About Rumpundit

I am back to life after three years trying to rewrite the Book of Job as an autobiography - heart ops, divorces, concussions. But have now written "Tequila, a Global History", worked on the history of Appleton Estate, and am considering a updated version of "Rum: A Social & Sociable History." Ian Williams Ian Williams is from Liverpool, and his variegated career has ranged from a mao ai drinking competition with Chinese Premier Chou En Lai and arguing English Literature with Mme Mao, to speechwriting for then British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Rum: a Social and Sociable history of the Real Spirit of 1776, was Ian’s fourth book. It is on the shelf of most of the most eminent mixologists across the world. His latest book, just out, is “Tequila: A Global History,” and he has been researching the history of Appleton Estate Rum, from Jamaica. He is a judge at spirits tasting competitions around the world and he is much in demand for his well-lubricated talks. As well as the business of spirits, he is also imbued with the spirit of business, writing regular columns for Investor Relations magazine, FTSE Global Markets magazine and Corporate Secretary, among others - often on the world liquor industry. Contact Ian at Rum@igc.org +1 917 362 1477

Back at the Plantation

This has to be good news. Ferrand makes exquisite premium spirits! It gives Barbados rums a cultured niche in world markets!

OFFICIAL PRESSS RELEASE FROM FERRAND

EMBARGOED UNTIL  – MARCH 10, 2017, 18:00PM  French time 

Maison Ferrand, the award winning Cognac, Gin and Rum producer in the heart of Cognac, France, has acquired the historic West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados which has produced rum continually since the 19th century. Maison Ferrand is the owner of the Plantation rum brand with global distribution in 68 countries. The company produces Pierre Ferrand Cognac and Citadelle Gin at its facility in Cognac, France and the purchase of West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD) marks the first distillery acquisition outside of France. The acquisition signifies Maison Ferrand’s long term commitment to the quality production of Plantation rum.

Plantation Rum was first introduced in 2003 with the desire to bring rum to the same quality standards of the best Cognacs. Since then Maison Ferrand has been selecting, aging and blending rum from the best Caribbean distilleries for its award-winning Plantation Rum expressions. Barbados is the historical birthplace of rum making and Barbadian rum has been the backbone of Plantation vintage editions as well as its special blends.

“We are production guys and having our own distillery in the Caribbean has been a dream for many years,” says Alexandre Gabriel, proprietor of Maison Ferrand. “It is like getting married, we wanted to find a great match, one for life and we have found it in West Indies Rum Distillery and the exceptional rum makers there. The team there is as passionate as we are and we can’t wait to start producing delicious rum together.”

Barbados holds so much rum-making history, as does West Indies Rum Distillery, and Maison Ferrand is committed to working with this ancient distillery as one cohesive team to produce exceptional rum. Maison Ferrand plans to tap back to the early roots of this historic distillery and its very rich heritage. The distillery has some ancient pot stills, one that is possibly the oldest in the Caribbean and has been dormant for almost 100 years. Alexandre Gabriel is committed to bringing these stills back to life, and as he says ‘make them sing again.’ Additionally, The West Indies Rum Distillery aging warehouse is uniquely located right on the sea which imprints the rum with a specific style not found anywhere else.

Gabriel says, “We control the production of our Ferrand Cognac and Citadelle Gin because we own the facilities in Cognac. We love challenging ourselves to make the best there is and it requires total commitment. We wanted the same holistic involvement for our Plantation rum so this investment is the natural course of things for us. We are both excited and humbled by what lies ahead. When signing the purchase of this historical distillery, my thoughts went to Laurie Barnard and Thierry Gardere, two rum icons and friends that we have lost all too soon. They were great inspirations to me.”

In the purchase of the West Indies Rum Distillery, Ferrand will also have access to excellent Jamaican rum as West Indies Rum Distillery is one third owner of National Jamaican Rum Company with Monymusk Distillery and the famed Long Pond Distillery. It is very meaningful for Ferrand as Jamaica is the second source of rum for Plantation. Together, this gives Maison Ferrand and Plantation the tools to go even further in its mission for marrying terroir, passion and time for great spirits.

West Indies Rum Distillery is the preferred rum production partner for other companies and will continue to honor their relationships and contracts with them.

Barbados a la France!

Good to see the French appreciating what they sometimes snootily call “Industrial Rum,” rhum industriel!

 

Another local rum company sold

SHAWN CUMBERBATCH, shawncumberbatch@nationnews.com

FRENCH INTERESTS are acquiring another of Barbados’ historic rum companies in a deal worth at least $25.7 million.

In 1989 French alcoholic beverage company Remy Cointreau bought Mount Gay Rum Distilleries Limited, which was established in 1703.

Today, Goddard Enterprises Limited (GEL) is notifying shareholders in its 124 year old subsidiary The West Indies Rum Distillery Limited (WIRD) that it is selling its 2 519 171 issued and outstanding common shares (92 per cent) in WIRD to United Caribbean Rum Limited (UCRL), a wholly owned subsidiary of French spirits company Compagnie de Bonbonnet SAS.

The deal does not end there, however, as UCRL wants full control of WIRD. It is therefore offering people who own the remaining eight per cent of its stock more than $10.2 per share for their piece of the company which produces brands including Cockspur Rum.

While the agreement between GEL and UCRL was signed last December 21, WIRD chairman Anthony Ali, officially gave shareholders details of the deal in notices published today.

“…Goddard Enterprises Limited…has taken a decision to divest itself of its interest in the company….The sale is scheduled to be completed pursuant to a public takeover bid by UCRL…to acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of WIRD and is scheduled to be closed no later than six trading days on the Barbados Stock Exchange after the commencement of the public takeover bid by UCRL,” Ali said.

“The closing of the public takeover bid is scheduled to occur on or around April 4….Bonbonnet has extensive experience and expertise in the spirits business and has been involved in the production and sale of fine spirits (such as Cognac, gin, vodka, rum and other distilled spirits) and fruit liquers for many years.”

In a separate notice, UCRL told shareholders “full details of the offer will be mailed out [today] to all shareholders and have been prepared within the framework of the pertinent legislation and the rules of the Financial Services Commission and the [Barbados Stock Exchange].

“The offer is dependent on acquisition of at least 92 per cent of all outstanding shares of [WIRD]. However, the offering is seeking to purchase all outstanding shares.

Compagnie de Bonbonnet and its subsidiaries are said to have aggregate annual sales of approximately US$44.5 million.

WIRD, which is located at Brighton, Black Rock St. Michael, has operations that include a distillery, an aging and distribution warehouse and a bottling plant. The distillery has a production capacity of approximately 15 million litres of pure alcohol a year and is capable of warehousing 1.5 million litres of bulk storage in stainless steel tanks and 20 000 American White Oak barrels of 200 litres each.

