Rum is currently enjoying fairly unprecedented worldwide growth in popularity. And that’s for good reason: it’s diverse, complex, and excellent as a sipping spirit or mixed in a cocktail. To learn more about this fascinating spirit, Bevvy headed to Dirty Water SF on September 14 to attend the final Rum Tasting & Training session of 2015, hosted by the Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) Marque.
Taught by local SF favorite H. Joseph Ehrmann (owner of Elixir SF, and principal behind Cocktail Ambassadors) as well as Neil Morris (rum expert and newly appointed global ambassador for ACR), we got a chance to taste 16 fantastic, authentic Caribbean rums from within the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association (WIRSPA) family of brands (more on the rums and our favorites later). Being a trade event, we found ourselves in good company, sitting amongst a sea of professional bartenders, bar owners, and other industry folks.
Who is WIRSPA?
From their site:
WIRSPA was founded in the late 1960s and is an association of national associations of rum producers in the ACP Caribbean. Based in Barbados, WIRSPA was originally set up to promote and protect the interests of members concerned with the distillation, export and marketing of rum but more recently has taken on a role to develop the Caribbean Rum category in international drinks markets.
Basically, WIRSPA exists to ensure that the industry understands the quality behind Authentic Caribbean Rum, and to spread awareness and appreciation among consumers.
Why should consumers care?
Spirits production is a highly regulated industry, and many spirits have governmental bodies or at least generally-accepted rules, regulations and laws to control their quality, classification, and purity.
For instance, most international bourbon laws (they vary from country to country) require bourbon to be made in the United States, made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, aged in new American oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.
Similarly, in order for Scotch Whisky to legally be called Scotch, it must be produced at a distillery in Scotland, processed at that distillery into a mash, contain no added substances other than water and caramel coloring, and to be at least 80 proof.
Gin is also governed by laws that legally differentiate products into distinct styles, including legal definitions that vary from country to country.
But rum, on the other hand, is quite different. Laws surrounding rum have historically been murky and often inconsistent, seemingly due to geopolitical reasons. Take, for instance, displaying an age statement. For a blended rum to display an age statement on its label in the USA, it is legally required to use the age of the youngest rum in the blend. Contrast that with Europe, where the same rum may be allowed to display the age of the oldest rum in the blend.
Rum is also produced in many countries, to varying standards, and with a variety of ingredients. Rums produced in warmer climates (such as the Caribbean) age much faster than those produced in cooler climates, making the maturity of a rum harder to leverage on its own as an indicator of quality. Some regions require that flavors develop directly from the fermentation, distillation, aging, and blending without using additives, while other jurisdictions are more tolerant of adding coloring or flavoring agents after distillation.
Without a set of standards for defining what rum is, or some type of oversight into production methods and quality control, consumers are left confused and ill-prepared to make informed decisions on which rums to seek out. This confusion is further compounded by marketing, labels, and a plethora of products that are all called rum but have very little in common with one another.
Authentic Caribbean Rum
WIRSPA’s Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque has played a significant role in defining provenance, production and quality guidelines, and helping to guide purchase decisions. Through ACR and these training sessions, WIRSPA seeks to teach professionals how to taste, recognize, and generally be better educated about the category as a whole.
But enough about rum’s backstory—let’s get to the actual products we tasted.
|Borgoe 8 Year Old Rum (Suriname)
This was one of our favorites of the day. A Dutch-inspired product, it has notes of caramel and spice, with a smooth finish. Great tasting rum—but unfortunately for us, not yet available in the USA.
|Foursquare Rum Port Cask (Barbados)
Aged 3 years in bourbon caks, and port finished for an additional 6 years. Complex and bold, the characteristics of the port finish and flavors were immediately obvious. Excellent.
|Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old Rum (Jamaica)
Smooth and balanced, with fruity notes and hints of spice. We’re big fans of all Appleton Estate products.
|Monymusk Plantation Special Reserve (Jamaica)
Complex and bold, with an aromatic nose, caramel notes and a smooth finish. Also not available in the USA.
Rest of the Lineup
- Brugal 1888 (Dominican Republic)
- Chairman’s Reserve (St. Lucia)
- Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale (Haiti)
- Barceló Imperial (Dominican Republic)
- St. Nicholas Abbey 10 Year Old (Barbados)
- Mutineers Gold (St Vincent & The Grenadines)
- Westerhall 10XO (Grenada)
- Angostura 1919 (Trinidad & Tobago)
- Cockspur Fine Rum (Barbados)
- Traveller’s 5 Barrel Rum (Belize)
- Hampden Estate Gold (Jamaica)
- English Harbour 5 Year Old (Antigua)
- Mount Gay Black Barrel (Barbados)
A Passion for Rum
Unlike a lot of these events, the ACR workshop was impressive due to the sheer passion of the people who organized it. These weren’t just brand ambassadors here to sell venues on their product—the instructors seemed to truly love the rums they were teaching us about, and they even snuck in a few off-menu tastings simply because they were so excited to share their rare finds. As the spirit is taken more seriously here in the States and around the world, it’s people like this who will ensure that it’s treated with the thoughtful respect it deserves.