Premium Rum The Impossible Task? – Part Three

Premium Rum the fat rum pirate article bacardiFirstly many apologies for taking so long to finally write this piece. Links to the other parts of this article, will appear at the bottom of the screen. It has taken some prodding (thanks Lance) and some real thought, to finally complete this series of articles. Yes, two years is far too long to wait for this and I apologise. I hate leaving things unfinished. So I finally thought f*ck it I’ll just write what I think and see what happens. God knows I have done it plenty of times before. I’ll also apologise in case there is any repetition from previous articles. I do get carried away sometimes. So here goes…..

In the third part of this series, we are focusing on molasses based rum.  As Part Two focused on what the French speaking Rhum World was doing, to elevate their rum to a Premium status.  This part will focus on what the more widely spread molasses based producers and distributors are doing to make us pay top dollar for their products.

Now you may think that the global rum market is dominated by the likes of Bacardi, Captain Morgan and Havana Club. To some extent, you would be right. In terms of global reach, they are amongst the top performers and certainly the most recognised brands.

However, whenever global sales of rum are totted up and presented there are always a few eyebrows raised. McDowells No1 Celebration and Tanduay have both beaten Bacardi to the number one spot in recent times.

The thing is these sales, are not sales of “Premium” rum. Despite what some of the packaging may say. These are sales of cheap entry level rum. Which is designed to be mixed and drank mostly, in excess by people on a budget. One of the first issues we have when identifying Premium Rum, is that even the cheapest rums are labelled Premium.

So how are the global powerhouses such as Bacardi and Havana Club promoting their “genuine” Premium offerings?  How are they ensuring they are getting their share of that market?

Online, there is a frequent flow of articles which talk of the rum industry becoming more “Premium”.  These pieces are usually accompanied by the usual tales of kill devil, pirates and college frathouse parties. They then inform us of the new sensation which is “sipping” rum.  If you are really, really lucky you will then get a list of the usual suspects as reference points Zacapa, DRE, Zaya and El Dorado 12 etc.

Havana Club Union Rum Review by the fat rum pirateIf you are unlucky – you will instead be treated to the real reason for the post. The latest “Premium” rum from the likes of Havana Club, Captain Morgan or Bacardi.  Sometimes, you’ll be introduced to the latest limited edition 50 year old Super Duper Premium rum. It is no wonder Premium rum struggles with credibility when such meaningless labels are penned by marketing teams.  You’ll also likely get a gushing review from someone who has never written about rum before. And hopefully never will again.

Social Media is also awash with wonderfully shot photography of the latest ultra styled releases.  You want information about what is in the bottle? Well that is where the Rum Ambassadors come in.

Now, there are a good and bad Rum Ambassadors. In fact no, I will re-phrase that. There are Brand Ambassadors and there are Salesmen. Some have a great knowledge of what is actually in your bottle – Brand Ambassadors. Others can recite the latest marketing spiel, word for word – Salesmen.

At the London Rumfest recently I saw the good, bad and the downright useless of our “Ambassadors”. Sitting on your phone with you head down is not the way to engage me when I approach your stand………

So, what have the producers been doing collectively? As we know, molasses based rum is made in a number of very diverse locations and in many different “styles”.

Step forward Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR).  The ACR is a classification of rum based on the following principleACR Premium Rum Article the fat rum pirate

“The Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) Marque was developed as a symbol of authenticity, provenance and quality for rums within the WIRSPA family. As usage of the marque grows it will act as a visual symbol to help trade customers and consumers identify Authentic Caribbean Rum brands. Already it is being used to promote the development of Authentic Caribbean Rum as a distinct sector within the drinks industry.

A three tiered system has been developed for use on packaging to support the work done by individual brands to differentiate their range.”

It is basically a system based on the age of spirit.  It does nothing to protect how the rum is produced, nor does it address the issue of additives.  If you look at the line up you will see Angostura, Barcelo and El Dorado exist alongside the likes of Foursquare and Appleton Estate.   So you have brands which are prohibited from using additives, alongside those that arguably base their success around sugar and additives. Both are Premium.

I do recall a number of mid price rums (say around the £30-40 mark) did have the ACR marque on their boxes a few years ago.  I haven’t noticed this as much lately.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really think the ACR marque has had much impact in terms of raising the bar regarding Premium Rum.  It has done the brands involved no harm but I haven’t noticed a huge change in buying preferences.  Have you? Does the ACR marque influence your purchases? I very much doubt it.

The biggest problem with promoting Premium Rum is that no one can agree on what is Premium Rum.  This is why I entitled this little Series “The Impossible Task”.

