An Interview with Johnny Drejer (Drecon.dk)

Johnny Dreyer drecon interview the fat rum pirateToday’s interviewee is Johnny Drejer, who has been publishing information regarding additives in rum since 2013. Specifically sugar using a Hydrometer method.

Johnny’s site is brief and to the point and I would strongly recommend spending time to read all the articles and information.  The site can be found at http://www.drecon.dk/

Here at thefatrumpirate.com we were particularly happy with Johnny’s view on adding sugar to rum.  We felt that the following statement on Drecon.dk was a very fair assessment of one of rum’s biggest problems

“Adding sugar to rum, is that bad then?
I would say it depends. if the producers use the sugar to adjust the flavour of a premium product, that’s not a problem to me. At the end of the day, you still buy a premium product so there’s a correlation between the money you pay and the product you get. My problem arises when you pay for a premium rum and in reality you buy a cheap rum that has been flavoured and coloured so it appears to be a premium rum. My concern is that these “premium” rums will push some of the other real premium rums out of the market, leaving behind fewer of the brands that I over time have come to appreciate more and more.”

So here we have a little Question and Answer session with Johnny.  Enjoy.

Question 1.  You mention on your website that you originally began the “Hydrometer” experiment in order to classify rum more easily and decide where it fitted in the overall scheme of things.  Tell me at what stage in your Rum tastings did thoughts surrounding added sugar first enter your thoughts?

The idea of classifying the sweetness of a rum based on how much sugar that’s been added to it, was part of the discussion we had before we started doing our blind tasting sessions.

So that idea has been there from the start. Even though the idea to measure sugar was there, we had at the time no idea on how to do this in a way that was afordable (basically not involving us sending samples to a lab).

Question 2.  Was there a specific rum which made you think “Hang on this isn’t as good as it says it is because its been “laced with sugar” (or words to that effect)?

No, the idea of measuring the sugar in rum did not originate from an experience with a rum laced with sugar. From the start it was all about mapping the rums we enjoy into a matrix.

It was also a way for us to actually see if the sweetness we find in many rums has a direct correlation to the amount of sugar added.

When I taste new rums, I automatically start guessing about the sugar content. In most cases, the sweet rums has high sugar levels but I have come across rums that we perceive as sweet which has none or very little sugar added. You also starts to wonder if the rum you have in your glass, is truely as old as stated.

Why would you add high amount of sugar to a rum that is being sold as a very old rum?

Question 3.  How confident are you that the hydrometer test offers at least an estimate of how much sugar has been added to the rum?  Are you able to determine in anyway at what stage the sugar has been added?

In Sweden and Finland, Rum (and other spirits) are sold by state controlled shops (Systembolaget in Sweden and Alko in Finland). Both Systembolaget & Alko has analyzed some of the rums they sell.

One of the parameters they measure, is the amount of sugar in gram/Liter. I have compared their results with my measurements, and they are very close and in some cases identical.  Since their measurements are done in a lab with equipment that truely measures the sugar content, I know that their numbers are correct. The hydrometer test does not measure sugar, it measures the density of the rum.

When producers add sugar (or other things?) to the rum, the density of the rum changes. When adding sugar, the rum becomes more “thick” causing the Hydrometer to measure a wrong alcohol level simply by the fact that the Hydrometer does not sink down to the same level in the rum when sugar has been added. To do my calculation, I have to assume a few things.

1. The % abv listed on the label of the rum are correct (according to EU law, it has to be within 0,3% accurracy).

2. The “thing” that has been added causing the density of the rum to change, is sugar (according to EU law the only thing you are allowed to add is sweetner (sugar) and caramel to adjust the colour (The caramel used is bitter in taste and does not sweeten the rum)).

Out of more than 100 rums measured, there has been two rums where I believe my test has given me a false result. In both cases its two rums which have no sugar added, but my test gave a different result.

The first rum was Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style rum which I measured to 4g/L. Bryan from Lost Spirits Distillery does some amazing interesting stuff with his barrels, so the density change in the rum is most likely a result of wood extracts and not sugar added. That’s why I changed the data I list, so rums with no sugar added are listed as 0-5g/L.

The second rum where I believe my test results are wrong, is English Harbour 1981. I expect that this is caused by an error in the actual %abv of the rum not matching the % abv listed on the label.  I will send a sample of this rum to be analyzed by someone who can measure the true % abv so I know if the % abv listed on the label is wrong (giving me a wrong sugar calculation)

Using the Hydrometer method it is not possible to determine at what stage “something” has been added to the rum.          

Question 4.  Have you or your website attracted any negative publicity or been the subject to any personal attacks?   If so have these been from unnamed individuals or have you had specific companies or persons involved in rum contact you with regard the work you have done?  Have you received praise from within the industry?

I have not received any negative comments or been subjected to personal attacks. I guess that some producers out there dont like the data, but I “just” publish the facts.DREYER3

I don’t judge if a rum is good or bad. I’m not doing this to single out the producers that add sugar to their rums.  I present the data and people can make their own conclusions. There has been a case where the data/pictures was used in a Facebook group to “Name and Shame” a particular company.

The way this was done, crossed the line of what I find acceptable because the person was adding false accucations to each picture.  Based on that, I took the decision to change all the pictures so it was clear that his false accucations toward the company was wrong.

After that experience I actually considered if I should continue doing these measurements. Based on inputs from Facebook friends, I decided to continue with the tests.

