A pre-show party at Pagan Idol the evening before featured Spiribam rums, and called together numerous rum industry influencers, including Foursquare Rum Distillery’s Richard Seale, Benoît Bail and Jerry Gitany of The Rum Embassy, as well as many hardcore California Tiki scene enthusiasts.
Recently, I shared my article on Cuban rum regulations, which started out, “Rum has no rules? Think again!”–a topic I’ve written about before.
In response to my post, Richard wrote an extremely long and well-articulated comment that’s simply too informative to lose in the desert of Facebook comments. So with Richard’s permission, I’m reprinting it here with just slight touchup of typos and such.
Rum has no rules? Honestly, how could something so completely inane be not only spread but be believed and repeated again and again with authority?
And the notion that this “lack of rules” was somehow wonderful, so producers can be “creative.” What nonsense.
In the aftermath of a May 2017 trip to Cuba with Havana Club, I wrote several articles about Cuban rum. The Cuban Rum Cheat Sheet provides a broad introduction to Cuban rum history and how it’s made. The follow up article took a detailed look at the many lives of the Havana Club brand. Next, I went inside Havana Club’s San José distillery to show how aguardiente and subsequently rum is made. In this final dispatch, I’ll go hyper-wonky, with a complete, English language translation of Cuba’s “DOP,” their regulations for making rum.
It’s popular to say that rum has no rules. But take a look around, and you’ll find that many rum producing countries have detailed regulations about what’s required to label your rum as a product of that country. The most famous, of course, is the Martinique AOC, considered by many to be very strict in its prescriptions for rhum production. Brazil also writes regulation for Cachaça. In late 2016, Jamaica’s rum producers approved a Geographical Indication (aka “GI”) for rums made there.
In May 2017, I traveled to Cuba to immerse myself in the topic of Cuban rum as a guest of Havana Club. My two prior articles (Cuban Rum Cheat Sheet and The Many Lives of Havana Club) cover the broad strokes of Cuban rum and Havana Club’s history. Here, we’ll go inside a Cuban distillery and focus on the technical side of Cuban rum production.
We’ve been riding in the tourist coach for thirty minutes. Just outside of Havana, the highway scenery turns to lush, green farmland. Exiting the freeway I instinctively check my pocket for the umpteenth time – yes, my passport’s still there. The Havana Club handlers have repeatedly drilled us on this tenet in the preceding days: No passport, no admittance to the distillery. As an American–one of only two in our group of fifty–I’ve been forewarned that I might face an additional challenge. Extra paperwork and approval is required for Americans. I’d sent in my forms weeks ago, but who knows if the appropriate Cuban bureaucrat agreed to approve it?
Spend any time pondering today’s rum industry, and mysteries start to pile up. Why are there so many brands without a distillery? How is there so much rum aged for multiple decades available at very low prices? What exactly are the Jamaicans doing to make their rum so funky? All great questions, but answering them is modest in scope compared to truly understanding Havana Club, the flagship rum of Cuba.
Havana Club is the third largest Caribbean rum brand, yet in America, the world’s largest market for Caribbean rum, most people have never laid eyes on a Cuban-made rum, much less tasted it. To complicate matters, Americans can buy rum with a Havana Club label, but it wasn’t made in Cuba by Havana Club. Yet travel to Europe or Asia, and Cuban-made Havana Club rum is everywhere. Behind this dichotomy are corporate behemoths with billions of dollars at their disposal, who’ve wrangled in international courts for decades with no clear end in sight.
Dateline: New Orleans. 5:30 PM on Wednesday night, day two of Tales of the Cocktail 2017.
I’m perched on my seat at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29. (Really, would you expect me many anywhere else?) A few feet away I spot Martin Cate and Jeff Berry chatting in a nook. Soon they’re joined by David Wondrich. A few minutes later, Scotty Schuder and Paul McFadyen. The rogue’s gallery of Tiki icons and rum experts on the Plantation Rum O.F.T.D. Overproof label (missing only Paul McGee) has appeared without warning and likely without planning. When moments like this are commonplace, it’s easy to see why the annual Tales of the Cocktail gathering is becoming a not-to-miss destination for rum enthusiasts.