Lets move away from the producers for a little while. Let us focus on “Rum Fans”. If you go on any Social Media group or Rum discussion forum you will find a lot of differing opinions.  A lot of these opinions come down to drinking what they enjoy.  They have no interest in the rums provenance, how it was made etc just how nice it tastes, nice often means smooth and sweet. Which usually means adulterated with additives. It’s also key to have a pretty bottle.  Which I think is fair enough, as long as you don’t spend to much on a rum solely based on the bottle.

Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rare Gold Rum Aged 8 Years Rum Review by the fat rum pirateThe problem is once you have tasted and enjoyed something such as Diplomatico Reserve Exclusiva, which is a reasonably priced spirit – you might seek out something more exclusive. So the logical step is to see if Diplomatico have a more expensive rum in their line up. A rum for a special occasion such as a Birthday or Christmas present. So we jump from paying around £40-50 for a Premium rum to over £100. Based often solely on the familiar name and the prettier bottle. Do people research the age of the rum and how it is produced etc? Not very often, I dare say.

Now packaging rum in fancy bottles, is not something which is exclusive to the likes of Havana Club and Bacardi. The likes of Mount Gay and Appleton Estate, have also went down this route. However, where the lines are further blurred, as to what is truly Premium comes when prices become – to the common person, working full time with a family to support and a mortgage to pay – ludicrous.

Bottles in excess of £1,000 from the likes of Havana Club, Appleton Estate, Santiago de Cuba and Angostura. These bottles are priced way out of most peoples budgets. Whether, that is because they can’t afford it or they simply could not justify paying such a price for a bottle of rum. Premium or not. This is often reflected by the fact you can usually find these bottlings on popular drinks websites for a number of years. They will not be selling every day or even every month.

Most (but not all) of these very expensive rums are made using at least a proportion of very old and rare rum stocks. Now very old and rare rums should indeed be seen as Premium. However, because these rums are being released now, they do not have the collectability of genuinely old rums. In time they may become more collectible – I assume some of these bottlings will actually be drunk – often at high end bars.

Which leaves us with truly collectible and rare old oddities such as old bottles of J Wray and Nephew 17 Year Old Rum or say a 1926 J Bally rhum from Martinique. The holy grail of rum collectors. Some rums such as Myers’s were never “Premium” rums in the first place but really old bottlings will be very collectible and much sought after. Steve Remsberg adores old style Myers’s for example.

You can make a good argument that anything over a certain age and/or rarity will attract a “Premium” price but the contents don’t actually have to be necessarily be all that “Premium” in terms of the quality of the rum inside.

I personally think the biggest problem with “Premium” rum is the mis-use of “Premium”, it is used so often, it has almost become superfluous. It means nothing and adds no real value to the consumer. It gives us no information whatsoever on the contents. Which is where age statements come in. It is meant to mean the best. That meaning has long went the journey.

Now, the molasses based rum world or should I perhaps be more specific in this instance and say “ron” world, has a huge problem with age statements. Life should be very simple. You stick a number on a bottle that is how old that liquor inside should be. Simples. Yes? Agreed?

Sadly, that is not the case, in Scotch Whisky it is better regulated or rather only one country has to worry about agreeing regulation on labelling Scotch Whisky.

In rum just about every country in the world distills from sugar cane and they all seemingly want their own rules and regulations. So we go from the numbers on the bottle meaning any of the following

Minimum Age in bottle

Maximum Age in bottle,

Average Age in bottle or “Solera” ag

Then we get numbers for any old reason such as 20th Anniversary or simply just a number for that blend. All depending on where in the world, you might be and what you can get away with.

Angostura 5 Year Old rum Review by the fat rum pirateSo a rum from Jamaica with a 5 on the front might be a lot older than a rum from Venezuela with a 5 on the front. So how do we possibly identify which one is premium and which one isn’t? Look for the one that says “Premium” rum? Oh dear..

In recent years, Luca Gargano and Richard Seale have looked at rum and decided that more information is needed for the consumer. (Please see my article on the Gargano classification). I won’t go into too much detail here. They are looking to use terms such as Pure Single Rum and Single Blended Rum to identify rums. No more “Premium” or “Super Premium”.

These descriptors are coupled with extensive notes on ageing, the angels share, where the rum is distilled and how the rum is distilled. It focuses, not on pretty bottles and dubious age statements but clear and concise facts. Information customers should relish.

So why don’t all other producers wish to use this kind of system to identify their Premium rum? Well, if you state your entry level rum is premium, then your claims for its premium status might be undermined, in the eyes of the consumer. If you reveal it has only been aged for 6 months and is heavily caramel coloured. You may lose a customer or two.