The company also said it had a bottling capacity of 100 000 cases per year. (SC)

 

– See more at: http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/94322/local-rum-company-sold#sthash.2tCo0KdP.dpuf

Rum Wars in Cuba

I am not sure Havana Club is quite as good, but the brand in the US thrives on the forbidden fruit thrill from the embargo. Will Trump reinstate it?
July 23, 2016

In taste test, which Havana Club rum will win?

 

Play Video2:38
Does Cuba’s Havana Club rum hold up to its legend? The Washington Post invited four rum aficionados for a blind tasting of dark and light rums at Cubano’s restaurant in Silver Spring to find out. (Danielle Kunitz, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

In a warehouse stacked with casks and suffused with aromas of old oak and intoxicating spirits, Asbel Morales is always thinking years ahead. At 48, he’s one of eight maestros roneros, or master rum-makers, on the island. They maintain the quality and tradition of Cuban rum — a staple of the economy and national identity that conjures summer daydreams of Ernest Hemingway knocking back daiquiris in art deco bars, while somewhere the Buena Vista Social Club band plays forever.

Morales splashes a clear liquid onto his hands. It’s potent aguardiente, the soul of rum, fermented and distilled from the molasses of Cuban sugar cane. He rubs his wet hands, assessing its viscosity. He waves scoopfuls of air toward his face, inhaling yeasty traces of cane, alcohol and subtler notes.

“If the aguardiente isn’t right,” he says, “even if you age it 100 years, the rum will never turn out well.”

But not just any Cuban rum. In three to seven years — sometimes longer, depending on the flavor Morales is going for — after filtering, aging and blending, this rum will be bottled as Havana Club, one of the two most storied brands in the history of Cuba.

The other is Bacardi, no longer made in Cuba since shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959. For years, Bacardi and Havana Club rums were rival spirits, and their founding families — the Bacardis and the Arechabalas, respectively — were fierce competitors, until both clans were forced into exile in 1960.

The revolution didn’t end the rivalry. In time, a rum called Havana Club flowed out of Cuba and was eventually exported the world over — except to the United States. From a new base in Bermuda, Bacardi, too, went global, and Bacardi brand rum came to dominate the U.S. market.

Now, in a dramatic twist, another Havana Club is poised to make a big splash. After two decades of lawsuits, lobbying and congressional hearings, a Havana Club made by Bacardi is rolling out nationwide this summer and should be available in Washington by September.

It is not to be confused with the Havana Club made in Cuba by Morales and his colleagues.

Will the real Havana Club please fix us a daiquiri?

Within this splendidly bitter rum war — Havana Club vs. Havana Club — is a tale of geopolitical jousting that has more turns than a Cuban mambo. The drama is reaching a climax just as historic changes are taking place in the fraught relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

At its emotional core, the rum war is a proxy for an even more epic struggle over the brand of Cuba and Cuban identity. The saga of revolution and exile has left unresolved issues. Are some claims on what it is to be Cuban more legitimate — more authentic — than others?

Americans embrace all things Cuban

Morales’s aguardiente has been ripening just fine for Havana Club International, a joint venture between Cuba Ron, the state-owned rum enterprise, and the French liquor giant Pernod Ricard. Sales have grown tenfold since the partnership began in the early 1990s. Cuban Havana Club is the No. 3 rum in the world, with sales of 4 million cases a year in more than 120 countries — and that is without access to the U.S. market, because of the trade embargo imposed in 1962.

The French and Cuban partners were buoyed by the stunning announcement nearly two years ago that President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro resolved to normalize relations. Embassies re-opened, travel became easier. Then, earlier this year, the rum partners scored a surprise victory at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where the U.S. government reversed a decade of opposition and allowed Cuba to renew its disputed trademark for Havana Club.

Still, Congress has not heeded Obama’s call to lift the embargo. For now, Cuban Havana Club reaches U.S. shores primarily in the luggage of travelers.

The French and Cuban partners say it’s only a matter of time before trade is allowed to resume and their Havana Club can flow freely across the land.

“We are ready to face this market, no matter what the date,” says André Leymat, director general of the Havana Club distillery.

The potential is huge — and not just because Americans drink about 40 percent of the world’s rum. Fascination with all things Cuban is intensifying with each small step toward a full embrace of the Cold War adversary. Americans are visiting in record numbers. Charter cruises have launched; direct commercial flights are coming shortly. American movies and TV shows — “Fast 8,” “Cuban Chrome” — are rushing to be produced there for the first time in half a century.

The appeal is bigger than any single product or experience. What’s for sale is the cachet of Cuba itself — once forbidden, now trendy. If only it could be bottled.

“For us, rum is not just merchandise; it’s also the expression of a culture,” rum master Morales says. “It’s something inherited from previous generations, passed down Cuban to Cuban for more than 150 years. You must never betray the rum.”

Bacardi International has sold its version of Havana Club in select markets. The label doesn’t mention Bacardi — but does list Puerto Rico. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

A 1936 Bacardi advertisement evokes dazzle and glamour from an era where people visited Cuba for its cocktail culture. (Bacardi/Bacardi)

Clash of the liquor giants

It’s early June in the posh Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, where Bacardi is celebrating the national launch of a line of rums with the help of blue-feathered showgirls, salsa dancers and a 10-piece band playing Cuban classics.

The bash is meant to evoke what Bacardi calls the “golden age” of cocktails in Havana, in the middle of the last century, when Americans flocked to their favorite tropical sin city, until the revolution killed the party.

Waiters in guayaberas carry bottles of the rums — one clear, one amber — like icons on mirrored trays.

The name of the brand is printed in big letters on the labels:

“Havana Club.”

Almost as big is: “Puerto Rican Rum.”

Nowhere on the label is Bacardi cited.

The clear Añejo Blanco is a tweaked version of a white Havana Club that Bacardi has been selling in a handful of markets. The amber Añejo Clásico is new — or maybe old. Bacardi says both rums are based on a recipe the Arechabalas used to make Havana Club until 1960.

It’s a rival line of Havana Club for sure.

A “falsa Havana Club,” in the words of Morales.

But then, Bacardi’s lawyers call the Cuban Havana Club an “ersatz Havana Club.”

Which is the real Havana Club?

The question lies at the heart of this titanic showdown between the world’s fourth-largest spirits company (Bacardi) and the second-largest (Pernod Ricard).

Bacardi is the top rum-seller in the United States (7 million cases a year) and in the world (17 million cases). It has evolved into a global powerhouse in other spirits, too, with such brands as Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin.

