Years of independently bottling rum, spirits distilled by others, means I have tasted a myriad of cask samples, the product of various techniques, diverse origins and defunct distilleries. There was always one niggling doubt: after the initial richness, body, and bouquet there was something missing; a certain hollowness, a lack of a cerebral dimension. No ‘persistence’, as the technical tasting term is known; the memory-imprinted length. Was this down to technique? Maturation? Material? Philosophy?
It got me thinking: is it possible to make a rum as complex as a single malt whisky? Renegade Rum sets out to answer this profound question.
Rum is produced in at least 65 countries around the globe, from Nepal to Australia, Fiji to Scotland, in approximately 150 official distilleries. There are around the same number of official blenders. There are, in addition, countless small-scale, private distillers that operate under the radar.
Understandably, there are as many interpretations of what rum should be as there are traditions. Yet, as in the time of the buccaneers, corsairs and pirates, it’s pretty lawless. There are precious few – if any – rules. The drinks industry, mistakenly in my view, prefers this vagueness, for in the resulting confusion of smoke and mirrors, anything goes – and you can be sure it certainly does.
An internet search for reliable information on rums is a depressing affair. The dearth of authentic facts and figures is as alarming as the lack of rules and regulations.
The EU says rum is either made from molasses, sugarcane syrup or sugar cane itself. No added alcohol, no flavouring, no sweetening. Rhum agricole, the AOC of Martinique, has the most rigorous rulebook which excludes molasses or syrup, stipulates column stills, and declares fermentation parameters such as minimum brix levels.
It used to be said that rum could only be produced in sugar cane growing countries. But the ubiquity and versatility of molasses means fundamentally there can be very little provenance. It can be made anywhere in the world that one of those blue plastic drums of molasses can be delivered.
noun: renegade; plural noun: renegades
1. a person who has changed their feelings of support and duty from one political, national, religious etc. group to a new one.
2. a person who behaves in a rebelliously unconventional manner. Having rejected tradition: unconventional.
3. a member of a group or profession who behaves in a way that is opposed to the normal behaviour or beliefs of that group or profession.
4. an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behaviour. Any outlaw or rebel. Traitor, turncoat.
Origin: late 15th century from medieval Latin renegatus ‘renounced’, from re- (expressing intensive force) + Latin negare ‘to deny’.
The consolidation of the industry ensures rum is, historically, mainly a commodity market based on volume supply rather than distillery brands. Most is blended overseas under buyers’ own labels. There are few genuine and prestigious brands. Times, thankfully, are changing.
There is a dangerous lack of authority. It’s everyman for himself. This cynical derogation is a charter for deception, deceit and dodgy dealings that leads to fakes made from potatoes to viscous sweetening and flavour additives, false alcohol strengths, and fabricated age statements.
The lack of transparency with the absence of scepticism leads to the allusion of quality. Dodgy bottling, fancy packaging and creative labelling simply undermine credibility sector-wide. In this lawless state the big multinational brands wonder why they cannot grow: “… rum has been tough for us,” admits Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes.
Our response to this rum state of affairs, our modus operandi, is to renounce the status quo, simply to turn it on its head away from the vacuous and deceptive marketing spin back to the beginning, the production side. Genuine production values, un-plugged, in a ‘rebelliously unconventional manner’.
Is that treacherous? Certainly unconventional, more rebel.