For a while now, the people of Barbados have been trying to implement a GI for their rum. GI stands for Geographical Indication. “The use of a GI may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.“
There are four distilleries on the island, namely Mount Gay, Foursquare, St Nicholas Abbey and West Indies Rum Distillery. The government of Barbados wants all four to agree on a draft GI that can be forwarded to the government for consideration. This has turned out to be a difficult task. Three distilleries are in agreement on what the GI should look like, WIRD is not. They were recently taken over by French company Maison Ferrand, known in the rum world through their Plantation brand.
Similar to what's happening in Jamaica, where Ferrand is trying to change the existing GI (more about that in this article), they want to be able to add sugar to their rum (20g/l), which is what they do to many of their products. This is something completely foreign to Barbados rum and therefore unacceptable to the other distilleries. It doesn't stop there. They also want to be able to use any water source, any cask type for ageing, any yeast type and age the rum anywhere in the world after 1 year in Barbados. Apart from the one year ageing, it takes all geographical components out of the Geographical Indication. Essentially making it a generic rum that could be made anywhere.
Click here for an article where Ferrand explains their position, including very far fetched historic "facts" to motivate why everything should be allowed in the GI. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Ferrand, later explained on his own Facebook page that they want to be able to add 20g/l of sugar to Barbados rum. The historical "fact" for this one is that caramel colouring has been used for centuries in Barbados rum, which leaves a trace of sugar. Not mentioning the fact that caramel colouring is bitter and the sugar it leaves is a microscopic amount. It was never meant to sweeten the rum (it doesn't), just colour it. My personal opinion is that these kind of statements are propaganda at best.
As I mentioned in my post on Long Pond rums, a GI as proposed by the other 3 distilleries, wouldn't stop Ferrand from doing their experiments. They simply can't label it as Barbados rum.
Barbados rum, like Jamaica rum, is an institute.....they are part of the foundation of rum and should be cherished, loved, respected and protected. It's a real shame that a company which constantly says they respect the terroir of all the different rums, while taking these same rums further and further away from their terroir with all their experiments, is able to stall this process of protecting Barbados rum, purely for financial gain. I feel for the people of Barbados, who should be the ones deciding what happens with their rum tradition.
Foursquare, Mount Gay and St Nicholas Abbey have come up with a press release. Here it is in its entirety:
BARBADOS DISTILLERS UNITE IN PUSH FOR A GI
16 January 2020 - Mount Gay, Foursquare and Saint Nicholas Abbey have jointly agreed on a Geographical Indication for Barbados Rum as prepared by the Barbados Industrial Development Corporation (BIDC) in consultation with its legal counsel. The three distillers are the largest bottlers of Barbados Rum and together hold over 90% of the island’s aged reserves.
A Geographical Indication means that a product’s “given quality, reputation or other characteristic...is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” Under EU spirits regulations, “a name shall only be protected” if the production steps which give it this quality and reputation “take place in the relevant Geographic area.”
Under the GI, Barbados Rum will be required to be matured in Barbados as the climate of maturation has a defining impact on the nature of a spirit.
“The value of rum increases as it matures. We cannot afford the loss of forex earnings by letting this production step happen outside of Barbados” - Larry Warren, proprietor, Saint Nicholas Abbey.
The Barbados GI gives ample room for innovation. There are no restrictions on the type of stills used, long and short fermentation techniques are allowed, and either fresh juice, syrup or molasses may be used. Any yeast may be used, but non saccharomyces strains must be native.
“At Foursquare we have gained a reputation for innovation. I am happy to say the Barbados GI places no restrictions on our rum making methods.” - Richard Seale, proprietor, Foursquare Distillery.
Unlike nearby volcanic Islands, Barbados is an Island of coral limestone with underground aquifers. Barbados is famous for the quality of its water and the GI retains a requirement for the use of Barbados water to make Barbados Rum.
“Till this day, Mount Gay uses the same water sourced from our centuries’ old well to make our Rum” - Raphael Grisoni, Managing Director, Mount Gay Rum.
To protect the quality and reputation of Barbados Rum, maturation must be in new oak or in refill casks from a list of recognised wine and spirit denominations. Age statements must refer to the youngest spirit. Vats are not acceptable for age statements. To protect the integrity of Barbados Rum, the addition of sugar syrup and flavourings is prohibited; however, caramel colour under strict guidelines, will be allowed for consistency.
The fourth major distillery in Barbados - West Indies Rum Distillery - is primarily a bulk producer of non aged rum acquired by Maison Ferrand in 2017. Ferrand has appealed directly to the political leadership of Barbados to overturn the work of the BIDC and has demanded to mature Barbados Rum outside of Barbados in wooden vats and to sweeten Barbados Rum with added sugar syrup. The former request would violate the EU’s requirement for production steps to take place within the protected geographic area.
There is no restriction against making non-compliant rums. Under EU Spirits Regulations, a Barbados distillate matured in France and sweetened using sugar syrup, or any other sweetening agent, would acquire French provenance.
A similar conflict is occurring in Jamaica where NRJ, (partly owned by Ferrand) is demanding to sweeten Jamaican Rum with added sugar syrup, a practice prohibited in Jamaica by statute since the 1930s. The other Jamaican distilleries stand in opposition to the change.