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Barbados Rum Identity - Richard Seale

In Barbados, a lot of work has been done recently in regards to establishing an identity protecting geographical indication for Barbados rum. To make this come to fruition, all four distilleries on the island need to agree on a draft GI and present it to the Barbados government. Getting on the same page seems challenging with Foursquare, Mount Gay and St Nicholas Abbey being in agreement, but the fourth party, Ferrand owned West Indies Rum Distillery, having a drastically different viewpoint.

Time to get some more clarity on this from Richard Seale, owner, distiller and master blender of Foursquare distillery.

Can you briefly describe your family’s involvement in rum over the past decades?

My family started as merchant blenders in the 1920s. Often overlooked is that the same transformational forces that produced ‘rhum agricole/rhum industrial’ also transformed the Anglophone rum industry. To survive the impact of European beet sugar in the late 19th century, the industry was rationalised so that by the 1920s most individual estates no longer crushed their own cane, but sent it to more efficient centralised industrial scale sugar factories which now made vacuum pan sugar instead of estate muscovado sugar. So most estates stopped making rum entirely. This void was filled by ‘rhum industrial’ - large industrial scale column still distilleries taking molasses from the large central sugar factories. These distilleries (and the few remaining rum making estates) sold their rum through dozens of merchant bottlers like my family. Martin Doorly was another merchant bottler.

My family is actually the last of the merchant blender tradition. Mount Gay is the last of the estate tradition. When we purchased Foursquare, the last family of the merchant tradition revived the estate tradition at Foursquare, which had produced sugar and molasses since the 1730s. Foursquare has seen it all. It went from wind driven estate (making sugar, molasses and rum) to steam driven central sugar factory (making sugar and molasses) to today’s incarnation dedicated to making rum.

St Nicholas Abbey is also a resurrection of the estate tradition in 2006. They probably last made rum there in early 1900s, but the estate goes right back to the early 1600s. They are a perfect resurrection because they exclusively use their own cane.

What is a GI?

I will give you the textbook answer - A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In simple terms this would mean that a product certified as Barbados Rum or Jamaica Rum would have actually been produced in the respective country and meet the standards of that country for the product.

Are there examples of GI’s in rum or other spirits that show their importance and success?

The most obvious example is Scotch Whisky. Through several legal mechanisms, including the registration of a GI for Scotch Whisky, that provides the industry with the tools to enforce that any product labeled as Scotch Whisky sold more or less anywhere in the world, has been produced in Scotland and meets the required standard. Outside of spirits, a good example is Blue Mountain Coffee in Jamaica. Before that GI was established there were several examples of coffee passed off as Blue Mountain Coffee that did not originate in Jamaica.

Can you describe Barbados rum tradition and why it needs to be protected?

We have an unrivalled provenance with rum making dating to the 1640s and it continues to be a significant industry in the Island. Barbados has earned an excellent Global reputation for its rums. To further build on this success we need to put standards in place that will protect the quality and hence the reputation we have now and also put in place standards that will ensure the economic value earned by Barbados Rum is properly earned in the Island. The GI is a tool by which we can achieve these objectives. The latter objective is an important reversal of the colonial economic model. This model left us with a devastated sugar industry because the economic value was largely earned outside. We can avoid these mistakes with rum.