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In this month's outing, just-drinks' dark spirits commentator, Neil Ridley, tells us how it took a trip to the most unlikely of locations to truly discover the potential of premium rum - and why he feels the category needs to shake off its sickly-sweet persona.

Sweetness may have been successful in the past, but rum producers have much more to offer consumers, argues Neil Ridley

Sweetness may have been successful in the past, but rum producers have much more to offer consumers, argues Neil Ridley

Think of the ultimate rum experience and you're more likely to conjure up mental images of white sandy beaches, palm trees, colourful shirts and sun-kissed cocktails - not a sub-zero, blustery February night in a Scandinavian city. Nevertheless, the wintery scene served to be the perfect stage for my personal epiphany with rum; the spirit of the moment, according to many reports. 

Helsinki has a keen community of single malt whisky connoisseurs. But, due to the strict rules surrounding the promotion of alcohol, the country's only major whisky event passes without any fanfare at all. Still, the lack of ticketing info, exhibitor list or meaningful PR didn't deter more than 2,000 eager guests from finding the venue - the grand Vanha Ylioppilastalo - to explore one of the broadest selections of single malts I've seen in a long while, alongside a handful of independent rum brands. 

The reason for my flying visit was to host a class on the traditions and provenance of Scotch, which have been key to the category's ongoing global success. This success, however, has served to highlight the inherent flaws in the rum category, where the production rules are much more blurred.

After the tasting, I sat down with one of the organisers, Mika Jansson (who, it turns out, is also a well-versed connoisseur of rum). We got to talking about the issues faced by rum. The category is still something of a Wild West, struggling with a lack of clarity and parity surrounding its regulatory frameworks, while confusion reigns about what can be added to the spirit to change its character. EU regulations passed last year, for example, now permit the addition of up to 20 grams of sugar per litre, while US regulations permit "2.5% essential additives", a phrase that can be widely interpreted by producers.

99r8这是只有精品视频20"They have an old phrase in Jamaica, called Anansi Tales, [traditional stories about a tricksy spider who uses cunning and skill to deceive his adversaries]," Jansson tells me. "There are a lot of these tales told about rum."

To be honest, rum has always deeply confused and continually frustrated me - and I'm not alone. Its lack of clarity over age statements has been baffling, as well as the murky side as to the additives used to post-flavour both casks and the spirit: vanillin to give broader oak maturation flavour; additional sugar - including saccharose, fructose and glucose - to give more sweetness; prune wines and Sherry to give body and the impression of additional ageing, and then glycerol to smoothen out the mouthfeel.

Organisations such as the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers (WIRSPA) have aimed to lay out guidelines for its members on the ageing process of 'Authentic Caribbean Rum' (effectively meaning the age on the bottle is the youngest spirit in the bottle). The trade association has quashed the 'Solera' method of adding younger spirit to a vat of older liquid to give the impression of matured rum. However, there is little guidance on the organisation's website about what can and cannot be added post-distillation.

I can't help thinking that far more needs to be done when it comes to additives. I have my suspicions that the convenient looseness of arrangements comes down to a combination of economics, the political positioning between a few of the major players seeking a competitive edge over rivals, and the fact that, over time, distillers have trained the general rum consumer into having an extremely sweet tooth.

99r8这是只有精品视频20To prove the extent of how far the (toffee) apple has rolled from the tree, Jansson poured me a sample of a mystery rum. "Okay," he said, "what do you make of this?" My first impression was that I liked it a lot. Bold, with spice, sweetness, richness and clear depth. This was a rum with age, I thought - and then some.

Another Anansi Tale: Jansson had previously put the sample together in his kitchen to illustrate the ease of emulating maturation and complexity. The recipe used a cheap vodka base, a percentage of very youthful rum, vanilla and rum essences more commonly used for baking, PX and Oloroso Sherries, then a touch of Monin sugar syrup. The liquid was then 'aged' in a bottle containing oak chips - for five days.

Ouch.

To make amends for his educational deception, Jansson took me to Bar Haven in Helsinki - a hotel bar with a no-nonsense approach to the enjoyment of genuinely well-made spirits. Across the course of two hours, my perception of rum was completely altered as we analysed what, in his opinion, constitutes genuine rum.

99r8这是只有精品视频20First up, a 57.2% abv El Dorado Enmore, distilled in Guyana in 1996. Then, a brace of bone dry white 'new make' spirits: a pot-distilled Port Mourant from Guyana and a Muller Agricole from Marie-Galante: fresh, citrusy and vibrant - almost like a young single malt.

99r8这是只有精品视频20By this point, I was beginning to realise the extent of post-additives and how they can skew the perception of maturation and complexity - even on my relatively-experienced spirits tasting palate. By the time I had tried a glass of Caroni 12-year-old from Trinidad, I was a true convert to the cause; a willing comrade-in-arms in the battle to de-mystify - and un-sweeten - this great spirit.

As rum faces its biggest opportunity in years to steal consumers from other spirits sectors - particularly from whisky - the last thing the category needs is to be tarred with the sticky brush of deceit. Outspoken players like Richard Seale, the fourth-generation owner and master distiller of the Foursquare distillery in Barbados, have used transparency as a clear brand ethos, which has earned the company the trust of like-minded connoisseurs the world over. Similarly, Jamaica's Hampden Estate (which recently added the Great House Distillery Edition99r8这是只有精品视频20 to its portfolio) is approaching the rum - and whisky - enthusiast with the same transparency and respect for provenance on show in the world of single malt Scotch.

99r8这是只有精品视频20Let's hope that as the category grows, producers with an eye on short-term success don't get caught in this potentially long-term, reputation-damaging honey trap.


Sectors: Spirits

99r8这是只有精品视频20Expert Analysis

Global Rum (Spirits) Market - Outlook to 2022: Market Size, Growth and Forecast Analytics

Global Rum (Spirits) Market - Outlook to 2022: Market Size, Growth and Forecast Analytics

99r8这是只有精品视频20Global Rum (Spirits) Market - Outlook to 2022: Market Size, Growth and Forecast Analytics is a broad level market review of Global Rum market covering 23 Countries Australia, China, India, Japan, Sout...

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