The seaside city of Liverpool, England (yes, home of the Beatles), was one of England’s major shipping hubs in the not-so-distant past. Magnificent ocean liners like the RMS Titanic, Lusitania, and Queen Mary were all registered there. The city is also infamous for its part in the triangle trade, where rum, sugar, finished goods, and enslaved humans crisscrossed the Atlantic between the Old World, Africa, and the New World, with Liverpool as a northern Hub.
Hugging Liverpool’s dozens of remaining docks are gigantic brick warehouses, built in the 1800s as the city rose to prominence. On a blustery October day, I find myself inside one such warehouse, descending to the basement in a rickety freight elevator, although “suspended metal cage” might be a more apt description. I’m doing my best to contain my excitement at what lies in wait once the doors open. For among my journeys to the epicenters of rum, this particular warehouse has become a singular obsession.
Maggie Campbell glances at the clock again, then toward the still. Even from twenty feet away, she knows the thin stream of still-warm rum coming off it is the “hearts” – ethanol, aka “the good alcohol” that we drink. She frowns a bit. Normally this is the raison d’etre of a distiller’s day, but for some reason, this distillation is taking far longer than she’d estimated when we began hours ago. In the hours since we started, Maggie has done the near-impossible – answered every single one of my wonky questions about every aspect of Privateer Rum’s production process, from cane sourcing to distilling to bottling. I’ve literally run out of questions to ask – a first for me.
For one glorious long weekend this past October, the rum world descended on London to celebrate all things rummy. Industry legends such as Alexandre Gabriel, Luca Gargano, Richard Seale, Martin Cate, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Bryan Davis, and of course Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell offered up rumtastic sessions, showed off their latest highly covetable rums, and spread the gospel of rum to a very enthusiastic crowd.
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.