It is also worth pointing out that a lot of rum is noted, not only, as premium but also as small batch or craft rum. You do not wish to reveal it is produced on a multi column continuous still, one which also produces vodka and gin. Once again, it might not appeal so much to the end consumer. Likewise, if your bottle of rum says “23” on the front but most of that rum is only 4 years old, the consumer is going to wonder why you are using the 23……

In Barbados, Richard is also currently battling to have a GI (Geographical Indication) introduced which means Barbados rum can only be labelled as Barbados rum, if it has been distilled and aged in Barbados.

This has run into a few issues, and he is now battling suggestions from other producers that Barbados rum should have a sugar limit. From my understanding WIRSPA are in favour of some kind of “sugar limit” in Caribbean rum of 20g/L – similar to what is being proposed in the EU. Currently Barbados producers do not use additives aside from Caramel Colouring for consistency.

Again this highlights the disparity between the views of producers. This time from the same island – though likely with a more global background. A similar problem is emerging in Jamaica.

The very fact that companies will use the term “Super Premium”, for me, has left the whole idea of “Premium” rum and “Premium Sipping” rum one which should be consigned to the dustbin. It has lost any kind of meaning. I can get “Premium” rum for £10 in Lidl.

I place myself in the 1% of Rum Enthusiasts that have perhaps taken their love of rum a step or twelve too far. Bordering on obsessive. However, from experience of Rum Festivals, I do think I am still capable of seeing things beyond the confines of the Rum Enthusiast or Snob (a term often mis-used).Dictador Distillery Icon Reserve Aged 20 Years Solera System Rum review by the fat rum pirate

In terms of buying a “Premium” rum, I think that someone should be able to spend £40-50 and get a really good rum. What style this is and whether it has additives etc, should be for them to decide.

What they do need though is honest and clear information. The continued miscommunication and lies, in the Rum Industry, actually stunt its growth, as a serious Premium product.

One of the reasons people have been more comfortable branching out into Bourbon is that there are certain standards and clear labelling out there. I would be quite confident reading up on Bourbon and trying a few samples. Then getting some more expensive offerings. Safe in the knowledge it won’t be radically different from past experience. I might not enjoy all of it for various reasons but at least I won’t encounter one that tastes like bubblegum, coffee or synthetic vanilla and mango essence.

Likewise with Gin, whilst it does have different styles and you won’t like everything, you at least know it will be of a certain standard. Gin is just vodka with botanicals. So compared to rum, I would say it is a inferior spirit. So that is a pretty damning and disappointing thing for me to have to write stating Gin is more Premium! Or rather has done a better job of presenting to the customer itself as premium.

And that is perhaps the most ironic thing. Gin is rarely expensive and it is just infused vodka. But the producers are more than happy to tell you exactly what is in it and what flavours to expect. Yeah there are a few brands out there making a quick buck but there’s plenty decent stuff at fair prices. If you like that kind of thing.

That just doesn’t happen enough in rum.

Premium Rum – The Impossible Task?

Foursquare Rum Distillery Triptych Rum Review by the fat rum piratFor sure, it will be a term I will look to avoid using in reviews (I will still note the producers intentions in descriptions) but I will only use premium when I am dealing with what I regard to be 4 and 5 star rums.

Premium should be a mark of quality and that quality should be easily identifiable across the board. Premium rum should tell you clearly what it is. How and when it was distilled and how it was aged and. where.

That sadly will never happen. Deceit and lies will continue and money will be made.

Those looking to deceive won’t be profiting from myself though. My buying habits are now firmly towards what I regard as “Premium” rum. That is honest well made rum with clear facts and figures on the label. More and more so, that will mean buying distillery bottlings. So I will look towards the likes of Foursquare, Mount Gay, Worthy Park, St Lucia Distillers. Also Independent bottlers who want to present the truth.

I would suggest if you want Premium molasses based rum to do the same.



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3 comments on “Premium Rum The Impossible Task? – Part Three

  1. Unfortunately I get the impression some bottlers have decided that ‘premium’ offerings should be produced to be collected, as opposed to drunk. The same thing has happened to some extent to bourbon, and Scotch brands like Johnnie Walker and Glenmorangie seem to be releasing a new ‘collector’s limited edition’ every month or two. Hopefully the novelty will wear off and we’ll soon see some sanity return to both pricing and product range.

  2. In 100% agreement with you Fatty, I am now halfway through a bottle of a lovely smooth and pure tasty Chairmans Reserve (in one session) picked up in Camden Town’s Sainsbury’s for only £18 quids! If it was Zacapa I would be sick by now, or dead if I had diabetes.
    Or if it was the excellent RumSixtySix Cask strength, it would be finished already!

    Love your articles that have helped me on my rum journey, but hate that f******* cachaca, hiccup!

    • Thanks for your honesty! Cachaca will grow on you there is some good stuff about!

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