And yes, people in the industry has praised my work. Both from people who has an interest in producing rum without sugar but also from people who wants the producers to tell the truth about what they add to the rum.

Question 5.  Do you think that the rum companies still continue to try and ignore the debate around added sugar?

I think the rum companies should realise that telling consumers that “we dont add sugar, its wood extracts” is not really working anymore.  The average consumer is not aware about sugar in rum, and this gives the producers time to rethink their strategy about what to tell the public. 

I do however see an interest in the subject from people outside the rum community. Recently I took part in a radio interview on a Danish radio station where the topic was about sugar in rum.

Until now, I have only met two producers that openly admits to have added sugar (Havana Club and Plantation Rum). The rest (who adds sugar) still talks about wood extracts.

Question 6.  What is the most amusing/far-fetched reason/excuse you have seen for “added sugar” in rum?  Have any denials been so ridiculous that you have barely been able to believe them?

The producers are pretty much in sync when it comes to excuses, all of them mentions wood extracts during aging as the reason for the density change.

Question 7.  What role do you think Rum Writers should play in the “added sugar” discussion.  Having read your website I am very much in accord with your views on added sugar.  Do you think it is something that writers should include in their reviews?  I don’t see much evidence of this from looking around the web.  Do you think the proliferation of sites geared towards reviewing samples contributes to the ongoing myth that no sugar is ever added to rum?

For me the rum writers role in this, is about getting information and facts out to the readers. The articles published on the subject are mostly from passionate people who love rum, so there are many feelings involved when the sugar subject is discussed. Most writers don’t touch the subject because they dont have the facts available (about how much sugar is added) and don’t want to publish undocumented information. Others might stay away from the subject because it will have an impact on the free rums the receive for review (this is just a feeling I have).

Dave Russell from rumgallery.com is now listing his own sugar measurements when he reviews a rum.  For him (and me), its just an additional data about the rum, like the % abv. which the consumer can use to make their purchasing decisions.

In the long run, I hope that by creating awareness about sugar in rum, the producers would start to list the amount of sugar added on the label.  Sugar in rum is allowed, so why not be honest about how much sugar is added?

Question 8.  Do you think the premiumisation (personally I think with rums such as R L Seale’s and Appleton, already available happened years ago!) of rum will always be hampered by its reputation as a “rogue spirit”? 

Do you think all the denials and the smoke and mirrors used in the rum world hamper its chances of every truly being taken seriously by the mainstream?

Rum has a reputation as a “rogue spirit” for a reason. We have rum out there which lists the age of the oldest rum in the blend where others list the youngest.

Rum which claims to be Solera but more likely a blended rum.

Rums with so much sugar added its close to being a liqueur and we have rums where its clear from the taste profile that “something” has been added.

If rum want to be taken seriously like Cognac and Whisky, a very clear set of guidelines must be agreed upon among the producers. And someone must control that these guidelines are followed. Someone who has the power to pull a product from the market.  Only then will the creative producers respect and follow the guidelines and only then will consu mers respect rum as much as Cognac & Whisky.  The fact that the producers keep on denying the addition of sugar even though a state controlled lab has results proving the opposite dosnt really do any good for the case.

How can you take a product seriously if the producer is not truthful

DREYER2Question 9.  Could you tell me a little history of how you got into rum?

Rum & Coke was my preferred drink back in the days. In 2010 a very good friend gave me a bottle of Plantation Grenada 1986 Single Cask and I was amazed about the taste.  I went to the shop here in Denmark that imports the Plantation rums, and the guy in the shop asked if I preferred Pot still or Column still rums.

I had no idea what he was talking about. Later that evening I was thinking, that one of the only spirits I enjoy is rum and I have no idea how its being produced.  I started to read up on the subject and from then on, I was hooked. I looked online and came across an advertisement for a rum tasting which I signed up for.  The presenter was the guy in Denmark who knows most about rum and has an amazing passion for the subject.  The tasting lasted more than 3 hours with a ton of slides from his travels around the caribbean. The person is Ingvar Thomsen (also known as Rom Thomsen) and he is now a very good friend and one of the guys in our private rum tasting club.

Question 10.  What would be your top 5 “adultered” and “unadultered” rums?

I don’t have a list of my top rums. People often ask which rum I consider the best and I give them the same answer. That depends….

It depends on the situation you are in. Where you are, who you are with.  But I will mention a few rums that I really like

El Dorado 25 1980

Plantation Jamaica 1983 Single Cask 2nd edition

Plantation Guadeloupe 1998 Single Cask

Plantation St.Lucia 2003 Old Reserve

Diplomatico Ambassador

Havana Club 15

Appleton 21

English Harbour 1981

Santiago de Cuba 20

Rhum J.M 1997 Rhum Vieux Agricole

Question 11.  What is your “pet hate” in the Rum World?

I wouldn’t say that there is something I hate in the rum world. One thing annoys me and thats when a producer openly lies to my face even though the truth is obvious.

Question 12.  Who in the rum world do you look up to?

Producers, Ambassadors, Presenters and Blog writers who has great passion for rum and are willing to share their information.

People who answers my questions in a truthful manner taking into account that they have trade secrets to protect.

So people who work hard on producing and promoting rum are the type of people in the rum world I look upto.

So there you go.  I hope you enjoyed reading Johnny’s answers as much as I did.  Some very interesting and honest opinions there.

Thanks very much Johnny.  Great stuff

Copyright © 2018 thefatrumpirate.com. All Rights Reserved.  Premium WordPress Plugins