The Ministry of Rum and Global Rum Club forums on Facebook are hotbeds of enthusiasts engaging in lively debates about all topics rum-related. Foursquare Rum Distillery master distiller and rum icon Richard Seale is a frequent contributor, injecting actual, real-world experience at every turn.
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.
“Rules” came about in 1908 in the UK because of “creative” people better known as fraudsters.
Rules are standards of identity — in 1908, it was decided that one of the earliest rum “rules” was that it had to come from a sugar producing country, because that basic rule would more or less wipe out all the fraudulent imitation rum on the market (or at least require it so labeled).
No one is constrained in what they do, they are constrained in what they identify. That is why you have “rules” of the [U.S.] TTB linked to the COLA [Certificate of Label Approval]. Sure, it does not work perfectly, but there would be chaos without it.
Sometimes a particular region or group of producers becomes so famous and valuable [that their products] need to be protected lest its reputation and value be destroyed by ersatz products. You can bet with certainly anytime anything with value is created, the market will produce the ersatz version — whether it be as basic as a knock-off Rolex or Louis Vuitton bag or the more sophisticated chicanery of the sugar/PX sherry rum with a “solera” (whatever the fuck that means) age statement and a BS story of “small batch” production from an industrial scale plant.
Bourbon, Cognac, [and] Agricole (protected in the EU) are examples of these protections. These “rules” above are aimed at protecting the reputation and value of Cuban rum, developed and hard earned over 200 years. The rules do not come first, the methods come first. Then the protection of the methods come when the value created needs protecting. They are not written by bureaucrats, they are written by producers.
You can still make whiskey in Kentucky and Brandy in France. What you can’t do is take — STEAL — the reputation and value of Bourbon and Cognac for YOURSELF and cut corners. That is what many try to do when they want standards bent for themselves. Be wary.
You want a product with “no rules”? Buy vodka. There’s no more perfect example of the adage of ‘a fool and his money” than “super premium vodka.” No-rules vodka can be made from anything, mass produced and no age. Vodka “steals” the intrinsic value we associate with spirit making. A value created by artisanal processes and ageing in barrels.
Today we moan about NAS [No Age Statement], lower proof, shorter fermentation times, shorter barrel seasoning, and other means by which producers cut time-held standards to cut costs, while they still try to sell at the value earned by more honest methods. We moan because we did not demand enough in our standards.
Do not keep making that mistake, because others will delude in romantic BULLSHIT about “creativity. You will never get more than you demand. And the most “creative” thing will be always how easily they take your money — the vodka sleight of hand is a work of art!
For goodness sake, instead make them earn it.