Rum is a comparatively smaller part of Pernod Ricard’s lineup. Still, Havana Club is one of the company’s top 10 brands, behind the likes of Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

“For many years, Bacardi played the rum game with one brand, the brand that carried the name of the family, and that is ‘Bacardi,’ ” Fabio Di Giammarco, global vice president of rums for Bacardi, says. “We know we have consumers who are more and more interested in brands that deliver a story. We think this is a brand that has a very rich story.”

One of the names on the guest list at Bacardi’s Havana Club party in Miami Beach is part of that story: Arechabala. Some heirs of the rum-making family attended.

After the revolution, the Arechabalas let their American trademark for Havana Club lapse, and they drifted into other lines of work. The label on the Bacardi Havana Club sketches their story, a kind of counternarrative to the one Morales tells in his Cuban rum warehouse.

“Our family was disheartened after the forced exile from Cuba, and has always felt the need for justice for what happened to our ancestors,” José Arechabala, a great-grandson of the founder, says in a statement released by Bacardi. “We feel their life’s work continues to live on through this rebranding of Havana Club.”

Fidel Castro, at left, led the revolution that would pitch Cuba into isolation from the Western world. Rum operations were seized in the aftermath, and many families fled. (Associated Press)

A 1930s photo of the José́ Arechabala distilling columns in Cardenas, Cuba. (Bacardi)

‘From now on, I am Pepe’

In the beginning was Facundo Bacardi, who launched his company in 1862. Rum historians credit him with pioneering Cuban-style rum: lighter than other types, perfect for cocktails, but also aged and blended into fine sipping rums.

The Arechabala company, founded in 1878, and other Cuban rum-makers worked in the shadow of Bacardi.

Americans discovered Cuban rum when veterans of the Spanish-American War returned home. A plaque in the Army and Navy Club in Washington commemorates the moment in 1909 when, as the story goes, the daiquiri was introduced in the club’s bar after being invented in Daiquirí, Cuba.

American appreciation of Cuban rum deepened during Prohibition, when partyers made their way to the island to slake their thirst. Later, Hemingway wrote about El Floridita, the Havana bar where he refueled on daiquiris.

The Arechabalas introduced Havana Club with Americans in mind in 1934. The name of the Cuban capital was spelled in English, rather than the Spanish “Habana.” Soon Havana Club was served in places such as the Stork Club, a high-society night spot in Manhattan.

Bacardi executives initially supported Fidel Castro, according to journalist Tom Gjelten’s 2008 book “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba.” They toasted brother Raúl Castro’s 1959 wedding to a revolutionary fighter who was the daughter of a Bacardi executive.

The Arechabalas, on the other hand, according to Gjelten, sympathized with dictator Fulgencio Batista, whom Fidel Castro overthrew.

Soldiers showed up at the Havana Club office on New Year’s Day 1960. The late Ramón Arechabala was a sales manager, while one of the top executives, his uncle José María Arechabala, or “Pepe,” was in Spain.

“From now on, I am Pepe, and you people will do as I say,” declared a military commander, as Ramón Arechabala recalled in court testimony in 1999.

“I say, ‘Okay, no problem, whatever you say,’ ” he testified, “because he was armed with a machine gun.”

The Bacardis’ Cuban rum operation was seized nine months later. Their company already had significant rum facilities abroad.

Ramón Arechabala, on the other hand, went on to sell cars in Miami.

In 1973, he realized that the Havana Club trademark was due for renewal. He asked his uncle whether they should file the paperwork.

His uncle said no. The family did not have enough money to produce rum in the U.S. and mistakenly believed they couldn’t renew the trademark without making rum.

“He told me we could not do anything right now with it, because, ‘Let’s wait because we might be going back to Cuba any moment,’ ” Arechabala testified.

In 1976, a state-owned Cuban enterprise secured the American trademark for Havana Club. It was a cunning yet hopeful investment in the day when Cuban rum might once again be poured on the other side of the Florida Straits.

The bat, logo of Bacardi, sits atop the art deco building once used as the company headquarters in Havana. (Reuters)

Artists have incorporated the Havana Club logo into their work as an element of Cuban identity. (Eliana Aponte/For The Washington Post)

Much depends on a U.S. trademark

The rum war was declared nearly 20 years later, when two things happened.

In 1993, news broke that Pernod Ricard had struck a deal to become equal partners in Havana Club. (Pernod Ricard declines to specify terms of the partnership. Fidel Castro has referred to it this way: “Long live the peasant-worker alliance and the friendship with Pernod Ricard!”)

In 1994, Bacardi filed its own application for the U.S. trademark for Havana Club. Bacardi paid the Arechabala family $1.25 million for any rights to Havana Club that the family still possessed, plus a portion of any sales of Havana Club.

Ever since, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard have battled on legal, regulatory, political and commercial fronts.

The Arechabalas “were free to maintain the trademark if they wanted to; they only had to pay a $25 fee,” says Ian FitzSimons, general counsel for Pernod Ricard. “The moment they abandoned the trademark in 1973, the trademark fell into the public domain.”

“At the end of the day, [Pernod Ricard] partnered with the Cuban government for property that is stolen,” says Rick Wilson, Bacardi’s senior vice president for external affairs. The law does not recognize trademark rights connected with confiscated Cuban property, he adds.

The American trademark was not stolen, FitzSimons counters, because “the Arechabalas were able to keep their trademark registration up until 1973, 13 years after the Cuban revolution. They chose not to take the necessary steps to keep it after that.”

Nor is Cuban Havana Club being made with seized Arechabala property, he says. The Cubans built a new distillery in the 1970s. Pernod Ricard added a state-of-the-art distillery in 2007, where Asbel Morales works.

Wilson argues that what matters in the law is intent and that the Arechabalas never intended to surrender their trademark. Over the years, they attempted to find partners with capital to make rum in the United States. Further, Wilson says, trademarks are founded on actual use, not mere paperwork.

“The only people to have used the Havana Club trademark in the United States have been Arechabala and Bacardi,” Wilson says.

Bacardi appeared to win the rum war in 2006, when the Cubans and Pernod Ricard were not allowed to renew the trademark. The reason: New rules required a license from the Treasury Department to write a check for the renewal fee of several hundred dollars. Treasury, on advice from the State Department, refused to grant the license.

The case was still pending in the trademark office early this year — though Bacardi disputes that the matter was truly alive — when the rum world turned upside down.

“In light of a number of factors, including … the landmark shift in U.S. policy toward bilateral relations with Cuba,” the State Department advised the Treasury Department to give the Cubans and Pernod Ricard permission to write the check to renew the trademark through 2026, a State Department official testified before a House subcommittee in February.

