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What is Rum?

Posted by Arctic Wolf on September 12, 2010

I have been engaged in various discussions of late with various individuals trying to get a grasp on the burning question:

What is Rum?

Robert Burr, from Gifted Rums, has directed me to the appropriate regulatory framework; Capn Jimbo, from The Rum Project, has offered me his insights; and even the Scotch Brand Ambassador for Highland Park, J L. Wheelock has admitted to me that he is studying the question with some interest.  You see, the answer is not as clear as the question.

The first major problem with the question, is that the answer depends upon jurisdiction. National Governments all have the right to legislate their own rules and regulations pertaining to the identification and labelling requirements of alcoholic spirits.  So to answer the question we must first choose a jurisdiction. For initial convenience, I have chosen the United States as the jurisdiction for this particular discussion page.  This means that the discussion and its conclusions may not have relevance for locales outside of the USA.

With that in mind I have done an analysis of the US regulations as they pertain to the identification and the labelling requirements of Rum. The link to these regulations can be found here.

The reason I have engaged in this possibly fruitless exercise is because I have noticed that there is a huge discrepancy in the blogosphere, and on public internet forums as to what persons believe is allowed, and what is not allowed with respect to the labelling of additives, the addition of color, the description of age statements, and the like.  I am hoping to offer clarity and to increase my understanding.

Now hopes such as these are often dashed against the rocks of intentions, and my write-up is riddled with references to legal regulations and my own conjectures.  I am not a lawyer, so my interpretations and conjectures must be treated as purely that. Perhaps I am muddying the waters rather than clarifying them.

I should also point out that I expect, as a result of the publication of my discussion,  that other interpretations may be brought forward and as such  the understanding may become somewhat fluid. As more understanding comes forward, the write-up may be revised accordingly.

So if you are brave, and if you have a lot of time on your hands, click on the link provided.

What is Rum?

Feel free to add your own comments at the bottom especially if you believe I may have missed an important key point.


5 Responses to “What is Rum?”

  1. Chip, hi

    It’s amazing that I started research on a similar vein just a few week ago. I’d value your imput.


  2. André said

    I too find this subject very interesting. I don’t mind buying a rum I enjoy that has additives as long as they disclose that it’s not a ‘pure’ rum; such as a spiced rum discloses that they’ve added spices.

    What I can find a little frustrating is when tasting a more expensive rum that has some obvious tampering with. Now, it may still taste great, but in some examples it’s quite evident that they put something in the bottle.

    Mind you I did post this before reading your full interpretation of the US regulations. I’m just trying to post my concerns as I did on the Ministry of Rum just before you posted this article. Funny coincidence! 🙂

    • Hi Andre

      I noticed your posting on the MOR and too found the coincidence interesting. I will say that I am not nearly as ‘bothered’ by additives as are most. Perhaps this is because I like Canadian Whisky so much and our whisky allows the blender the freedom to experiment to a degree that no other whisky in the world does. My thought is that if the rum producers have the freedom to create, then over time great things will happen.

      I also question the thought of “pure” rums. Based upon my reading of the history of rum, additives have been there from the start as an integral part of the process. British navy rum had lime juice added almost from the start, molasses and sugar has been added in most rum blends from the start.

      So my interpretation of the rules that additives are allowed really doesn’t bother me. I appreciate that an effort is made in the regulation to limit the additives to ‘natural’ substances, and I feel this part of the regulation could be tightened up. But I do not want to see a situation develop where the rules become so stringent that the regulation stifles the creativity.

      It is an interesting question as to whether the additives should be disclosed. Should Colonel Sanders be forced to reveal his seven secret spices? I see a hidden danger lurking there as well.

      • André said

        Thanks for the reply Chip!

        I’m very much a conservative thinker when it comes to economics, so I totally agree that tight rules do erode creativity and I do not want that when it comes to my favorite spirit. So in that thinking, perhaps I’ve been a bit harsh in my words… Or perhaps it’s my lack of vocabulary when it comes to expressing myself. I like the word ‘bothered’ that you used. I’m mildly bothered in not knowing what I have my hands on when drinking rum. Don’t get wrong I still do enjoy some mighty fine rum offerings that I’m positive have been ‘added’ to. I’d just like to know for certain. I think company’s, in principle and on their own, should disclose what they’re offering their customers. They could simply use fancied sentences such as, ”XXXX rum, a blend made with rum aged no less then XX years and flavour enhanced with its own proprietary blend of natural flavours insuring the best sipping rum in the market.” Like this no disclosure of the ‘famous recipe’.


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