Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Premiumization of Rum Comes With a Price

     Last week, I spent two days in Miami at a rum congress with some of the most influential rum producers in the world.  Two of the most prolific topics was the Geological Indication  and Transparency within the category.  With the move by the category to more premium and super-premium expressions, this has to to happen if the category is going to be taken seriously.
     Transparency has been a buzz word in the spirits world for quite some time, and as consumers become more inquisitive and knowledgeable, secretive operations are vulnerable to backlash.  Rum has so far avoided the public wrath inflicted on categories such as gin and whisky, but as its premiumization’s trajectory accelerates, distillers are under greater pressure to speak about their production methods openly and honestly.    Alexandre Gabriel, master blender of Plantation Rum, feels that any rules for rum production, “must first and foremost promote transparency, while not killing the diversity that makes rum so special”. He also believes, “The work of putting together a Geographical Indication must be a careful process and it must be done in a way to explore and research collectively the heritage of a particular country in rum making.  It is also something that needs to be keep in mind is that rum is a vibrant spirit and that has to continue and Geographical Indication should not stifle that.”
Richard Seale:  Foursquare Distillery
     Richard Seale, master distiller and blender at Foursquare Distillery, says transparency is “essential to creating a super­-premium category” and identifies two ways to achieve premiumization – through adding ‘perceived value’ or ‘intrinsic value’. ‘Perceived value’, he says, is created through “packaging, misleading solera age claims and the addition of sugar syrup”, which creates the “illusion of quality”. But ‘intrinsic value’ is based on “genuine artisanal distillation and genuine age”, and is an ethos largely associated with the whisky category.
“This is how we must build the premium category of rum,” he says. “It is more than just to premiumize – it is how we premiumize that matters and will determine our ultimate success. A consumer can and should buy on taste, which is subjective, but what the consumer has to pay should always be based on intrinsic value.”
     Richard Seale finds that the “terrible myth that rum has no rules, but rather, the problem is that our rules are not recognized”. He says the United States and European Union, both key rum markets, do not recognize the specific regulations from rum­-producing nations, which he calls a “genuine disgrace”. Seale also says the EU fails to properly enforce its own regulations for rum, which prohibits the use of neutral grain spirit and flavorings, among other things. “This lack of enforcement has helped make rum a dishonest category, and has prevented the category from having the confidence in its integrity that is necessary to develop the super­-premium class,” he says. Seale urges the European Union to recognize rum’s Geographical Indication Is in the same way it recognizes Scotch whisky, but he also says that the United States is a “vastly greater problem”.