Now the dispute is back in U.S. District Court in Washington, where both sides are seeking a ruling on who owns Havana Club. The case could last well into 2017. Meanwhile, Bacardi’s Havana Club will be sold in the U.S.

If Bacardi prevails, the French-Cuban partnership has a backup plan. It has registered the name “Havanista.” Under one name or another, should the embargo be lifted, they will be the first to sell Americans a rum that is actually “made in Cuba.”

How much that matters is the last and perhaps most important front in the rum war. Authenticity is like another flavor note.

“It’s not just the juice,” says spirits writer Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails” (2006). “There’s a lot of money to be made in selling that Cuban story to Americans, who want to have that authentic brand.”

A couple settles in for a relaxing day at Megano Beach outside of Havana. (Eliana Aponte/For The Washington Post)

People linger at the Malecón, Havana’s sea wall, as the sun drops. (Eliana Aponte/For The Washington Post)

‘If I don’t drink Havana Club,
I’m not Cuban’

At sunset on the Malecón, Havana’s sea wall, Lazaro Rizo Modochi, 46, a cook, and his wife, Merlin Fernandez, 42, are strolling and sharing the remains of a bottle of Havana Club, accompanied by their twin 13-year-old daughters, Yaremi and Yaneisi. It’s a Saturday evening tradition for the family.

“Havana Club of Cuba is richness, it’s the sugar cane, it’s the African heritage of the cane-cutters — all that is Havana Club,” Rizosays. “If I’m in Italy or France and I drink Havana Club, I’m in Cuba. If I don’t drink Havana Club, I’m not Cuban.”

After Rizo takes his last swig, he kisses the bottle and throws it into the sea, toward the north.

“A message to Miami,” he says.

The logo is ubiquitous in Havana — on bicitaxis, on the tunics of parking lot attendants (“If you drink, don’t drive”), even in the paintings sold by street artists.

“When there’s an opening of the blockade, Havana Club will present to the United States a symbol of Cuba,” says Luis Rodriguez, a barman at the Bar San Juan in central Havana, where singer Beny Moré is said to have drunk Cuba libres before the revolution. “It represents traditional Cuban rum.”

Across a plaza from the cathedral, a plaque on what is now the Museum of Colonial Art notes that the 18th-century mansion used to be the offices of the Arechabala rum company. Graham Greene, in his novel “Our Man in Havana,” set a fateful checkers match here in the Havana Club bar, where free drinks were served to tourists in the hope they would buy bottles to take home.

Several blocks away, the majestic art deco Bacardi Building now contains travel offices, while its signature bat, wings spread, still presides atop the tower.

At El Floridita — where a statue of Hemingway occupies a spot at the end of the bar — the periodic arrival and departure of busloads of tourists give a tidal rhythm to midday, as a band plays hits from the Buena Vista Social Club. Veteran bartender Manuel Carbajo Aguiar grabs a bottle of Havana Club and raises his arm high in a showy pour of a silver stream into one of four blenders purring simultaneously. In a flash, he fills two dozen glasses with tangy-sweet and icy daiquiris.

“Havana Club has status,” Carbajo says. “If you’re relaxing with friends and on the table is a bottle of Havana Club, it gives the moment more personality than another rum … Havana Club is the rum that represents Cuban-ness.”

Two can play the authenticity game.

The labels on Bacardi’s Havana Club carry a picture of founder José Arechabala and the phrase “based on a recipe created in Cuba.”

The labels’ synopsis of the family’s story continues: “Decades later, this family of rum makers would be forced to flee during the Cuban Revolution, precious recipe in hand. After years of controversy, this well-kept treasure has been dusted off once again for crafting this incomparable rum in Puerto Rico.”

Bacardi does not claim to have resurrected the exact Arechabala Havana Club. The chain of knowledge from rum master to rum master was broken for too long. Certain ingredients are different. The technology is modern. A single recipe can yield a variety of flavors.

Still, the result is close, says David Cid, global ambassador of rum for Bacardi: “We are applying the Arechabalas’ techniques and methodologies along with our yeast with the aim of replicating the aroma and flavor balance of the original Havana Club.”

“What certainly cannot be said is that the other Havana Club has anything to do with the original,” Bacardi’s Di Giammarco says.

Indeed, the Cuban Havana Club was created after the revolution, though the bottles say “Fundada en 1878,” the year José Arechabala founded his rum company.

“The only Havana Club I know comes from Cuba,” says Jérôme Cottin-Bizonne, chief executive of Havana Club International, the Pernod Ricard-Cuban joint venture. “If the rum is not made in Cuba by a master of Cuban rum, if it’s not made with Cuban sugar cane, you can’t make the same product.”

But how does it taste?

The most recent skirmish in the rum war takes place on a Friday afternoon at Cubano’s restaurant in Silver Spring: Four experienced spirits tasters conduct a blind test at the invitation of The Washington Post.

It’s Havana Club vs. Havana Club: Bacardi’s Añejo Blanco and Añejo Clásico against the Cuban Añejo 3 Años (white) and Añejo 7 Años (dark). The Bacardi contenders cost about $20 and $22 for a 750-milliliter bottle, respectively. The Cuban rums sell for about $7 and $18 in Havana.

To confound the tasters, we throw in two more white rums — regular Bacardi Superior and premium Caña Brava by The 86 Co.

Amid the sounds of slurping and deep inhaling, the four Havana Clubs quickly distinguish themselves over the other two. Then things get interesting.

“I love the way that it decays on the palate,” says Lukas B. Smith, a bartender at Dram and Grain who is helping to launch the Cotton & Reed rum distillery planned for Washington. He’s tasting the Bacardi Añejo Clásico, though he doesn’t know it.

“It has this soft heat,” says M. Carrie Allan, spirits columnist for The Post.

“If you still have training wheels on” — if you’re not a sophisticated drinker — “you’re not going to like that,” says Jarad Slipp, estate director of RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Va.

“I love it,” says Adolfo Mendez, owner of Cubano’s, who left Cuba just after the revolution when he was 3.

Then they try the Cuban Añejo 7 Años, again without knowing its identity.

“It’s definitely a crowd-pleaser,” Smith says, calling it “a mouth bomb.” “I think they might have overdone the sugar a little bit.”

All the tasters guess that this sweet, brash pleaser is by Bacardi, while the subtler, “handmade”-tasting rum is from Cuba.

Wrong.

“Wow!” they exclaim.

