Why is rum in some countries bottled at 37.5% alcohol, while other countries bottle theirs at 40% or 43%? Does the word “aged” mean the same thing in all countries? These are a few of the questions that people ask us at our seminars and corporate training classes. To get to the answers, we typically have to ask each country’s law makers and trade organizations.
The goal of the Industry Insider is to share the visions of many of these groups with our readers. For this article, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Frank Ward, Chairman of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association.
Q: What are your responsibilities as Chairman of WIRSPA? What did you do prior to becoming Chairman?
I have dual responsibilities. In the role of Chairman at WIRSPA, I deal mainly with external trade policy and while I have overall responsibility for the organization, the day to day management and implementation the decisions of the Board of Directors is the responsibility of the CEO, Vaughn Renwick.
My substantive position is that of Managing Director of the Rum Refinery of Mount Gay Ltd. which I have held for 6 years.
Q: We know that WIRSPA is working on the creation of an Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque. Could you tell us what obstacles you’ve encountered and how you managed to overcome them? Also, what is the deadline for the creation of the Marque and what is the expectation for the market once it is created?
The conceptualisation and design of the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque began in 2003 and following endorsement by producers and the development of three quality tiers, it was finally introduced to the public in 2007. As with any new initiative the Marque and its associated promotional campaign was the subject of much debate within the WIRSPA fraternity. The initial campaign was launched in three European markets and ran for about 18 months. The campaign content has recently undergone extensive review and it is now being developed for new markets. I will be able to update your readers further on this early next year.
The ACP Caribbean has been making rum for a very long time with an interesting diversity in character from country to country. These rums are of excellent quality, have a compelling story to tell and are the equal of other aged spirits such as whisk(e)y and cognac. However, the latter categories have had a long established premium image and strong identity and the purpose of the Marque and its associated campaign is to get a similar message out to trade customers and the consumer.
Q: Will the Marque address aging as a requirement? It is my understanding that Barbados does not currently have an aging requirement for the production of rum, whereas other countries in the ACP Caribbean do. How can one reconcile this for the benefit of all?
The Marque currently has a tiered structure according to inter alia, the age of the rum. However, I must stress that while age is a recognized benchmark for the consumer, it most definitely is not the only determinant in objectively assessing quality. The ACP Caribbean produces a range of quality rums from unaged white to very aged golden rums. Nonetheless, the general perception of the consumer is still one which expects that premium spirits are always aged.
WIRSPA does not agree that there should be a minimum ageing requirement for the distillate in order for it to be called rum and while it may be that there is no universal minimum age requirement for ACP Caribbean rum, the organization is adamant that a statement of age must reflect the youngest rum in the blend. This is in common with Scotch whisky, cognac and bourbon. In addition, given that ageing and bottling is done under Excise supervision, age claims of ACP rums can be backed up.
Furthermore, WIRSPA is of the opinion that the practice of ‘solera’ or ‘average’ aging does not bring clarity for the consumer who probably does not understand that a solera age statement on a rum bottle is vastly different from a minimum age statement.
Q: Several years ago, “Got Rum?” Magazine sponsored a series of meetings in Central America to arrive at a general definition for rum but, as you can imagine, it was very hard to reach a consensus. Is there hope that a global standard will be adopted one day or is the industry “standard” going to be segmented by regions?
WIRSPA is adamant that rum must be made only from the product of the sugarcane and no other fermentable material. This is mandatory in the ACP Caribbean, USA, EU and Canada among others. WIRSPA would prefer that there be no minimum ageing requirement for the distillate in order for it to be called rum but the most important element is the sugarcane, whether it be juice, molasses or syrup.
Q: “Going Green” is on everybody’s minds these days. WIRSPA currently encourages best practices and offers technical assistance to the industry, but it does not monitor and enforce compliance. Do you see this role changing in the future?
WIRSPA has no regulatory powers. That function is within the purview of governments. However, as a trade body WIRSPA can provide both advice and assistance to members and in the past 5 years has overseen 30 environmental projects under taken by 23 companies. Investments in waste disposal, environmental management and energy conservation projects have enabled companies to respond both to increasing regulatory requirements and the high cost of energy. Some of the distilleries have also obtained the ISO 14001 certification.
WIRSPA will continue to evaluate the needs of the industry within the region.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Just like the founding of the United States of America and the current position with the European Union, challenges abound when trying to reconcile different views and build a vision. Consensus takes time and patience, the task of bringing our message to discerning drinkers will take time to achieve and I appreciate the opportunity you have given WIRSPA to speak to your enlightened readership. I hope to be able to do so again.