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.
In regards to added sugar in rum the TTB has been applying this standard
” harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials that are not an essential component part of the particular distilled spirits to which added, but which are “customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage” may be used in certain distilled spirits products, without changing the class or type of such spirits, if the materials do not total more than 2½ percent by volume of the finished product.”
These rules do not clearly allow added sugar, but they have interpreted as allowing it, and it is still the current practice of the TTB to allow up to 2.5 percent added sugar by volume. If a rum bottler added sugar only that could let them add up to 17 grams/liter of sugar.
There are some rums on the market in the United States that are in violation of this Federal TTB rule. Many in the rum community suggest that consumers write directly to the TTB about such violations.
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.
Venezuelan rum rules
Venezuela now has a controlled designation of origin, also known as a GI (geographical indication of origin.)
The text of the rules can be found in Resolución 798 boletín de la propriedad industrial 459, 4/11/2003 revised on 2019. I don’t speak Spanish so I have to rely on Google translate. The rules appear to include provisions such as –
- Must be aged at least two years in American white oak barrels
- The raw material can’t be mixed with molasses and alcohols from other nations
- forbids the alteration of rum by adding substances that provide artificial color, flavor or aroma
- at least 40% alcohol by volume
So far 13 manufacturers follow the DOC Ron de Venezuela: Ron de Venezuela: Alcoholes y Añejos Monagas, Central de Licores Unidos de Venezuela Celiveca, Complejo Industrial Licorero del Centro Cilca, Corporación Alcoholes del Caribe Cacsa, Destilería Carúpano, Santa Teresa, Destilerías Unidas DUSA, Destilería Veroes, Diageo Venezuela, El Muco, Industrias Bravo, Productora Enotria y Rones del Caribe.
Products from these distilleries include brands such as – Bodegas 1800, Cacique, Calazán, Carúpano, Diplomático, Estelar, Ocumare, Pampero, Quimera, Roble Viejo, Santa Teresa y Veroes.
There is controversy about these rules; many people that I have spoken to feel that Venezuela is not actually enforcing these rules very much. More problematically, it doesn’t appear that many other nations have signed an agreement with Venezuela to follow such labelling laws. Without such an agreement, Venezuelan distillers could make – for example – heavily sugared products that violate their own local rules, as long as that rum is sold in other nations.
Due to testing we know that some Venezuelan rums in the American market are heavily dosed with sugar. It remains to be seen how well Venezuela will regulate production internally, and how well they advocate for other nations to sign reciprocal agreements to protect their GI.
How can we tell if sugar has been added to rum?
Capn Jimbo’s Rum Project Forum writes
“About half of the world’s rums are secretly altered by adding sugar and flavorings. This is done to make cheap rums taste smoother, more aged and more complex than they really are. This was not revealed until a few countries and skilled independent testers broke through the curtain of silence.”
This experiment is also fascinating:
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