Article: Is Your Favourite Rum A Rum?

As a fairly knowledgeable cocktail bartender I try and engage with customers as much as I can given the opportunity. Here’s a situation:

A customer tells his friend that he loves rum.
Me: Oh really, I love rum too, what do you usually drink?
Customer: I love Kraken!

At that point the rum enthusiast in me is disappointed and the inner cocktail bartender is excited to recommend him a Kraken drink we have on the menu. I do feel like it’s my job (and not only) to educate people a little where possible, but I also have to choose my battles wisely. Some folks are more open minded and others get defensive and that’s okay, but, while you read, keep in mind this is not a rant, it’s simply my take on this and hopefully an educational starting point. That being said…

…spiced/flavoured rum is not rum!

Mixed as a remedy for various illnesses or simply just to mask a terrible distillate, rum and spices have a long history together, but when you add any flavour to a spirit (except via barrel maturation in most cases) then it stops representing the said spirit. I’m not saying spiced rum is bad overall, like with any liquor category/subcategory, there are terrible ones, average ones and really great ones. I’m just saying that spiced rum is a subcategory of rum and that needs to change, it needs its own block.

I can see how this can be tough because, to be honest, where do we draw the line? There are plenty of commercial brands that, while they might not have botanicals or flavourings, they are “rocking” a sugar content between 20 grams and 40 grams of sugar per litre – to put it in perspective, a liqueur generally needs to have at least 100 grams of sugar per litre, with cherry or sour cherry liqueurs the minimum required being only 70 grams of sugar per litre. So of course it’s easier to just cram them all together under the rum label.

But let’s see the EU definition for rum.

Rum shall not be flavoured is the main one for me here, with the 20g of sugar per litre cap being the second one – although, as a purist I would’ve preferred none at all, but baby steps I guess. Therefore flavoured rums are not rums, which I think is pretty fair. Not to mention, the minimum required alcoholic strength is 37.5% ABV, yet there are some brands that have “Premium Spirit Drink” on the bottle due to being just 35% ABV and still considered and categorised as spiced rums – see the Captain Morgan Spiced or Bacardi Spiced labels.

I also saw the “rum is the new gin” statement quite a few times due to its rampant increase in sales in the UK, but that increase is being driven by the flavoured and spiced rum category. In fact spiced rum has more in common with gin than with pure rums. It’s simply a matter of flavoured vs unflavoured.

  • Gins are made out of neutral grain spirit (or –dividing opinion– vodka) that has been infused mainly with juniper and other botanicals/spices. There are some types of gins that will have sweeteners added such as Old Tom and flavoured.
  • Spiced rums are made out of sugarcane spirit (rum) that has been infused with botanicals/spices. No requirement on the flavour profile, but more often than not it will be vanilla predominant. Spiced rums are not classified by the amount of sugar they have in them unless they have more than 100g/l which would make them legally liqueurs – hence why making it its own category could help in adding subcategories to it. Same story with flavoured rums, but instead of spices they will focus on a certain flavour profile – coconut rums are probably the best example.

We are not classifying gin as a subcategory of vodka, right?

Nobody drinking Grand Marnier is a cognac connoisseur. You don’t hear people that enjoy Scotch say that their favorite whisky is Drambuie, or that a Canadian whisky lover’s preference is Fireball. And even if you did, that’s considered more of a sacrilege than calling Kraken a rum.

The potential of the flavoured/spiced rum category is huge, there are some really great craft ones on the market that can elevate a cocktail or a drink – it definitely has its place. I do appreciate a good infusion, even made my own spiced rum for a competition, and I have to say, it was really tasty, but it does need to be separated from the unflavoured parent category.

We are talking about the most diverse spirit out there with already a huge range of flavours when it doesn’t have anything added and it even proved to be a challenge when people way more qualified than me tried to implement a classification system for the consumer to understand. Add various spices and flavourings to the different types of rum and the number of permutations are close to unlimited. Separating them would simply make it easier for the average customer to understand two already very broad categories.

Spiced rum does not represent rum and vice versa!

Cheers!

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