Rhum 2.0 (English version)

Thanks goes to CJ from rumproject.com for the translation
to go further : next article about glycerin


Welcome to rum generation 2.0

The large producers of rum are everywhere; consumers are thus heavily influenced by them in order discover and understand rum. The impact of these large producers exceeds most ‘small’ producers.  Their presence in the media is assured, they dominate the shelves of our liquor stores, and the pages of our magazines.   They are visible even in the most fashionable evenings of the capital. Welcome to the land of rum bling bling, lost in a world where every day new rum drinkers drown, taking in a steady stream of nonsense and remembering only  the worst ?

The stated purpose of this article is to show an example (among many others) which could ultimately greatly undermine rum.  I will try as much as possible to dissect a brand and then to expose its contradictions. All the information below is true, since it comes from the brands themselves, or from other reliable and verified sources (government sources, etc.).

The genesis of a Concept

If Don Papa seemed to be the most frequently cited example, it is because to me it represents this new generation of rum. One of those brands that represents the zeitgeist (spirit) of the times, and is quite visible to us.  You may nevertheless find the same patterns in other brands, and the most curious readers will quickly find other examples of this generation.  I will quote Don Papa.

« Welcome to the Don,  « Don Papa », a small batch rum, a premium rum, distilled in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon, Negros, Philippines. »

In French this distiller portrays a rum filled with promise: they speak of scarcity (small batch), luxury (a premium rum) and sells the idyllic landscape of the Philippines. That’s a lot of promise, certainly pompous, but already experienced by many of us for years (I hardly dare to talk about Zacapa, or aging in a garden of plants). And as usual, there is a   romantic story behind this rum because without history, there is no dream, and with no dream, there is no sale.

And when there is no history (a distillery, a skill or a long history of rum making), the distiller is forced to be be creative to stand out: Don Papa brand designers fetched (like many in the industry) a historical figure, usually old enough to use his image freely. In this case the character of association comes from a old time revolutionary hero, Dionisio Magbuelas, nicknamed Papa Isio (we imagine the distiller brainstorming in an office to find that the most exotic name, and the most unusual story).  The leadership and rebellious side of this character are highlighted and serve as marketing arguments, but bearing no real relationship for either the distillery or the rum, and some rum-related tradition (in fact, there are numerous bottles which we do not even know the distillery). This made up story thus tries to sell much more than the rum, but attempts to tie the rum to this revolutionary history; thus we are led to forget the main thing: the product itself.

« Don Papa Rum contains the spirit of independence, irreverence and sense of justice of the famous hero. »

This is what appears on the packaging and the website of the brand. Don Papa has a purpose, and it is clearly implied that this product revolutionizes the world of rum. Throw in Madison Avenue packaging for the masses, straight out of a talented New York firm, and little else is needed to attract the attention of many rum buyers.

Simply they intend that the alleged history will eventually convince you to buy what you think then be an exceptional product (admittedly helped by your wine shop proprietor), but in fact is a product that came out of nowhere.

My dad is a gift to me?

Like all dads, Don Papa also has a dad, and he called Stephen Carroll; former head of the marketing team Rémy Martin (for the Rémy Cointreau Group), he decided a few years ago to create his own company Bleeding Heart Rum. He had, before that, ensured his back: « A scan of the global market shows a trend towards milder products such as vodka and premium whiskey, especially in the  US ».

Carroll adds « Everything as to show that the rum is experiencing a growing success compared with other spirits, and that consumers need more authentic products, with a real source, real stories. Papa Don’s definitely one of those rums ».  This is rather interesting in view of his own made-up story regarding Don Papa.

For him, « there is clearly something interesting in rum ».  There must surely be as he has held several management positions in Diageo marketing teams Seagram and LVMH.  « The idea was to create a brand that can be imposed among the best in the world. »

Andrew Garcia, manager of the brand, adds: « We want to offer people a product that reflects our beautiful country, and of course the experience of tasting a traditional product ». Once again we hear deception: one speaks of authenticity, an artisnal product, but this is not the reality.

And rum amongst all that?

In truth, this is just a rum created from scratch by a group of businessmen, like many other rums with a beautiful dress and in order to sell a lot and to sell it quickly; and to even use an old history and figure that have long fallen into the public domain. What we hear is just a commercial version of the commercial claim of the promoters who loudly insist that « …it’s all good ». Stephen Carroll enlightens us more: « It is a premium rum, distilled from the world’s best sugar cane; Don Papa is first aged 7 years in barrels, at the foot of Mount Kanlaon hills, and is made to perfection », even talking about « Single island aged rum. » Everything is relative and subjective, but let’s be indulgent, and allow  him to continue:

« We use the very rich molasses sugar that we ferment before distilling in a column. The rum is then aging in place at the foot of « Kanlaon » volcano in old oak bourbon casks. It is a new rum style, with similarities to Hispanic rums. »

A molasses rum fermented and then distilled (in a column), and aging in bourbon casks is « a new style of rum. »?  Very surprising, and a little alarming too, but remember that these are not the words of just one rum producer but the words of Diageo, home of « designer brands ».  Is he withholding information?

We have seen above that the Don Papa team evokes attractive terms designed to appeal to consumers, while carefully avoiding any mention of even a distillery production method. No information about this, and no photographs (of a possible column distillery, or even of  sugar cane fields) on their website or their Facebook page. Questioned about this, we are still waiting for the response of Don Papa.

