Gargano Rum Classification – Can it Change the Rum World?

Gargano Rum Classification Article by the fat rum pirate Hampden StillIntroduction

I’ve been asked a few times recently why I’m not supporting the Gargano Rum Classification.  By support, I assume people are wondering why I haven’t featured the classification on the site? Or why I haven’t adopted it in my reviews?

Fact is, I have for a long time tried whenever possible to find out how the rum in my bottle has been produced.  Which is exactly what the Gargano Rum Classification involves. Though I haven’t “come out” in favour quite as enthusiastically or as quickly as some, the more information disclosed the better in my book.

Background

The Gargano Rum Classification system has been drawn up in conjunction with Barbados rum producer and Master Distiller Richard Seale by Luca Gargano of Velier. Both Velier and Foursquare have put out some of, if not the best rum over the past 20 years and beyond. Velier recently celebrated its 70th birthday. Richard Seale is a third generation master distiller. Anything these two are involved in is usually for the good of rum.

Initial Thoughts

If you are like me you tend not to take things at face value and just agree with everything.  Some may consider me to be cynical. I see this more of being realistic.  I don’t believe in fairies and unicorns.  I tend to dig deeper into things.  Not only do I read what is put in front of me. I also consider the implications of what is being presented. In effect I map peoples ideas through to the logical conclusion(s).  Or rather what I think the logical conclusion will be.  I will mention at this stage that I have asked Richard a few questions regarding the classification. I’m not flying blind with some of my opinions.

In order for me to justify and explain my thoughts on the Gargano Classification I will take you through a few prior attempts at classifying rum, as well as this proposed system.

I say proposed, even though it is already being used. Velier/Habitation Velier and Foursquare have adopted the classification and others are also working towards it. As it stands it has not been adopted by many producers. It  is still in a pretty embryonic stage.

Rum Flavour MapThe Rum Flavour Map

In 2015 a Rum Flavour Map started popping up all over the internet.  It was it claimed similar to that used to classify Scotch Whisky.  The map was produced by Spiridom.

“Spiridom is a joint venture between leading rhum brands from Guadeloupe, Rhum Damoiseau, and Martinique, Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M. Founded in 2005, the company is responsible for the distribution and development of Rhum Clement, Rhum J.M and Rhum Damoiseau in France and around the world.”

The Rum Flavour Map basically tossed all the rum in the world into just three categories – French, English and Spanish style.  It in now way differentiates between Pot and Column production.  Nor does it account for blends from different islands and styles.

I accept that classifying rum is tricky.  I have a Rum Styles page on the site which fails to identify every kind of rum and it has seven or eight categories!  It’s not really the lack of categories that annoyed me about this system.

As noted already Spiridom represent producers from the French category.  Now take a look at the flavour map and look at the adjectives used to describe the French style in comparison to the Spanish and English styles.  Words such as oily, lighter, spiced and dark are not there to be complimentary.

Unfortunately the Rum Flavour Map went a step further than this and re-inforced its very biased view by describing molasses based rum in the most unflattering way possible – Industrial or as even the French don’t actually really call it Rhum Industriel.

This was a poor effort designed to elevate Rhum Agricole at the expense of other rums.

Hold that thought about Industrial rum though.

Best in Class RumXP Tasting Competition 2017 by the fat rum pirateClassification in Competition

Just about every bottle of rum on the market could have an award from the various tasting competitions that are held all around the world.  There are so many competitions and as a consequence so many categories used.

In the main rums are “classified” on age and/or colour.  Occasionally they are judged by geography as well as age. More often than not though a 10 Year Old rum from Barbados will be put in direct competition against a 15 year old Solera rum from Panama or a funky Pot Still Jamaican rum will find itself judged alongside an Agricole rhum.

Judging a rum by its colour is an utter nonsense in a world were rum is rarely bottled at natural colour.  Age is an indicator and gives the consumer an expectation level but you shouldn’t really judge whether a 15 Year Old Jamaican rum is better than a 15 Year Old Demerara. Apples and Pears.

An utter nonsense and a complete mess.

Classification by Writers, Bloggers and Journalists

A lot of rum writers have tried to “nail” down rum using categories etc.  Again this has taken on numerous guises.  Colour, age, Geography have all been tried with varying success.  In Dave Broom’s Rum The Manual he tries to plot numerous rums in a X and Y style axis.  Its a scattered approach and once again – its not perfect. Again I have a page called Rum Styles which seeks to identify the most common types of rum by method based mostly on Geography.  It is a start but again it is not perfect.

Having said that it is a lot better than some efforts.  Especially those written by people with little interest or knowledge of rum.  We’ll leave those well alone though.

Foursquare 2013 Pure Single rum Habitation Velier Rum review by the fat rum pirat

So with many attempts to classify rum in the past – What has Luca Gargano proposed?

Gargano Rum Classification – Categories

Rather than use colour, age or even Geography Luca has opted for a much simpler approach based on the method of production.  Which is something from looking into the subject that has not been seriously considered or implemented before.

The system is relatively simple rum is classified in the following manner

Pure Single Rum – Molasses 100% Batch Pot Still Distillation
Pure Single Agricole Rhum – Cane Juice 100% Batch Pot Still Distillation
Single Blended Rum –  Blend of Traditional Column and Pot Still rums

Traditional Rum – Traditional Column Still Distillation
Modern Rum – Modern / Industrial Multi-Column Distillation

Pure = 100% Pot Still rum
Single = Single Distillery rum

Thoughts/Conclusions

As you can see the classification groups rums by production method.  Like Scotch Whisky it differentiates between blended product and single – in this instance though using distillery not malt.