As for the white Havana Clubs, the tasters are divided. A couple find that the sweeter Cuban entry is richer and more flavorful than Bacardi’s. To others, the Cuban sweetness is a bid for mass appeal.

“Basically, these are both big fat sweet tourist rums,” Smith says of the Cuban Havana Clubs.

“There’s a reason why [the Bacardi Havana Clubs] are in a different label and not branded under Bacardi proper, which is that people who typically drink Bacardi wouldn’t get it,” Slipp says. “Good on [Cuban] Havana Club, because they’re going to be getting a lot more tourists now, and they’re making a tourist-driven product.”

“Maybe that’s part of the tradition,” Allan says. “One of the things that I thought was interesting here was the idea that ‘authenticity’ … doesn’t necessarily mean nuance, subtlety. Something that is authentic is not necessarily better out of the bottle.”

Mendez proposes a compromise. He places the bottle of Bacardi dark Havana Club and the bottle of Cuban light Havana Club together on the table — his two favorites.

“These two guys are inseparable,” he says. “I support them both.”

It’s a pleasant vision — perhaps inspired by the warmth of fine spirits — the idea of a reunited front of great Cuban rums. A Havana Club all-star team. But for now, in this rum war, you have to choose sides.

A Gentleman and a Distiller

Personal circumstances have led me to neglect Rumpundit, but Thierry’s death spurs me back to business and I will do more from now on.

I last met Thierry in New York at the Financial Times “Business of Rum” supplement launch. He was there, not because he was a huge financial player, but because all of us involved respected the quality that Barbancourt represented, not least because of the adversity of conditions in Haiti.

At the conference, I reminded him of what he had told me years before – and he had forgotten. Smiling, he told me in his soft French accent, “Ian, you know, Bacardi are very clevèr.”

“How?” I asked.

“If you look at zeir advertizements, they always want you to drink zeir rum with something else!” he said.

I have to say recent Bacardi products  from Facundo mean it is no longer true but it was a wonderful put down – that could be said of many other mass sale rums!

 

Ian

 

The man behind Haiti’s best-known export, Barbancourt rum, dead at 65

RIP Thierry Gardère keeper of Barbancourt’s spirit

I will add more to this later, but here is the sad announcement from Miami Herald, and the section from my Rum book on him and Barbancourt.

It was evening that I made my attempt along the traffic-clogged Route Nationale Une. To the usual dust, potholes and chaotic traffic were added another problem. Towards sunset is funeral time. Three separate corteges held up the traffic. One hearse had broken down, and was being pushed. Another was creaking along just behind, while at the economy funeral bringing up the rear the pink painted coffin was being born on the heads of the mourners who did not seem to mind that the shroud was poking out from the ill-secured lid. It did not bode well for the Haitian concept of quality control.

However, down a side road, past the goats grazing at the roadside and the pigs wallowing in the ditch, suddenly I hit the best paved piece of road in Haiti. It is for the heavy trucks that bring in 200 tons of sugar cane a day to the home of Rhum Barbancourt, as well as for the ox carts that bring in some of the small-holders’ crop. The cane has to be milled within twenty four hours and a ton of it gives about 70 bottles of rum – anything up to fifteen years after it is ground.

There, surrounded by the cane fields that supply it, the plant distills, ages and bottles what many people consider the best rum in the world. Barbancourt Estate Réserve, aged in oak for fifteen years to give it what its maker Thierry Gardère calls a “particularity,” that makes it comparable to an old cognac or single malt. Almost as good, and more easily available, is the mere Five Star eight year old.

Among its dedicated consumers are the Voodoo gods of Haiti, whose more upper class priests spray a mouthful into the air, before pouring a libation on the ground. And then the priests drink the stuff themselves – straight of course. Even those who only provide clairin will disguise it in a Barbancourt bottle, often decorated with gaudy beadwork as if to hide from the visiting spirits that the spirit is not the top quality.

Connoisseurs would like to think that anyone who put coke in this rum would suffer the terrible wrath of the whole Voodoo pantheon. The mere three star, aged four years could at a pinch be mixed without sacrilege but not the eight or fifteen year old.

M Gardère sniffed when I made at comparisons with a better known rum “Bacardi is very clever: they do not want you to drink their rums without a mixer to hide the taste.” Barbancourt, a premium rhum agricole, has picked up gold medals galore for its qualities, since the company was outward looking enough to send its products to the fairs and expositions of the world, especially in Paris. It goes without saying that Barbancourt is un rhum agricole.

Gardère also explains that the star on the label was, coincidentally, red, the color associated with the war god, Ogou. M. Gardère is not a devotee of Voodoo, but it is little short of a daily miracle that his factory survives and at all in a country with a two hundred year old history of political upheavals, where the telephones and power lines work only occasionally. Barbancourt can sell everything it produces – if it can actually receive the orders.
When I contacted its American importer before setting off he sighed that the only way they could maintain supplies was by keeping a big inventory. The telephones did not usually work.

Dupré Barbancourt started the company when he opened his distillery in 1862. The former slaves of Haiti had voted with their feet and machetes against attempts to restart the sugar plantations that fed the former French distilleries. The Barbancourts had come from the cognac producing areas of France. They moved to Haiti in the eighteenth century, and local legend has it that it was the quality of the rum the family made that preserved them from the massacres that accompanied the various slave uprising, invasions and civil wars in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

When Dupré Barbancourt died without children his widow, Nathalie Gardère Barbancourt, brought in her nephew, Paul Gardère to help her run the rhummerie. Now, the fourth generation keeper of the flame under the still is Thierry Gardère, the great-great-nephew of the original Barbancourt. The company is officially a partnership with five other family members, but they seem happy to leave him in charge to maintain the ancient traditions. Those are a rhum agricole, treble distilled and aged in white oak vats built with timber and carpenters both imported from the Limousin region of France that supplies the cognac industry. The oak is from standalone trees whose larger pores allow in more air to engender the mysterious alchemy of aging and maturation.
Many rum producers use barrels that have been pre-used for aging Bourbon. The Barbancourt 15 year old spends its last five years in old cognac barrels.

Of course, the families did come from France, so there have been Balzacian family feuds, as when a branch of the Barbancourt family tried to sell rum under their name. Gardère’s father sued, and Thierry chuckles reminiscently when he recounts the tale. When their advocate cited the relevant laws, the Judge declared that the law did not apply, since he declared “this is the Duvalierist revolution.” He asked for a bribe and when it was refused sent Gardère’s father and his lawyer to prison. Even Papa Doc thought this was little too much and ordered their release.

However, as one of the few legitimately profitable businesses in Haiti, the company again attracted the attention of Papa Doc who wanted to nationalize it. It was saved when Duvalier’s advisors suggested how much damage Haitian civil servants could do to a product that depended on rigorous quality control.

