Thursday, 5 June 2014

Adding sugar to rum - more controversial than you may think

A controversy kicked off last December after details surfaced on Facebook of how much sugar is added to rums.  Alcohol sold in Sweden and Finland has to be tested by their regulators and, from that testing you can discover how much added sugar there is. You can skip ahead for the original articles that prompted this post

Given that we, as humans, have a natural sweet tooth it's not surprising that the most common recommendations for non-rum drinkers are Zacapa 23, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva and El Dorado 12, all sweeter rums. From the lists circulated these three all have significant amounts of sugar added to them (up to 45 grams per litre).

Why this matters

Sugar covers a multitude of sins, a man after my own heart has undertaken an experiment to see how adding sugar changes the flavour profile of a simple white rum (Havana Blanco). The conclusion was that small amounts smoothed the edges off and made it more drinkable while larger amounts gave an impression of longer ageing. 

So you can see that you could , if you were of a nefarious mindset, take a low quality spirit and add sugar to pass it off as something more refined and charge accordingly.  I'm NOT suggesting anyone is doing that but I can understand the concern.

From my point of view this is similar to the addition of caramel and chill-filtering of Whisky, does adding sugar make for a bad rum? No, obviously not, there are bad rums with no added sugar and good rums with it and vice versa.  Rum is an expression of the quality of ingredients and the care taken to produce it, I am certainly on the fence as to adding sugar, I can see the value in disclosing it but I'll certainly still be drinking a glass of El Dorado 12 later.

Further Reading

I'd recommend two articles from the floating rum shack, one from Alexandre Gabriel of Plantation rums making the case that added sugar is not a big deal and one from Richard Seale of Foursquare arguing that it is.

Both articles come from their own commercial positions. Gabriel is a cognac blender and as such the addition of sugar to spirit as part of the blending process is a natural step and a skill, he argues that, like salt, sugar is a natural flavour enhancer in small quantities.  Seale, as a Barbadian rum producer is barred by law from adding sugar, distillers in Barbados, Jamaica and Martinique are forbidden from adding flavour enhancers. 


5 comments:

  1. Are there any resources about the illegality of sugar added to rum in Jamaica or Barbados? In the circulated lists, there is Plantation rum of Jamaica and Barbados obviously listed; is it because the sugar is added later on in France, where these rums are aged additionally? How would that impact the "no sugar" premise of Jamaica or Barbados?

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  2. Hi, I'll be honest I took Seale at his word in his interview, but having a bit of a dig Jamaica seem to allow caramel as a colouring (http://moj.gov.jm/sites/default/files/laws/The%20Excise%20Duty%20Act.pdf) but that may well have been superceded.

    My take is the same as yours, once Plantation have the rum in France they can add the sugar and do what they like with it really, a bit of a grey area really as once it's left their shores there's not much the Jamaican or Barbadian governments can do.

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  3. The question of added sugar goes to the heart of what constitutes a premium spirit. The spirits that command premium prices are clearly defined and showcase the distillers and blenders craft. When a class of spirt allows undisclosed flavorings it runs the risk of becoming a cocktail in a bottle or even worse a flavored vodka. Many "rums" on the shelf today are sporting false or misleading age statements and are little more than sugary imitations of a quality aged spirit. They can be delicious but are not anything a collector or an enthusiast covets. Undisclosed added flavorings will kill the emerging interest in Rum as a premium spirit.

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    Replies
    1. Well thanks for letting me know what I can and can't covet, I'll not bother with that Diplomatico 2001 after all.

      I agree that transparency is important but knowing a rum has had sugar added only tells you it's had sugar added, it tells you nothing about how "premium" it is. Premium is a term entirely invented by the drinks industry anyway

      From the list at refined vices I can see the €4 Rum Bardinet has no added sugar nor does your bog standard Bacardi, does that make the better than, say El Dorado 15? less desirable? Of course not. Looking at the lists there are some great rums with sugar added and without and likewise some awful ones, the skill of the master distiller and blender is key and sugar is one of the weapons in their arsenal.

      As to age statements, that's a tricky one but is improving with the ACR certification requiring age statements to be whisky style (youngest) and spirits sold in the US have to do likewise (http://www.ttb.gov/spirits/bam/chapter8.pdf).

      The problem is things like Zacapa 23, they dropped the "years old" and your mind just fills it in for you, which is pretty damn sneaky.

      Anyways, thanks for dropping by.

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  4. Hi.1st time visited here.enjoyed looking thru many of the previous posts.it seems you have gravitated towards more balanced,higher proof,less adulterated juice.the Seale10yr,43% at 20$us is my goto for great value and the black adder 12yr monymusk ,and black adder 12yr diamond are my latest purchases.cheers from Miami russ

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