ALKO & SYSTEMBOLAGET & HYDROMETER SUGAR LIST
A lot of rum drinkers who don’t spend tons of time in online rum groups, or who are just starting to explore them, don’t know that many rums have sugar added to them after distillation. They don’t need to care of course, but it’s been a hot topic for years and one that has changed drastically over time.
When I started digging deeper into rum and reading online forums many years ago, I discovered a tiny minority of people who were stating that most of the super duper premium rums had dirty secrets, one of them being added sugar. The majority of the group would call BS, give these people a virtual slap in the face and tell them to leave and never come back. It was ugly. This of course included industry people, but also rum enthusiasts and bloggers who were accepting, cheering and parroting the marketing of all those misleading brands. “We do not add sugar, the sweetness and smoothness is because of the fact that our barrels are lying in a herbal garden and because our sugar cane has very high sugar content”. Sigh. On a side note, some of the people who were bullying that minority are still around in the rum scene, trying to hold on to former glory.
Compare that situation to how it is now. Lots and lots of people know about sugar in rum and are able to make an informed purchase decision because of that. The issue is still one that creates hot debates in rum groups, but it’s clear that the sugar lobby has lost its momentum. Not just in online groups, also with some major producers. Think DDL/El Dorado and Angostura for example, who are drastically reducing their added sugar practices. How did this happen?
Many things happened for this change to occur. I think the whole world has slowly started looking differently at sugar, but let me highlight three rum related things. First, the tireless efforts of Foursquare’s Richard Seale to educate rum enthusiasts all over the world, specifically about “doctored” rums, has made a real impact.
Second, Johnny Drejer introducing the hydrometer test to find additives in rum. This was massive! All of a sudden there was an easy way for anyone to find out if a rum was pure or not. Johnny, a rather clever rum lover, explained the method in detail and put all the test results on his website. This created shock waves. Of course, the sugar lobby tried to discredit the hydrometer method, some still do. The downside of the method is that it finds a density change in the liquid, but not what causes that change. In many cases it’s added sugar, however it leaves room for discussion and interpretation. But then there is event number three that really put a nail in the sugary coffin......Alko.
In Finland they have a government liquor monopoly, which is called Alko. They laboratory test all the products they sell. Lucky for us enthusiasts is that they specifically test for sugar and publish the results on their website. No more tinkering with a hydrometer in your kitchen!
Of course the selection is rather limited, but there are still plenty of interesting rums and results in there. Look at Angostura 1787 for example. This used to be loaded with added sugar, but now only has 2g/L according to Alko. In a recent Zavvy Q&A with Angostura they did say no sugar was added and that changes were made. It’s good to see they were actually telling the truth. Another surprising one is our beloved Mount Gay XO. Perhaps less surprising are Dictador, Zacapa, Plantation, Diplomatico, Matusalem and Bacardi.
What we have to keep in mind is that timing can be an issue here. If a brand has come up with a new version of an existing product, it might not be for sale at Alko yet and the measurement will be for the old version. That’s why I’ve added the date of when I’ve observed the particular results. I’ll regularly check in on their website to look for changes and I’ll update it here. Of course you can go to their website and click on all the products to find out yourself, but I thought it might be handy for some to have one easy list to check.
To have even more information, I've added all the sugar measurements from the Swedish liquor monopoly as well. Systembolaget has a much longer list of rum, but very few have been measured for sugar content. There is another difference, when there is no measurement given at Alko, it means there is 0 sugar, it looks like Systembolaget uses <3 g/L for that. This could possibly take into account that a very small amount of sugar might not be added, but can originate from the barrel ageing process for example. I'm happy some clarity is provided on "premium" brands like Coloma, Don Papa, Dos Maderas and Ron Quorhum. Massive amounts of sugar in the last three. There are also a couple of results for (perhaps older) El Dorado releases.
Naturally, these measurements aren't mine, so I take no responsibility for them and they are here for information purposes only.
I've also recently started doing my own hydrometer testing. You can find those at the bottom of the page.
Updates that happened after March 2021 are situated at the bottom of the list. However, you can sort the list by name, ABV, sugar and date to resolve this.
I've finally started performing my own hydrometer tests, thanks to the discovery and subsequent purchase of an Anton Paar EasyDens. Slightly more advanced and easier to use than a traditional hydrometer and thermometer. It only needs a tiny sample of rum to work and the result is shown through an app on my phone. It measures the temperature in the room and adjusts automatically. Super convenient.
Johnny Drejer has a full explanation on his site about how this method works. Click here for his site. But in short, the hydrometer comes up with an alcohol reading that should be similar to the stated abv on the label (assuming it’s correct on the label). If the reading is off, it means the density doesn’t correlate with that of a rum of the claimed abv. That density change happens because of post distillation additives. In most cases this is added sugar, but we can’t be 100% sure. Only a laboratory test can give that assurance. Hence why I publish the Alko and Systembolaget lab test results as well.
Long ageing times in barrels can introduce some additives to rum. This should always be under six g/L though. Therefore, any reading 5g and under is considered to not have added sugar.
I’m separating the results in three categories. Fresh bottle (FB), open bottle (OB) and sample bottle (SB). The fresh bottle gives the most reliable reading. The rum in an open bottle can change over time, which can affect the hydrometer test result. This is why I won’t test bottles that are half empty or below. Sample bottles have been given to me. They are full samples, but I don’t know the state of the bottle they came from.
I’m doing this to provide more information about some of the rums I come across. The more information we have, the easier it is to make educated buying decisions.