Which is really my first misgiving about the system.  Whether deliberate or not just like Scotch Whisky, it is in danger of creating a belief that Pure Single Rum with 100% Pot Still Distillation is the best.  Which in turn like Scotch Whisky will lead those who aren’t that well-informed to think that it is always the superior product.  Now I would say as an entry point into rum, 100% Pot Still rum is probably not the best place for most people to start their rum journey.

It creates intentionally or not a hierachy.  It will give someone the belief that the quality of the rum goes down as you pass down the list.  Like I say this may not be intentional but unfortunately that will be how people will see it. It is how some people are already seeing it.

Education will inform this but the belief that a Pure Single Rum that is 100% Pot Still batch is the “best” or the holy grail of rums is in my opinion and experience not always the case.

Habitation Velier WP 502 Forsyths White Rum Review by the fat rum pirate Worthy ParkI really hope we aren’t looking to enter a world where Single Blended rum is no longer seen as an exceptionallly high quality product.  Moving further down the scheme of things even Modern Rum can be pretty damn tasty if we look to the likes of Don Q.

Which moves me along to my next misgiving about the system – Modern Rum.  You may recall earlier I mentioned Industrial rum.  Well originally that is how this section was named – Industrial Rum.  Hardly flattering in any context I’m sure you will agree.  I am pleased to see that this moniker has been changed.

Having said that I will still be surprised if producers of such rums will adopt the system.

Another complaint regarding the classification (though not from me this time) is that it doesn’t cover everything.  Well it does and it doesn’t.  Straight up it seems to miss out blends from multiple distilleries.  So rums such as Pussers Gunpowder might struggle to get a “classificiation”.  I’d question whether such rums really need it to be honest.

I would say it is in the hands of producers to decide if they wish to adopt the classification and then decide how they feel there rum fits.  I am not advocating at this stage they just make it up ie claiming Pure Single Rum when its modern.  Maybe the producers need to work with Luca to further develop and tweak the classification?

So what do I see on the plus side of the Gargano Classification?

Well the obvious one for me will be the availability of more information regarding the rum in the bottle.  Which from my point of view is a huge step forward.  In terms of transferring information across to my readers the Habitation Velier bottlings have been a god send.  The information contained on this bottlings is first rate and exactly what enthusiasts want.

To categorise rum by production method is absolutely the correct thing to do in my opinion.

I also consider something else which  may be seen as a downside to many to actually being a source of strength for the classification.

The Big Boys won’t use it.

Yip that’s what I said – The Big Boys won’t use it.  Even taking the Industrial moniker away and replacing it with Modern Rum I still do not think the likes of Bacardi and Diageo will adopt the classification.

Now if you read many publications online you would automatically assume this would be a bad thing.  If (and this only an estimate) 90% of rums do not have the classification visible how will the system ever work?

Well obviously if most producers don’t adopt the system then it will be globally less visible.  However, if you buy cheap mixers from the likes of Captain Morgan and Bacardi how long do they last? A couple of weekends? A month maybe?

If you buy a more expensive rum how long will you keep it?  You’ll likely savour it – keep it for special occasions.  If you really like it you might rush out and buy a back up.  It’s likely you’ll hang onto the bottle considerably longer.  You’ll look at the bottle more, take in everything on it soon you’ll become familiar with “Pure Single Rum”.

Next time you are in a store or shopping online you’ll start looking for “Pure Single Rum” or “Single Blended Rum”.  You might even ask if the store stocks any such rums.  When the clerk can’t answer your query (because his stock of big boy rum doesn’t give an answer) its likely you’ll leave the store empty handed.

Once your curiosity has been piqued you will start to search for “Pure Single Rum” or “Single Blended Rum”.  If you cannot identify how a rum has been produced you will stop buying such rums. “Super Premium” just might not cut it if you can’t be told what is actually in the bottle.

The key to the classification is that it is giving you information.  Thus educating and giving you a better understanding of rum.

The fact is the success of this classification could be that the big boys don’t adopt it inadvertently guiding customers towards those producers who have.

Now do not think this will involve any Rum snobbery either.  Foursquare bottlings in the £30-35 price range have begun denoting if they are Pure Single Rum or Single Blended Rum etc.

The Big Boys continually use terms such as “Premium” and “Super Premium”.  How will these terms exist in a world where people are aware of the difference between Pure Single Rum and Modern rum?  Will we continue to see the likes of Bacardi thinking all they need to do is re-package the same multi column distilled rum and call it “Super Duper Premium”?

Has the recent Facundo range really set the world alight?

The next time they do a promotional article using the same old tricks will the Rum public be fooled or will we start asking more and more questions?

You see that is where the pressure will be applied to adopt the system.  If the average consumer wants more information on what they are drinking.  It is very difficult and also stupid to ignore your audience.

Of course it may pan out that the system has no influence.  Consumers will continue with their current buying habits.  I would say over the past few years there has definitely been an increase in awareness.  I believe this system will have an influence.  I’m not saying it will change the rum buying “habits” of every rum consumer but it will certainly sway some. I’m more than sure Velier and Foursquare bottlings will continue to sell very well in the future.Foursquare Rum Distillery Triptych Rum Review by the fat rum pirat

Whilst any classification system will have its pro’s and con’s this system is by far the best system to elevate rum and to enable the consumer to actually understand what is in the bottle.

No magic herb gardens, no ageing facilities in the clouds or under the sea, no tales of non-existent Pirates or Admirals – just simple cold hard facts based on how the spirit in your bottle was actually distilled.

Couple this with additional information on the bottle regarding ageing and genuine age statements and what do you have? The potential for genuine Premium Rum to be recognised by every consumer.

 

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