In an ongoing effort to disprove the good-intentioned but flawed “Rum has no rules” sentiment, a number of rum experts have repeatedly and forcefully worked to shoot it down. Specifically, by highlighting actual legal documents defining exactly what the “standard of identity” is for various rum producing countries.
In a nutshell, countries can choose to define a set of regulations that must be followed if a product is to legally include specific wording on their labels. For example, Scotland defines rules that must be followed for a bottle to be labeled “single malt scotch whisky”. Likewise, France has rules for “Cognac” and “Armagnac”. In the rum world, the most famous regulations are the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée for Martinique rum.
Different countries have different formal names for their regulations. However, in general usage, they’re known as Geographical Indications, or “GIs”, which is what I will use here. The geographical part of the name refers to the fact that the regulations have geographical scope, e.g. Cuba for Cuban rum, Brazil for Cachaça, and so forth.
So far, I’ve published (in full) the following cane spirit GIs:
In this article, I’m digging into Jamaica’s recently approved rum GI. Mercifully, it’s already in English so I don’t have to translate it first! (Disclaimer: The documents I’m working from appear to be from 2016. It’s entirely possible that the Jamaican producers have evolved the GI since then.)
Typically, GIs are long, boring, and filled tons of details not relevant to the casual reader. As such, I have prefaced the full text with my summarized version. The full text is found at the end of this article.
Jamaica’s rum regulations aren’t particularly onerous or restrictive. They follow “common sense” best practices that most top tier rum producers already use. Compared to Cuba and Martinique’s regulations, Jamaica’s seem less restrictive, but still cover all important points.
However, a very interesting point is that there are no specific reference to post-distillation sugar, sweet wine, or other additives. That is, the document does not specifically disallow what some call adulteration. However, the Jamaican Excise Duty Act does have this to say:
34. -(1) Except as may be otherwise permitted by the Commissioner, nothing shall be added to any spirits in a distillery save colouring matter or water. (Reference 17/1971 S.8. 12/1985 Sch.)
A hat tip to Richard Seale for finding that one.
Jamaica Rum – The Simplified Rules
In order for a label to bear the wording “Jamaica Rum”, the rum’s production must be as follows:
The rum wash (mash) must be made using naturally filtered limestone water from the region defined in article 2 (below).
Besides water, the fermented rum wash may contain:
- sugar cane molasses
- juice of sugar cane
- crystallized cane sugar
- sugar cane syrup
- a mixture or combination of the above.
Commentary: Note that there’s no requirement to use Jamaican-grown sugar cane. Jamaica has needed to import some of its molasses in recent years.
Fermentation and distillation must occur in the territory of the limestone Aquifer water basins shown in Annex 1 (below).
Commentary: Like Martinique, Jamaica limits production to certain areas of the island. However, the allowed areas are roughly 50% of Jamaica’s land area.
The rum wash must be made with the raw materials used in Article 1, with filtered limestone water from the geographical area.
Commentary: This seems to be restating Article 1 in a different way.
Fermenting agents are limited to Saccharomyces type yeasts. Inoculation of the wash may only be carried out by cultured yeast, commercial yeast or naturally occurring yeast in the environment.
Commentary: Both commercial yeast and “open” natural fermentation are allowed.
Pot and column stills are allowed. Pot stills must be copper, and the rectifier portion of the column still must be copper.
All rums must be made available for analytical and sensory examinations by the JRASTA technical committee, which issues certifications annually. Rums must conforms to the specifications of sensory tests, supported by gas chromatography or mass spectrometry.
Commentary: While these requirements sound vague, there is a mind-numbing document describing the specific chemical analysis and organoleptic tests to be done. We shall not go down that rabbit hole.
Also: JRASTA – Best committee name EVER!
After distillation, rums with the Geographical Indication “Jamaica Rum” be in one of these categories
- Non-aged rums
- Rums aged in small wooden oak barrels.
Rum shall have no color except for coloring from oak wood aging or from cane sugar caramel.
Commentary: Note that only “oak” is specified, without regard to subtype, like American oak or French oak. This provides substantial leeway in cask selection. Also note that both new and previously used casks are allowed.
An age statement must be certified by the Jamaican Excise Officer.
Rum can only be moved to a rum store or excise warehouse, and must be under excise supervision.
GI compliant rums must say “certified Geographical Indication” on the label and all other related documents.
The label’s age statement must be in terms like “___ years old”. When an age is stated, it must be the youngest rum in the blend.
Producers of rum who sell Jamaica GI labeled rum that doesn’t meet the requirements will be prosecuted.
If GI-compliant rum is blended with non GI-compliant rum, the resulting rum cannot use the GI labeling.
Immediately after these regulations go into effect, producers have a window for which they can apply to have their existing stocks labeled with the “Jamaica Rum” designation, assuming certain documentation procedures are followed.
The unabridged Jamaica Rum Regulations
Jamaica Rum – Code of practices
Art. 1. – Definition:
Only rums obtained by distillation using wash produced with naturally filtered limestone water obtained from the geographical area defined in Article 2. The fermented wash shall be produced using sugar cane molasses, juice of sugar cane, crystallized cane sugar, sugar cane syrup and or a mixture or combination of the above which comply with the conditions of the present code are entitled to the Geographical Indication “Jamaica Rum”.
Art. 2. – Geographical area:
The region for the fermentation and distillation of rums entitled to the Geographical Indication “Jamaica Rum” is limited to the territory of the limestone Aquifer water basins, as figured in the map in annex 1.
Ageing is entitled to the protected geographical indication “Jamaica Rum” which complies with the conditions of production defined in the subsequent articles 7 & 8. This shall be carried out in Jamaica, and approved by the GI Jamaica Rum and Spirits Traders Association (JRASTA)
Art. 3. – Raw material:
Sugar cane wash is prepared by reducing any of the raw materials used in Article 1