is not uncommon. Luckily unlike vodka, we haven’t had a rum triple filtered through meteorites just yet.

Many rum advocates are pushing brands to move away from terms like “dark”, “amber”, “pale” and “gold”. What these terms means varies across rum brands more often than not, which should not be the case. Another big issue is age statements, where it is very common that a rum has the oldest rather than the youngest rum age statement on their label. With solera rums, there are no requirements to justify this, and it appears to be a common thing. This is crazy when sometimes there is a difference of 17 years between the youngest and oldest rum in the blend. In order for rum to be taken more seriously, we need more rum brands to be transparent and more consistent regarding their labelling and use of a rum terms (a classification maybe?).

What is rum in one part of the world might not be in another. Even though rum IS regulated, in some cases, having rum on the label does not guarantee that you are getting an authentic rum. It is well known that some distilleries buy neutral spirits in bulk and use that to make “rum”. Hydrometer tests? Well, we’ll leave that to The Fat Rum Pirate and the hydrometer police.

What’s in my rum sounds like a simple question, right? But additives such as glycerin, flavouring, caramel or sugar, might be used in some rums, which are unknown to the consumers. In an ideal world, the additives would be made known on the label, and rums with excess additives classified accordingly as either flavoured rum, spiced rum, rum-based, rum liqueur, etc. But it’s inherently circular: who’s going to own up? Glycerin-enhanced rum doesn’t quite ring the marketing bells.

The likes of Chairman’s Reserve, Foursquare, Velier, Duncan Taylor, New Grove, Mount Gay, Appleton and other reputable rum producers and bottlers have already adopted the more informative approach to labelling. Each including various levels of details. Some of the information (at least some, if not all) that you should expect to find are:

  • The age of the rum and, if aged, what is the minimum age.
  • Blend type (pure single blended, single cask, etc)
  • Vintage
  • Origin (such as country and distillery)
  • Whether the rum has been filtered
  • Additives, if any
  • Angel’s share
  • Barrel or Barrels maturation or finish (Bourbon cask, port cask, sherry cask, etc.)
  • Bottle number where applicable
  • Aged in the Caribbean, Europe, etc..
  • Master Blender
  • Terroir specific details, common for Agricole rhums (such as water source, sugar cane strain, soil type, etc.)

All the listed information might not be available, but it should be very easily accessible online, and brand ambassadors should be able to communicate these details if asked.

With better labelling and classification, we as consumers should have all the important information at hand in order to make an educated purchase, and get past the marketing clichés, elaborate stories, fancy bottling and/or packaging.

This is our simple take on the labelling issue. We wouldn’t have thought that getting into rum would have us writing about this, but here we are.

What are your thoughts? Who are the main drivers behind this change?

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