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Spirits & Liqueurs

The Whiskey Exchange Look At New Rum Classifications

Rum may seem like a vast sea that is increasingly hard to navigate but one liquor retailer is looking at flavour to try to clarify the confusion.

By: Tiff Christie|May 16,2019

While it has not yet reached the status of ‘the new Gin’ as commonly predicted, Rum is increasing in popularity, both as a sipping spirit and in cocktails. But with the demand, has come a certain amount of confusion. No matter how refined, aged, spiced or valuable Rum has become, for most consumers it is the middle child of spirits – perplexing and misunderstood.

Spirits retailer The Whiskey Exchange is looking to change that with a new classification system that has been devised over the past year by Dawn Davies MW, the company’s head of buying. Importantly, this new system is looking to bring the concepts of flavour into the Rum vernacular.

“We know the consumer, and the trade to some extent is crying out for more education on the different styles of rum,” Davies said.

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Classification confusion

Most of the mystery that surrounds the spirit is due to a lack of decent classification. Sure, classification by things like colour already exists but other than explaining what you can already see, this is not a system to gives you much of an idea of taste or flavour. This, of course, is not surprising when you consider White Rum can be aged, then filtered clear, while Gold Rum can be barrel-aged or artificially dyed.

“Confusion abounds when Wray & Nephew white rum tastes nothing like Veritas white rum,” says Davies. “We need to help consumers understand rum and flavour better.

Even country of origin classification doesn’t give you as much idea as you might hope. The old colonial system is not only severely outdated but the groupings of English, French and Spanish styles—a reference to the countries that conquered the various rum-producing islands – don’t mean as much in terms of production style as they used to.

For example, the traditional ‘English’ style usually means a Rum that has been distilled from molasses in a pot still. But many of the old English colonies are now making rum not only on a pot still, but they are also creating a variety of column blends.

To try and sort through all this confusion and help consumers better understand the category, spirits retailer, The Whisky Exchange, and wholesale business, Speciality Drinks, have joined forces to design a new classification system for rum.

With more than 500 rums listed on The Whisky Exchange website and within the Speciality Drinks stable, the new categories focus on flavour profiles and production methods, rather than the traditional colours of white, gold and dark.

The Gargano system

The new Whiskey Exchange system has been inspired by classification systems previously outlined by Rum professionals Luca Gargano (from Italian distributor Velier) with the assistance of Richard Seale (master distiller at Foursquare Distillery in Barbados). Their system is modelled on the Scotch whisky schema of single malts versus blends.

Like Scotch, the Gargano framework is based on the production method. For example, it identifies rum made in a pot still from molasses at a single distillery as “pure single rum.” “Single blended” is a blend of pot- and column-distilled rum from a single distillery.

There’s no reference to the country of origin within the system, nor is there any reference to colour.

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Whiskey Exchange system

Rather than just concentrating on the production method, the Whiskey exchange system takes the classification a step further by also looking at the flavour. The retailer is hoping that the initiative of categorising rums by flavour as well as production methods will eventually be adopted by the wider industry.

“This is very much a conversation opener; we would love to know what people think,” says Davies. “We have to start the conversation somewhere and allow consumers to have more transparency around rum.

The six categories

Single distillery rum

  • Single traditional column: rum distilled at one distillery in traditional column stills.
  • Single traditional pot still: rum distilled at one distillery in traditional pot stills.
  • Single traditional blended: a blend of traditional pot still and traditional column still rums from the same distillery.
  • Single modernist: rum made at a single distillery using modern multi-column stills.

Multi-distillery rum

  • Blended traditionalist: a blend of rums from multiple distilleries that only includes traditional column and/or pot still rums.
  • Blended modernist: a blend of rums from multiple distilleries that includes single modernist rums.

The flavour camps

What makes this system stand out are the six ‘flavour camps’:

  • light and uncomplicated;
  • herbaceous and grassy;
  • tropical and fruity;
  • fruity and spicy;
  • dry and spicy; and
  • rich and treacly.

Davies hopes that consumers will start to build a picture of the category if the production method information is combined with flavour profiles. The Whisky Exchange hopes the system will give consumers and the trade a more informed understanding of the rum category.

Colour will still be a factor

Along with the new technical and flavour classifications, The Whisky Exchange have decided to still allow for searches along with dark, golden and white colour lines, to give users a range of search preferences.

“Dark and gold tell you nothing about flavour. We have kept them in the classification because that’s what consumers look for and know. So we still use those terms because consumers are still going to shop by those terms. But in terms of flavour, it doesn’t mean anything.

“We know it may not be an immediately perfect solution but this is the jumping off point, and we look forward to the industry working with us to create the ideal scenario for everyone.”

Consumers can now shop by the classification system on The Whisky Exchange.

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