In the first part of this series we touched upon how rums are labelled. I used an example to show how confusing it can be to determine a Premium rum.
Marketing and packaging play a huge role in what the end consumer buys. No matter who you are, you will encounter and be influenced by marketing at some stage. Even if you think you aren’t.
It is fair to say that some Rum Producers are absolute masters at the art. With big brand backing comes big advertising and marketing budgets. Some producers have already taken steps to ensure that their products are deemed “Premium”.
When I first began exploring rums I had little idea about Rhum Agricole. I would still class myself as a bit of “newbie” when it comes to this rhum category.
Produced from Fresh Cane Juice. The cost of producing such rhum is more expensive than molasses based rum. As a result Agricole producers are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to cost conscious customers.
One of the ways Rhum Agricole producers ensure their survival is by selling a lot of unaged white rhum. If you ever go into a larger Carrefour store in France you will be surprised at the amount of agricole rhum available. A lot of this is at entry level prices. I guess the mark up on such bottles isn’t great but the volume is.
Once you get beyond these inexpensive white agricoles we get into aged Agricole territory. This is where the molasses rum world needs to wake up and take a look at how the French speaking population are doing it.
As with Champagne and Cognac the Caribbean island of Martinique has ensured that their product is protected under French law..
The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée)) is the equivalent of the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Which protects things such as Parma Ham and Wensleydale Cheese. It sets out clear guidelines regarding production. A link to the guidelines are here.
The AOC decree elevates rhum from Martinique and gives it a status which others rhums cannot have. It is a clever move and one which causes quite a lot of disagreementss about what rhum agricole can and can’t be!
Despite the AOC other rhum producing islands are still held in high esteem. Brands such as Haiti’s Barbancourt as are brands from Guadeloupe such as Longueteau and Damoiseau.
It’s not just the AOC which makes me feel agricole producers have done more to elevate their products into “Premium” category, than molasses based producers. It is also the way they have chosen to label and present their rhums. I think this is where other producers could learn.
Terms such as XO are used in molasses based rums. It is only agricole producers though who seem confident enough to use terms such as VO or Rhum Vieux for rhums aged only a couple of years.
Taking influence from the ultimate luxury spirit Cognac – most agricole producers have adopted labelling which suggests “luxury”.
Pictured is La Mauny VO (Very Old) the rhum is only 3 years old. As you can see the presentation screams out Premium Rum – the decanter is particularly impressive. I have a bottle of this at home and whilst I didn’t find the contents all that impressive – I certainly liked the packaging. Compare this to a similarly aged molasses based rum. You won’t get the fancy decanter!
I’m not suggesting Molasses based producers should put average rums in fancy packaging nor am I suggesting this is what Agricole producers are doing. They just seem to have more confidence in their aged products.
I do feel though that by using some of the Cognac terminology in their labelling of rhum they have made it more consistent and recognisable than the various naming and labelling conventions used in Molasses based rum. Admittedly it might still be confusing at times but I’d say easier to research the terms used in Agricole than try and decipher the various codes used in labelling molasses rum.
Despite all this though Rhum Agricole has still not elevated itself outside of French speaking territories. Molasses based rum is still more popular worldwide.
So what do molasses based rum producers do to market and package their rums to elevate them into the Premium category?
Big brands such as Appleton Estate and Mount Gay have adopted a hybrid of largely meaningless names and age statements. They occasionally use the odd Agricole moniker as well,
Appleton Estate have Appleton Special, Appleton Signature Blend (formerly V/X), Appleton Rare Blend Aged 12 Years and Appleton 21 Year Old.
Mount Gay release Mount Gay Eclipse, Black Barrel XO (Extra Old) and 1703.
So what else has the molasses or industrial rum world been doing in recent years to try and elevate their “Premium” rums?
We’ll take a look at that in Part 3.