The Seale family have been involved in the rum business since the 1820’s, and they built their Foursquare rum distillery (Doorly’s, Seales & Rum Sixty Six) where they produce both column and pot distilled molasses rum in 1996. They blend the column and pot prior to ageing, mainly in American white oak casks (from a certain well-known Tennessee distiller) although they do occasionally finish rums in ex sherry casks, and ex port casks. They have also experimented with new oak.
In keeping with the other distilleries in Barbados and Jamaica, Seale’s rums contain no added sugar. The age statement on Seale’s rums refers to the youngest rum in the bottle. Other rum producers do add sugar, and take an average age rather than minimum age. This leads us to Richard Seale’s concerns.
Richard Seale’s concerns
- How rum is categorised
To begin the tasting, Richard gave us 4 samples of rum. A white rum, a golden rum, a dark rum and a flavoured rum. After we had tasted them, he pointed out that they were exactly the same rum, three with differing levels of colour added, one with a dash of vanilla. He pointed out that this is a crazy way for rum to be categorised, and that there should be clearer differences in how rum is categorised. Ideally, he felt rum should be categorised by how it is made, and from that, what it tastes like.
- Perceived value without actual value
Richard’s issue here is that if brands market themselves in terms of how many times they have been distilled, how pure they are, or without clear information on age, that there is a danger of perceived value without actual value. Particularly if you are allowed to add flavour/colour additives. If you can get away with adding lots of caramel colouring, and lots of sugar, and the rules aren’t clear on ageing (average age, minimum age) then there is a danger of rum being released that isn’t as carefully made or as old as the marketing would suggest. This damages the whole category.
Myths are quite common place in the world of spirits, and he took aim at some of these myths. In particular, he was annoyed with rums (and vodkas) stating that they had been distilled 5, 7, 15, 25 times (nonsense, it gets distilled hundreds of times in stills). He also took issue with some rum producers claiming that pot still, column still and industrially produced spirit taste the same and that they are marketed as the same thing.
Richard’s suggested categorisation of rum
- 100% Pot Distilled Rum
- Blended Rum (a mixture of column and pot)
- Column distilled rum
He would also like to see a limit on added sugar. In Barbados, Jamaica and a few other locations, added sugar is prohibited, but in other countries, this is not the case. He argues that a limit on added sugar creates a level playing field and an honesty.
This would be like the whisky category, which he admires as there is clarity in the communication. Consumers understand what a single malt, blend and grain whisky are, and the value of each. This is where he wants to get to with rum.
We agree. When we set up Drinkmonger.com, the main idea behind the structure of the website was to look at how the product was made, and how that affects taste. We developed our structure over a year ago, and we are pretty chuffed that our way of organising rum is close to what Richard (who we will happily admit, knows more about rum than us) is suggesting.
We have added a few things, but we agree with his proposal. Our additions are mainly flavour based (Jamaican rum being historically estery, sugar cane rum and molasses rum tasting different) but we have had to admit defeat on a few things (it’s unfair to put Cachaca in with Rhum Agricole for example).
Many thanks to Richard for a fantastic tasting.