In fact, it was around that time that the company became a near monopoly anyway, not as a result of voodoo politics or anything else. “It was ice,” explains Gardère. “When you put water in some spirits, it brings out the fusel oil taste. You don’t smell it at higher proofs, so when they put ice in the other rums, it gave them a bad taste.” he explains.

Before 1949 the company bought the local hooch and then re-refined it to eliminate the more noxious hangover inducing alcohols. Then it began to make its own fresh from the vesous, the fermented sugar cane juice. Indeed the original copper column still is still bubbling away, siphoning off the less drinkable condensate. As a measure of its potency, they donated it to local hospitals for surgical spirit after a recent hurricane.

Now the rum is distilled in three columns, and the final product comes out as a highly volatile 90% alcohol, to which some 50% water is added before aging in oak vats. Gardère says, “We’ve modernized a lot, but we are trying not to do so too quickly. We want to go step by step so we do not lose too much of the original product. We want to go with the evolution of people’s taste.”

Although they add yeast, the slightly thinner than usual local cane has its own natural ferments, and the company is taking steps to buy more land to safeguard its supply, threatened by the spreading slums and sprawl of Port au Prince. However, they cannot totally protect themselves from the infrastructural chaos of the poorest country in the hemisphere. Jean-Mark Ewald, an engineer at the plant, comments sadly about this struggle against disentrepreneurial entropy, “There’s no way we can go ‘Just In Time’ when it comes to equipment and material that we need. We never know how much time it will take.” Recently they received a batch of chemicals for the labs that they had ordered a year before, most of which were stuck in the customs for a year. “Some of them were already out of date.”

Commenting on the difficulty of running a modern business without a telephone, Gardère smiles, “People keep stealing the lines. But thank God you don’t need a telephone for distillation.” However you do need to tie up a lot of capital if you are going to keep spirits aging and unsold. For example, four years of embargo by the United Nations cut off the 40% sales that would normally go to export between 1991 and 1995, but Gardère is philosophical. “We are not so desperate, because it meant that we have more aged rum to sell! So in the end we can have better sales.”

The secret of Barbancourt’s success over more artisan spirits is the dedication to quality control. Just the other side of the wall from the neighborhood’s grazing goats are its labs, with gas and liquid chromatography facilities. They have recently installed a cold filtration plant to anticipate another problem they had discovered. When the rum moves from its tropical home to colder northern markets, the tannins in the rum precipitate out. “No one’s complained about it yet, but we don’t like it,” says Ewald. In a country where even safe drinking water is rare, the plant uses osmosis and ozonization to ensure that they have soft, bacteria free water, both for the fermentation and dilution of the heady firewater that comes off the stills.

Gardère hoped that his 16-year-old daughter would one day become involved in the business but he senses a need for changes. “We want to expand the export market, which is why we need more aged rum and so we need more capital. We have another problem, what I call a positive problem; more people want to buy than we can sell. I’m not sure that the family will put so much in it, so we may have to look for new partners for finance.”

Meanwhile, as Barbancourt markets itself worldwide, taking advantage of globalization, the local clairin has been suffering. Christian preachers may well have inveighed against demon rum, but the local spirits like their local spirits. Voodoo and Santeria, Obeah, all the ancestral African deities acquired a taste for rum on their way across the Atlantic. Rum is a sacramental drink, a libation to the spirits and an inspiration to the worshippers. While Barbancourt is preferred, the cheaper sort of houngans use clairin to summon the Gods of the Voodoo pantheon, and the ordinary sort of Haitians use it for escaping this world in other ways.

In fact, in the archaeology of alcohol, you can probably recreate the taste of the old kill-devil by taking a drink of clairin. You can get some sense of its subtlety from the protests by Haitian peasant farmers a few years ago about the competition from imported medical ethanol, a flask of which they symbolically buried next to the Route Nationale.

Unscrupulous importers had been bringing in to the country to make faux clairin, under the banner of free trade and globalization. Like the native Zombies, one cannot but suspect that its time interred would be short! It is probably significant that one of the traditional uses of clairin is washing down the dead.

There is as yet no export market for it and one could not be sure that the FDA would favor its import into the USA.

The Chairman comes under the hammer?

One of the Caribbean’s Best Rum Companies Has Been Sold

March 16th, 2016 | 12:50 am

rum

One of the Caribbean’s best distilleries has a new owner.

The St Lucia Distillers group of companies has been acquired by Martinique-based Group Bernard Hayot, which owns two of Martinique’s top rum distilleries: Rhum Clement and Rhum JM.

“The acquisition of SLD brings together two established traditions of rum making – Rhum Agricole and molasses based – into one portfolio – See more at: http://www.stlucianewsonline.com/new-owner-of-st-lucia-distillers-to-implement-comprehensive-investment-programme/#sthash.kc93B1Xl.dpuf,” the companies said in a statement. “GBH intends to put in place a comprehensive investment programme for St Lucia Distiller’s production and warehousing facilities – See more at: http://www.stlucianewsonline.com/new-owner-of-st-lucia-distillers-to-implement-comprehensive-investment-programme/#sthash.kc93B1Xl.dpuf.”

St Lucia Distillers; 1931 rum was named Rum of the Year by Caribbean Journal in 2015.

The company’s rums include 1931 and Chairman’s Reserve, among others.

“I am excited and very happy that St Lucia Distillers has a new owner committed to further investment in our distillery and helping us build our brands both locally and internationally,” said Margaret Monplaisir, managing director of St Lucia Distillers. “We certainly have a bright future ahead and we are keen to begin working with our new owners.  GBH also intends to use its considerable expertise to develop our tour at St Lucia Distillers making it a “must see” for visitors to St. Lucia, like they have done at Habitation Clement in Martinique.”

The latter has become one of the most creative distilleries in the region, now home to its own modern art museum.

In a statement, GBH Spirit Division Director Gregoire Gueden said the deal was a “a natural progression given the close proximity of Martinique to St. Lucia and the similarity of our heritage and cultures.”

“We admire the rums of St Lucia Distillers and believe we can build Chairman’s Reserve into a major global brand,” he said. “It is our intention to invest in the distillery, warehousing and SLD’s work force so that we can continue to make some of the greatest rums in the world.”http://caribjournal.com/2016/03/16/one-of-the-caribbeans-best-rum-companies-has-been-sold/#

 

History Buff Interview with Ian Williams

Colonists Used Rum As a Weapon Against Native Americans

Nov 07, 2015
Is rum the subject of a vast historical cover-up?

of a vast historical cover-up? Ian Williams thinks so. A renowned journalist and rum expert, Williams is the author of the acclaimed book Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776. It’s a riveting read. Taking us from the plantations of Barbados to the battlefields of Revolutionary New England, Williams argues that rum’s pivotal role in the American Revolution was written out of U.S. history because of prohibitionism. We asked him about the spirit’s troubling past:

HistoryBuff: Can you tell us a little about the origins of rum? When did it go mainstream?

