Essays

A word on ‘Ageing’ and ‘Tropical Ageing’

The most important communication from this new classification is the communication of the real value. No more should it be sufficient for a rum to solely use a premium package to communicate premium value (as is the case for vodka).

But value in spirits is derived from both true artisanal production and the aging of the output. Therefore, it is necessary to make some important comments about the ageing of rum.

A premium priced rum should have both artisanal production and a clear unambiguous age statement. It is a fantasy regurgitated by many that the “rules are different” for rum. The rules of the European Union on age statements are very clear (Article 12 of EC Regulation 110/2008) and applies to all spirit drinks sold in the EU:

  3. Without prejudice to any derogation adopted in accordance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny referred to in Article 25(3), a maturation period or age may only be specified in the description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink where it refers to the youngest alcoholic component and provided that the spirit drink was aged under revenue supervision or supervision affording equivalent guarantees.


In rum, mostly premium priced ones at that, it has become common place to use misleading age statements. Either the ‘age’ is qualified by the meaningless word ‘solera’ or worse an isolated number (without any attached meaning) is placed on the label. We suffered the ignominy of having a premium packaging with a such a ornamental number winning an award for “best package” at a recent rum show (and even a "best cork" award).




It is again no coincidence that these merely decorative numbers are often found on rums with added sugar. A misleading label is your first clue the producer intends to obfuscate the true age (and hence the true value) of the rum. The second clue is the added sugar


Maturation

The tragedy of these shenanigans is that the aging or the maturation of spirits is the area of spirit making for which the Caribbean has no equal. Maturation is a very slow chemical process and like any chemical process, heat is a catalyst. Therefore the warm Caribbean presents a vastly superior environment for the maturation of spirits. This is no mere theoretical claim, we have for decades contrasted the same rums aged in the Caribbean and continental Europe and the latter has been found seriously wanting.

While the catalysing heat affects each maturation process differently we can gauge the scale of the difference between Caribbean and Continental ageing by one easily measured process – that of evaporation. The attendant graph shows the magnitude of the difference – a rum after six years in the Caribbean has the same level of evaporation of a Scotch Whisky of 17 years.



This fact has an important bearing on the classification and appreciation of the intrinsic value of a produced spirit. Not all age statements are the same when it comes to value.

So for a premium priced rum, we need not only a clear and unambiguous age statement but also clarity on the location of the ageing. It is notable that both Whisky and Cognac demand ageing in Scotland and France for their proper identity. The same should be demanded of rum.

The under appreciation of the value of tropical ageing has resulted in the absurdity of at least one producer moving their ageing warehouses to a much higher (and hence colder) latitude and therefore enjoying close Continental European evaporation (and maturation) rates. No surprise this producer employs ornamental numbers and added sugar. Obfuscation is the name of the game.