THE RUM CATEGORY is as broad and far-reaching as they come. At last count, it is produced in nearly 85 countries. As a consequence, regulation and enforcement are notional for some. One of the most divisive and keenly debated unregulated and unenforced issues when it comes to rum is age.
Some rum-producing regions stipulate that the age printed on the label should refer to the youngest rum in the bottle. Simple enough, but there are a lot of producers who don’t follow this and the result is mass consumer confusion and a great deal of anger among commentators and producers.
“There is some understandable confusion about age statements within the rum category,” Ned Duggan, Bacardi brand marketing director VP, says. “This stems from the lack of a universal standard across the world with respect to rum ageing classification laws and regulation.”
As the leading international rum, Bacardi says it follows the “very simple and strict” Puerto Rican legal guidelines when it comes to providing age statements on its rums. Puerto Rican law dictates that the age statement on the bottle must reflect the youngest rum in the bottle. The same is true for Appleton, as the laws around Jamaican rum are clear.
“Some countries allow producers to state the age on the bottle that reflects the oldest rum in the bottle,” Dugan adds. “Even if it contains only a very small amount of that rum, but we believe this is disingenuous and does a disservice to the credibility of the rum category.”
Richard Seale, Foursquare Distillery master distiller, picks up the point: “With the growth in both the success of and the attention to the rum category we are seeing more aged rums enter the market. In the broad context of the past 20 years, the change is remarkable.”
He adds: “Unfortunately rum continues to communicate poorly and we have too many no-aged statement rums claiming to be premium and far too many misleading age claims, whether it is an ornamental number or a qualified number such as solera. As long as the rum category plays these asinine self-defeating games, we won’t be taken seriously at the very highest end of the market.”
Edward Hamilton, rum author and self-professed ‘advocate for honest rums’, says the industry is going to have to be more responsible at naming and shaming culprits who give rum a bad name. “The industry has to call out fake labels and fake products,” he says. “It needs to hold everyone accountable for their claims. The industry knows what others are and aren’t doing, but they continue to keep quiet for fear of offending someone. The credibility of the industry depends on raising the bar of authenticity.”
The practice is growing in number and gall. Hamilton says: “I can list half a dozen products that are clearly meant to deceive consumers with false age statements, others with misleading age statements and products that have so many additives no one believes they aren’t being doctored. But their PR agencies defend them all the way to the bank with statements like, ‘that’s not what the brand owner told me’.”