Ian Williams: Rum is the mongrel progeny of mixed technical genes. It was first mentioned in Barbados in 1651 by a much-quoted anonymous writer who wrote that “the chief fudling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.” Originating in Papua New Guinea, the sugar cane travelled via India to the Middle East and was brought by the Spanish and Portuguese to the Americas. The British in Barbados imported the milling and refining technology from the coast of what is now Surinam when Dutch settlers were ousted by the Portuguese in Brazil and settled in Barbados, which rapidly became a sugar monoculture.

HB: How was it made?

IW: Rum was made from the by-product of sugar, the molasses and skimmings left once the sugar had been crystallised out. The natural yeasts in the air would have set the molasses solution bubbling and fermenting, but it produces an unpalatable and indigestible drink—until some unsung genius realised that distillation brought over the alcohol without the immediate intestinal upsets! It was a very ecological drink—using a waste product and not competing with food stocks.

HB: How did the spirit get its name?

IW: Originally known as “Kill-Devil,” the word rum seems to be derived from “rumbullion”—an English dialect word for “a commotion, a riot”—which is indicative of the effects! “Rhum” in French, Ron in Spanish and in other European languages all seem to be derived from the English word. But along the Eastern Seaboard of the US, features are often named after “Kill Devil.” The Wright brothers first flew near Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina, for example.

The_Pirates_carrying_rum_on_shore_to_purchase_slaves
via Wikimedia

HB: When was it first popularized in the U.S.?

IW: Most of the American colonists were marginally productive of grain crops, so using grain for alcohol production was frowned upon. Apple crops allowed hard cider production but a gallon of imported molasses made a gallon of rum roughly, and from an early stage of colonial history, distilleries flourished. Rum was much more easily stored and transported and was often drunk in the form of punches rather than neat. And it killed the bacteria in the water!

HB: How much rum did the colonists really drink?

IW: The colonists drank huge quantities themselves but also traded it with the Indians, persuading them to hunt for furs beyond their own subsistence needs. Benjamin Franklin commented, “If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these Savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that Rum may be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited the Sea-Coast.” The colonists preferred Caribbean rum for themselves, but they also traded their locally produced New England rum for slaves in Africa, where it was the major trading item for the American ships. The British ships used cloth and other manufactured goods rather than rum.

HB: What role did rum play in the American Revolution?

IW: The original dispute was that while the British West Indian islands used their own molasses to make rum, the French colonies were not allowed to in case they competed with the domestic French Brandy industry—and so had a surplus of molasses from their sugar production. The American ships traded, salt, salted cod, and timber for this and since for much of the 18th-century France and Britain were at war—among other things about French threats to the colonies from Canada—this was trading with the enemy.

The colonists did not pay duty on the smuggled goods and later when the British tried to collect taxes to defray the cost of removing the French from Canada, the colonists first refused, then actively resisted as the British shifted the collection from easily intimidated or bribable local collectors to the Navy, whose Captains and crews collected prize money from any smugglers’ ships they caught. The conflict escalated. But they never asked for representation—they just did not want taxation!

Revere, Paul 1770
Paul Revere via Wikimedia

HB: Did Paul Revere really fortify himself with rum before galloping off for Lexington?

IW: The revolution was plotted in taverns over bowls of rum punch, and Paul Revere’s ride, far from rousing the countryside, was simply warning the Militia to hide their arsenals before a Redcoat raid. His first stop was with the owner of a rum distillery, Isaac Hall, Captain of the Medford Minute Men, who rewarded the messenger with several stirrup cups that “would have made a rabbit bite a bulldog,” and sent him bellowing on his way. During the war both sides tried to seize rum distilleries stores since it was assumed the troops would not fight without it. Faced with a severe shortage of rum George Washington wrote to Congress in 1777 suggesting “erecting Public Distilleries in different States.” He went on to explain, suggesting that even then he anticipated some resistance, “The benefits arising from the moderate use of strong Liquor, have been experienced in all Armies and are not to be disputed.”

HB: Why did whisky surpass rum as America’s beverage of choice?

IW: After the Revolution, the opening up of the former Indian territories allowed corn to replace the molasses and rum from the Caribbean. Although rum remained a major commodity in New England, whisky replaced it as a drink and as currency. The combined effects of that and prohibitionism submerged its role in American history.

HB: What most surprised you while you were writing the book?

IW: Once I had begun to look into the subject, I was delighted and surprised to see how much of a role rum had had in the development of the modern Atlantic world. I began to research when I realized that the Caribbean was for centuries the cockpit of European history. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans went there to fight and die for control of its liquid treasures and it was seminal in the American Revolution. Faced with the choice between Canada and Martinique—the French chose Martinique. The West Indian colonies would have joined the USA—and reinforced the Southern slaveowners if it weren’t that they needed the British to protect them against the French and Spanish.

Rum was a delight to research whether in the archives of London and New York—or the rum-shops of Barbados and Jamaica!

Feature image via Wikimedia

Promoted Stories

Rum moving up

Remy along with Campari/Appleton taking rum to premium heights.

I
http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/71435/remy-upscale-rum

