Today’s big rum world news is international recognition for the Demerara Rum geographical indication, aka GI. With this step, it joins several French rum GIs and Guatemala’s rum GI in having protection in European Union countries.
Rum GIs are a perennial topic here; I’ve previously published the full text of the Jamaica’s rum GI, as well as GIs for Martinique, Guadeloupe, and various other regions. The full set of my GI-related articles can be found here.
Several Caribbean countries have worked on rum GIs for some time now, and the Demerara Rum GI was published with the European Union (EU) in April 2021. (To be precise, it says: “Publication of an application pursuant to Article 17(6) of Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks…”)
[As is customary there’s a 90-day waiting period during which objections to the registration can be filed. That period has now passed.]
As with many rum GIs, the full text is rather lengthy and filled with minutiae of limited interest to even the most dedicated enthusiast. Thus, I’ve summarized the key points, focusing primarily on the production requirements to be labeled Demerara Rum. Naturally, the original GI text is the definitive source of truth.
If you’re not very familiar with GIs and how they work, I’d suggest reading this story first to learn the basics. The commentary and summary below jumps straight into the details without a gentle introduction.
Guyana’s GI for Demerara Rum was first certified in Guyana in 2017, but not revised and filed with the European Union for broader recognition until 2021. (The details of the 2017 version were not publicly available on the internet.)
By registering the GI with the European Union, Demerara Rum receives much broader protection in EU countries, one of Demerara rum’s largest markets. These protections are similar to those afforded in the EU for Cognac and Scotch Whisky.
Compared to certain rum GIs the Demerara Rum GI is not onerous in its production requirements. It does not require the fermentation source material to be from Guyana, nor does it impose any significant restrictions on fermentation or distillation. In short, the key requirement are that fermentation and distillation occur within the defined region in Guyana.
Three designations (Light-, Medium-, and Heavy-bodied) rums are scoped via their congener levels, i.e., the organic compounds which give rum its flavor. For certain high-end designations, e.g., Cask Aged Demerara Rum, aging and bottling within the region are also required.
Since Demerara Distiller Ltd. is Guyana’s only rum distillery, certain aspects of the GI’s wording are closely tailored production practices. This is in line with rum GIs from other single-producer countries—Guatemala comes to mind.
Comparison to Martinique AOC and Jamaica’s Rum GI
In terms of the list of specific requirements, Martinique’s AOC is far more prescriptive than the Demerara Rum. The AOC defines details like how and when sugarcane can be pressed, the maximum fermentation batch size, the number of plates in the column still, and much more. The Demerara Rum GI is far less hyper-specific.
Substance-wise, the Demerara Rum GI is far closer to Jamaica’s rum GI. Both define a specific region where their respective rums must be fermented and distilled, and both require the use of local water for the rum production. Both do not require the use of local sugarcane materials, do not have detailed fermentation requirements, do not require specific still configurations, and do not mention upper or lower limits on distillation strength. In addition, neither GI has any minimum aging requirement. However, if an age claim is made, the aging must occur within the appropriate geographic region.
Of particular note in some quarters, the Demerara GI Rum specifically allows up to 20 grams/liter of sweetening to be during blending, whereas Jamaica’s GI document does not reference the topic.
In terms of international recognition, the Demerara Rum GI is registered with the European Union, whereas Jamaica’s GI has yet to be registered with the EU. As such, the protection of the Jamaica Rum term doesn’t extend to EU countries the way Demerara Rum now does.
Lastly, it’s important to note that spirit GIs are not automatically recognized by the United States. Should a country wish their GI to be protected in the US, it needs the US government regulations to define a new Standard of Identity for it. Thus far, Brazil’s cachaca is the only country-specific sugarcane spirit to have a US standard of identity. You can read more on this topic here.
Summary of “Demerara Rum” Geographical Indication
1. Geographical indication to be registered
3. Description of the spirit drink
A spirit drink with discernible sugar cane aroma and flavor, made exclusively by the fermentation and distillation of molasses or other sugar-cane substrate.
‘Demerara Rum’ may only contain rums made in the prescribed geographic region. That is, they cannot be blended with rums from outside of the region while retaining the ‘Demerara Rum’ designation.
4. Physical, Chemical and Organoleptic Properties
The minimum bottled alcoholic strength is 40 percent ABV.
There are three types of Demerara Rums. Each has volatile compounds and esters within a defined range:
Light-Bodied Demerara Rum:
- Volatile compounds: Less than 30 gr/hlAA
- Esters: Less than 10 gr/hlAA
Medium-Bodied Demerara Rum:
- Volatile compounds: Between 30 and 300 gr/hlAA
- Esters: Between 10 and 50 gr/hlAA
Heavy-Bodied Demerara Rum:
- Volatile compounds: More than 300 gr/hlAA
- Esters: More than 50 gr/hlAA
Colour: varies with age, from colorless (unaged) to deeper shades of copper (long aged rums).
