Myth: There are no rules for making rum. Anything goes!
Reality: There are many rules for making rum.
They just are not as well known as rule for other spirits, and not every rule is legally enforced in every nation.
In this post we will look at the
- Rules for ingredients and methods
- Rules for geographical indicators (GI)
- Rules in the Caribbean, from CARICOM and WIRSPA
- Cachaça rules in Brazil
- Rules from United States of America, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB.)
- Rule from the European Union
Rules for ingredients and methods
The main ingredient for rum has to be from sugarcane, such as molasses made from sugarcane, fresh sugarcane juice (sometimes called garapa,) or sugar cane syrup – sugar cane juice clarified to make it more stable for storage.
Oddity: In America (and maybe some other nations) the TTB regulations allow rum also to be made from “other sugar cane by-products.” So a handful of American rums are made with white sugar and hot water. This is not considered good practice by rum makers anywhere else.
Martin Cate writes “With a fully refined sugar, you’ve removed virtually all of the flavor compounds that would be required to provide an accepted understanding of rum. Yes, it’s legal in the US. But no one in the Caribbean makes rum this way.”
Rules for Geographical indicators (GI)
Many products – not just rum – have a geographical indicator, or GI.
The French term for geographical indicators is Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, AOC.
Many countries have products with legally produced designations. Examples include –
* America: bourbon whiskey, a type of corn whiskey aged in new oak barrels.
* France: Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Champagne, and many others.
* Martinique (French) AOC for rhums made on the island of Martinique
* Brazil: Cachaça
To be clear, a geographical indicator (GI) doesn’t restrict a distiller from making any kind of product that they like. Go ahead and distill any crop into any kind of spirit. Age it how you like, even use additives if you wish. The GI just makes a distiller be accurate about what the product is.
GIs are legally binding rules that – “protect those producers from outside interlopers making an inferior product and passing it off as something that cannot compare to the original. Would you feel duped by a Canadian-made rum labeled as Jamaican rum? Or Brazilian-made “bourbon”? The AOC and GIs are the government-enforced regulations that prevent such travesties from hitting the store shelves and the wallets of unsuspecting consumers.”
– Matt Pietrek, The French Connection
Rules in the Caribbean, from CARICOM and WIRSPA
Very important to know about the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Standard for Rum. These rules were developed by CARICOM working togetger with WIRSPA.
CARICOM is an international organisation of fifteen states and dependencies in the Caribbean, established in 1973. It exists to promote economic integration and cooperation among its members and to coordinate foreign policy.
The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA) represents distillers associations from across the ACP Caribbean. ACP stands for ‘Africa, Caribbean and Pacific’.
The full members of CCARICOM are – Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago. The Associate members are – Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands.
Here are their regional standards for rum in full (This is a 30 page PDF document.)
CARICOM Regional Standard for Rum Specifications
CRS 25: 2008 (formerly CCS 0025: 1992)
Cachaça rules in Brazil
Considered either a regional variation of rum, or a sister spirit, Cachaça is the most popular spirit distilled in Brazil. They produce well over a billion liters a year of it!
Like so many many other rums, the word cachaça is a legally defined and protected term in many nations across the world. In the United States, TTB regulations recognize it as “a type of rum and as a distinctive product of Brazil.”
Brazil has very specific rules – “Technical Regulations for Fixing The Identity and Quality for Aguardente De Cana and Para Cachaça.”
For more details please see Going Brazilian – Cachaça’s Regulations Demystified & Translated by Matt Pietrek.
Rules from United States of America
Rules for rum in America are defined under American law from the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB.) a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury.
Under Title 27. Alcohol, Tobacco Products and Firearms we find the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits Section.
(f) Class 6; rum. “Rum” is an alcoholic distillate from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugar cane by-products, produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to rum, and bottled at not less than 80° proof; and also includes mixtures solely of such distillates.
(1) “Cachaça” is rum that is a distinctive product of Brazil, manufactured in Brazil in compliance with the laws of Brazil regulating the manufacture of Cachaça for consumption in that country.
Rules from the European Union
The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of rum shall be 37.5 %. (75 proof by the American system)
No addition of alcohol, diluted or not, shall take place.
Rum shall not be flavoured.
Rum may only contain added caramel as a means of adjusting the colour.
Rum may be sweetened [… but] may not contain more than 20 grams of sweetening products per litre.
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