SHAWN CUMBERBATCH, shawncumberbatch@nationnews.com
Added 26 August 2015

BARBADOS’ DISTINCTION of being the birthplace of rum is about to be “leveraged” like never before. Fresh from acquiring Mount Gay Rum Refinery and Mount Gay Plantation in St Lucy for a combined $28.7 million, French alcoholic beverage company Remy Cointreau has sanctioned a plan that will see its Barbados subsidiary, Mount Gay Distilleries Limited, giving consumers a taste of the world’s first “luxury” rum in six to seven year’s time.
Related articles
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Local Rum Industry could cave in…
‘Focus more on local molasses’…
It is a key part of a deliberate strategy – fashioned four years ago – to elevate the 312-year-old Mount Gay brand to premium and super premium status, thereby ensuring its survival and growth.
Detailing the strategy in an interview with BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, Mount Gay Distilleries Limited managing director, Raphael Grisoni, revealed that the company would now be involved in producing its special new rum, which is targetting the high end market, from the field to the bottle.
Mount Gay has contracted the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) to manage Mount Gay Plantation, and is working with the Sugar Cane Breeding Station and a team of “specialist” consultants, including agronomists, to produce its own “high quality” molasses for the “single estate rum”, Grisoni said.
“We made a deal with BAMC, so they are grinding for us and we are collecting the molasses from them, which is segregated, so it is really our molasses coming from our plantation. The rum produced will be something very high end, very expensive, because it will be very scarce and of course the growing super premium rum market is there so it will be beneficial, of course, for Barbados to have such positioning,” he said.
“It’s the early stage. We took over the plantation, we got the first harvest and our molasses. It’s not a common molasses, we have a special quality, so we are extracting less sugar from the cane so we have a better quality molasses, and we started our first distillation last month. So it’s really fresh and the product will go out in six to seven years.
“On the plantation, there is an old plantation house and an old windmill. So slowly we are going to refresh that and make it nice. Today, all of the plantation management is externalised with BAMC but with our guidelines. We are expecting them to manage our plantation by the book, we want an exceptional management and thanks to our consultant agronomist, we set up the standard on which we want the BAMC to operate,” he added.
Grisoni said the expectation was that in the end Mount Gay would have a product “that will deliver because of the quality of the cane, and because of the processes we are going to use will be unique”.
He said there was a market of affluent consumers who were “looking for unique, scarce, small batch products”, and the company was looking to capitalise on this in an international marketplace where no one was currently selling true luxury rum for between US$500 and US$1 000 a bottle, except the occasional special edition.
“It is really something unique and I think this is the way we should go forward. It was also a way to show we believe in the sugar industry. Purchasing a plantation is already a sign that we believe in this industry and we are willing to invest and it’s a significant investment. This is just the beginning. What I know is that overall luxury products are on the rise,” he asserted.
“There are more and more rich people who are demanding exclusive products and we have all the attributes to deliver those luxury products and we need to leverage our heritage. We were born more than 300 years ago in this area in St. Lucy. This is our story and it was logical to build on that and I am totally convinced that there is a consumer for that.
“It’s great but it’s also difficult for us because it’s new. Before, we were really only in the distillation, aging and blending. Now we are becoming farmers, so as you can imagine it’s quite complex. But thanks to God, we have great specialists on the island, we have great agronomists who are, of course, helping us in order to do it properly.”
– See more at: http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/71435/remy-upscale-rum#sthash.9Z4qvpPi.dpuf

FT Business of Rum Special Report with my article!

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dbc62760-0adf-11e5-98d3-00144feabdc0.html

 

June 26, 2015 6:44 pm
Caribbean rum strategy wants more sip and not mix

Ian Williams

Although rum is a global drink, made across the tropics and drunk in all climate zones, its name shows its deep roots in the English-speaking Caribbean. It first appeared in Barbados in the mid-17th century, as “Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil . . . made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor”. The pioneering distillers soon discovered that redistilling the first flow made it considerably less hellish.

In a further boost to palatability, the only way to export rum in quantity was in the oak casks that were the shipping containers of the day, and soon drinkers discovered that rum, above all spirits, benefits from ageing in oak.

By the turn of the 17th century Jamaica too had begun to make rum. It soon eclipsed Barbados in production and British West Indies rum dominated the world. To make rum, the colonists used molasses, the byproduct of sugar-refining. That gave the British an economic edge as well as rum expertise since, until the end of the 18th century, French and Spanish monarchs prohibited their colonies from producing any spirits that would rival their domestic industries.

Rum was appreciated in the heart of the empire as well. In 2011 an inventory of Earl Harewood’s cellars in England discovered bottles of Barbadian rum laid down in 1780. Once the encrusted cobwebs were polished off, Christie’s sold a dozen of the bottles for £78,255 in January 2014. It followed with 16 further bottles, raising another £135,713 last December. That gave bottles of aged dark rum a premium price of £11,162 each. It was a telling reminder that the fortunes of much of Britain’s landed gentry were in Caribbean plantations, sugar and rum — not to mention slavery.

The Royal Navy’s adoption of rum, usually Caribbean, as its restorative of choice certainly helped bulk sales, but a government-guaranteed market of millions of gallons of what one could call a “robust” rum might not have spurred premium quality. Although the Pussers brand, based on the Navy’s official formula, attracts devoted customers today it is open to debate whether the tradition or the liquor is the greatest attraction.

Even before the Harewood sale Anglo-Caribbean rum makers were rediscovering that premium, aged rums have a growing market that adds value for consumer and distiller alike. But brand-building is an expensive business, even more so with premium spirits that need decades of lead time to build and age stocks. Local Caribbean producers do not have the resources to build global markets. Nor is it enough to have a quality product, since makers have to tell discerning drinkers about it and supply the product in quantities that deliver economies of scale in a crowded market place.

Frank Ward of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association was prominent in the “Authentic Caribbean Rum” marque campaign, funded by EU “reparations” for ending trade preferences that had protected the Caribbean against Latin American competition. He notes that, with a few exceptions, the English-speaking Caribbean has concentrated on bulk rum production, selling their products to be bottled and branded by others. This surrenders the high, value-added ground to the bottlers.

The premium share of the market is expanding rapidly as drinkers treat aged rums as sipping spirits rather than as mixers for cocktails. Both Appleton Estate and Mount Gay, the market leaders in the region, have responded to this and adopted a similar strategy — maintaining high-prestige “flagship” rums and concentrating on premium blends of consistent age and quality and to some extent cutting adrift the local markets’ favourite cheaper brands. Significantly, Campari had taken over Appleton and Rémy Cointreau Mount Gay, so both had become part of large global companies with the resources to invest in production and marketing and the courage to risk upsetting local island consumers and build exports.
“Local Caribbean producers do not have the resources to build global markets”Tweet this quote

It appears that smaller brands, such as El Dorado or Angostura, will have to risk losing some of their local character. Deals with, and access to, the marketing resources of the leading spirits producers may well be what is required to make an impression on a waiting world.

Mr Ward believes the EU Caribbean rum programme did help smaller brands obtain more exposure. But he adds: “It takes years to build a brand of rum and the first programme [which] only ran 18 months helped some suppliers to diversify, but it has a long way to go”.

The smaller, yet distinguished brands from Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent have appreciative consumers but find it difficult to secure distribution, particularly in the US liquor market whose structure is a hangover from Prohibition. If these brands cannot fill a container, they are at an immediate disadvantage. The “Authentic Caribbean Rum” marque did help publicise these smaller entrants, but Mr Ward says the campaign benefited all rums worldwide.

Nonetheless, the investment in premium brand-building by companies such as Rémy Cointreau and Campari is raising the prestige of the whole rum category, something that is sure to continue.