Friday, January 17, 2020

Barbados Rum Geographical Indication is Getting Closer to Being a Reality

    I know that I'm not writing this column on a regular basis anymore, but this is an important development in the rum world and worth reporting on.  This is a story issued in "The Spirits Business" email and worth reading.

Foursquare Aging Warehouse

     Following a disagreement over the terms of a geographical indication (GI) for Barbados rum, Richard Seale, proprietor of Foursquare Distillery, said the regulations would place “now restrictions” on production methods.  Three distillers, Foursquare, Mount Gay and Saint Nicholas Abbey, said they have collectively agreed a GI for Barbados rum as prepared by the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) in consultation with its legal counsel.   Foursquare, Mount Gay and Saint Nicholas Abbey added that they are the largest bottlers of Barbados rum, and together hold more than 90% of the island’s aged liquid.
St. Nicholas Abbey Still
     Part of the proposed GI would require any Barbados rum to be fully matured on the island.   Larry Warren, proprietor of Saint Nicholas Abbey, said: “The value of rum increases as it matures. We cannot afford the loss of Forex earnings by letting this production step happen outside of Barbados.”   However, a fourth distillery in Barbados, the West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD), has previously expressed that it would like to see greater flexibility within GI rules.  The WIRD agreed a GI was important to protect the future of Barbados rum, but called for what it described as an “inclusive, not exclusive” set of regulations. As such, it has not lent its support to the proposed GI.
     The Barbados government asked the BIDC to collect each producer’s view on the GI and to outline a common proposal. However, the government will not approve the legislation for a GI until all four distilleries agree on its terms.    Foursquare, Mount Gay and Saint Nicholas Abbey all argue that the proposed GI “gives ample room for innovation”. They highlighted that there are no restrictions on the type of stills that can be used to make Barbados rum, and that long and short fermantations would be permitted.   Furthermore, producers would be able to use fresh juice, syrup or molasses. Any yeast strain can be used, but non-saccharomyces strains must be native, while only Barbados water would be permitted in rum production.
   Regarding maturation, producers would have to use new oak or refill casks from a list of recognized wine and 
spirits denominations to age Barbados rum. Age statements would have to refer to the youngest spirit used and vats would not be acceptable for age statements.   Any addition of sugar syrup or flavorings would be prohibited, but caramel coloring “under strict guidelines” would be allowed for consistency.   Seale said: “At Foursquare, we have gained a reputation for innovation. I am happy to say the Barbados GI places no restrictions on our rum-making methods.”
     Foursquare, Mount Gay and Saint Nicholas Abbey also noted that under their proposed GI regulations, there would be no ban on making non-compliant rums. The group of distillers added that under EU spirits regulations, a Barbados distillate aged in France and sweetened using sugar syrup, or any sort of sweetening agent, would gain French provenance.
West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD) Pot Still
     While WIRD has expressed its support for several points within the proposed GI – including the requirement for Barbadian rum to be fermented and distilled only in Barbados – it disagreed with the maturation requirements.   WIRD said it favored “mandatory tropical ageing” in Barbados for at least one year, but argued the “historical practice” of ‘double-ageing’ – involving a secondary maturation period in another country – “must also be preserved”, as long as brands are transparent about this process.
WIRD issued a statement on behalf of its managing director, Andrew Hassell, and Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender at French drinks maker Maison Ferrand, which acquired WIRD in 2017.   The statement, given exclusively to The Spirits Business in December, said: “Our take [is] the GI is protecting the entire history of Barbados rum-making. There are techniques that have been documented and used for hundreds of years and we at West Indies Rum Distillery have been making rums this way for over a century.
     “There are also many external documents [that] prove rum has been made in diverse, innovate ways and we encourage you to read them. Why should we handcuff future generations of rum makers to one particular style of rum and lead to rum standardization in Barbados?   “We at West Indies Rum Distillery are all for an inclusive GI, not an exclusive GI. We are fighting to protect the heritage of rum and its future.”
The distillery was also in favor of using “every type of food-grade wood”. It said that historically, rum was matured in a variety of woods, such as chestnut, mulberry and acacia.   “We need to be able to revive this unique heritage, which offers fascinating taste profiles to be rediscovered,” said WIRD. “Limiting Barbados to American oak barrels or to oak barrels would be a great mistake that would obliterate historic practices.”