Aroma: Derived from the fermentation of the sugarcane based raw material, with the characteristic ‘Demerara Rum’ hint of sugar-cane sweetness. The distillation process brings fruity and floral notes, while the aging process adds nutty, spicy, woody and herbal notes.
Flavor: Distinct flavor arise from via distillation choices.
The flavours may only be up to a maximum of 2.5 % of the volume of the finished product, and the rum must be free from added colouring matter (except where the colour is derived from wood during maturation or from caramel derived from sugars). [This is in line with EU spirit regulations.]
4. Geographical area concerned
‘Demerara Rum’ is fermented and distilled on the low coastal plains of the Demerara region of Guyana, between the Boeraserie River on the west and the Abary Creek on the east.
5. Method for obtaining the spirit drink
The yeast must be Saccharomyces cerevisiae and propagated using ground water from Demerara artesian wells.
Fermentation is maintained at approximately 32°C, yielding a wash between 6-8 percent ABV, typically.
Light- and medium-bodied Demerara Rums are distilled in in continuous stills with two to five columns.
Heavy-bodied Demerara Rums are distilled in single or double pot stills made of either Amazonian Greenheart hardwood, copper and/or stainless steel. Each distillate has a unique flavor and associated marque, based on the still and how it was distilled.
Aging: New distillate is diluted to between 70 to 80 percent ABV using Demerara artesian well water, then placed into casks, typically American white oak. The sea level warehouses near the ocean are not hermetically sealed and facilitate year-round aging.
Blending: Blending with rums from outside of the GI region is not permitted. Doing so removes the Demerara Rum designation from the final product. Demerara Rum is not flavoured and is only sweetened to round off the final taste of the product up to a maximum of 20 grams per litre. Blended rums are diluted using deionized Demerara artesian well water.
Bottling: Cask Aged Demerara Rum, Special Reserve Demerara Rum and Grand Special Reserve Demerara Rum must be blended and bottled in the GI-covered region, as the water used in dilution and blending contribute to the Demerara Rum flavor profile. These restrictions also impede adulteration from bottlers outside the region who blend non-Demerara Rums into the final product without removing the Demerara designation.
6. Link with the geographical environment or origin
Demerara Rums have a quality and reputation due to its geographic origin.
Environmental Conditions. Demerara has clay soil. Its high levels of minerals and organic content create a high yield sugarcane crop. The manual/semi-mechanical harvesting yields molasses rich in both sludge and microbial species that influence flavors created during fermentation.
The sugarcane fields have native wild yeasts and fungi which are present in the molasses. These yeasts and fungi, which are also present at the distillery, so contribute to the fermentation in open fermenters alongside cultivated Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast.
The resulting wash has a healthy presence of congeners prior to distillation.
Climatic Conditions. Demerara has high temperatures year-round, and humidity averaging 70 percent ABV. Aging in these conditions accelerates maturation.
Demerara’s sea-level trade winds increase aging warehouses ventilation, which do not need to be temperature or humidity controlled, leading to year-round tropical aging.
Water Quality. Water used for making Demerara Rum is taken from artesian wells in the upper sands of the coastal aquifer. Due to the closeness of the Demerara River, the water table is well-replenished, with low levels of hardness, and moderate levels of minerals particularly iron (>5 mg/L) and salinity (up to 1200 mg/L). Since this water is used in all aspects of the rum production process, the minerality profile of Demerara Rum is closely linked to the specific qualities of Demerara artesian water.
Human and process factors. Rum making continues on heritage stills used for centuries. They include the Double Wooden pot still originally at Port Mourant in 1732, and the Wooden Coffey Colum still installed at Enmore in 1880. They are the only of their kind remaining.
Historical origins: Demerara Rums are celebrated for over 300 years of rum making in the Double Wooden Pot and the Coffey stills invented in Guyana. Demerara Rum has been exported for over 200 years and was supplied to the British Royal Navy for sailor’s daily ration. Some of these original stills are in operation to this day.
10. Specific labelling rules
Demerara Rum comes in the following varieties:
- Demerara Rum: unblended or blended but without being blended with alcohol produced outside the geographic area.
- Old Demerara Rum: Unblended or blended rum aged for a minimum of two years. Can’t be blended with non-Demerara rum.
- Cask Aged Demerara Rum: Unblended or blended rum aged for a minimum of three years.
- Special Reserve Demerara Rum: Unblended or blended rum aged for a minimum of twelve years.
- Grand Special Reserve Demerara Rum: Unblended or blended rum aged for a minimum of twenty-five years.
The following should appear on the label:
Brand name, product name, alcoholic strength, quantity, address of manufacture, country of origin, age statement, registered trademark: ‘Demerara Rum’ (with image).
The full text of the Demerara Rum geographical indication can be found here.