Since then, many have tasted this rum:  many hate it,  while many appreciate it for sipping while still others see it as only a base for cocktails. And all of these are intended with the  goal of achieving record sales for the wine merchants? All is not so simple, and what we sell for rum is actually – in these new times- an ersatz rum, a ghost, at the same time deceiving the consumer?

What you really drink?

Warning: people (fans, pros of all persuasions) who swear by this kind of rum (« as long as it tastes good »), should  stop here and not learn of  the content of these bottles  for if they knew the truth, their disappointment would be great and they might feel cheated from the beginning of their rum experience.  Of course the profits earned by all will not bring great sorrow, as long as these products fill the shelves.

For the others, those who like to know what they consume:

In a bottle of Rum 2.0 generation (we will offend no one in particular – in any case not before the next article which will provide concrete evidence), one can legitimately expect find the following, despite distillers’ claims to the contrary.  Here is what you can find in your favorite drinks:

The fact of added sugar can no longer be denied.  

Sugar levels present in this type of rum could give us an indication of value (+ or -), but the use of inverted sugars (glucose, fructose, etc.) which are sweeter than ordinary sugar, may be an attempt to claim fewer added « grams » but still providing the same or higher levels of added sweetness. Once again, we can ask ourselves about the legitimacy of using the term ‘rum’. There is no mention of the presence of sugar on labels.

One can also find aromatic agents: all kinds of spices (clove, cinnamon, ?) used as additives, vanilla extract, « wood » tones « like real rum » to simulate aging ; and a bunch of other things – these altered rums would better be called flavored or spiced rums. And yet still no mention on labels.  

It gets worse with the addition of  glycerine (this will be the subject of the next article): a colorless, odorless viscous at taste sweet and low toxicity, mainly used in many pharmaceutical compositions. This effectively allows you to make the ‘rum’ fat (smoothness in the mouth).  Again, no mention on the labels.

Another main element, and even indispensable to the development of this product type (one cannot now possibly call it « rum ») is simple malice, because it takes a lot to hide these many things in such a small bottle. You also need a good dose of confidence (and contempt) to officially declare that the product is « …natural, authentic, and even that it contains ‘no additives' »! Of course, given the absence of tests, the policy of « that which is hidden is not known » reigns supreme.

Some will use a nice story to make you swallow the pill, and to seduce you; others will highlight the talent of a hypothetical master distiller of their orchestrated « fame », or even more in tune with the times, a cocktail competition. The same pattern seems to repeat itself endlessly, with as many variations as lies.

That’s the magic recipe of the rum 2.0 generation: a distilled rum until neutral (emptied of its esters), altered excessively to make it appear closer to a more or less old rum (sic). This altered rum is flavored, and converted according to the desires of the marketing department. And the sad thing is that the majority of rum in the world is thus made and promoted.

But what if it tastes good?

Does this mean that these products are bad? No, as many people actually prefer the altered taste, having never experienced a real and pure rum. Even so we should also remember the intolerances and allergies of potential consumers.

Another issue that can be raised is actually a kind of of addiction to this kind of invented product; an addiction that will trigger the consumer’s act of purchase, and a kind of standardization that will bring business to follow the same golden path (and that will trigger a bill of sale); and again and again.  In the particular case of rum, bad habits taken by consumers who mistakenly think rum tastes as it is false presented, while the now old tastes of unaltered rums were never experienced or have been forgotten.

Both consumers and producers are harmed by these hybrid products.  Let’s be clear, it is neither rum nor natural. Just an alcohol wearing a familiar name, to more or less pronounced taste of rum sold on lies (we lost count of misleading advertising).

Hope ?

Consumers and producers respectful of their product (who still make true rum with real values), will be relieved to know that things are moving in the right direction. Some feel directly attacked in their craft, others even in their integrity. The road will be long, but there is hope: Finland and Sweden are testing for sugar, which results are followed by a whole world of lovers, and the results continue to accumulate (over 500 tests). There is no doubt that France – proud of its values – will soon be joining them in testing.

And remember that the purpose of these steps is not to demonize a particular brand as some would like to have us believe, but rather to elucidate some truths that will no doubt one day evolve rum in the right direction, have no doubt.

Calling in the global issue

Today, opinion leaders, ambassadors, festival organizers, bloggers, jurors, journalists, now attempt to say there never was a secret in these practices (alteration, sugar, additives of all kinds); Yet these are the same people who, a few years ago, denigrated the few consumers who dared to speak out of alteration,  but met with force and conviction, calling them liars.  Have those who should defend tooth and nail their beloved rum suffered partial or total amnesia? Surely a selected and rather curious amnesia.

We join in the remarks Richard Seale held in our interview, views held by some of his colleagues as well.  It is time that all influential people stop taking the statements of the producers as gospel, and somehow thus alright. The trade – wine merchants, representatives of all kinds, all those who represent and sell rum – should realize the magnitude of the problem, and see further than a simple label on a bottle.

Honest and reasonable skepticism harms no one, especially in regard to a « rum » that is made up.   Producers and promoters should refrain from reproaching consumers whose only goal is to learn the truth about what is called « rum ».   Should we expect any less?


– interview ofStephen Carroll for  Inquirer.com
– Don Papa website
– Dugas webiste
– article from  Guide-Rhum.com (source: Dugas).

Note: In France, Don Papa is distributed by Chevrillon group (majority shareholder of Dugas), which is also a producer of rum La Mauny and Trois Rivières. The group operates some 800 hectares of sugar cane in Martinique. Cyrille Chevrillon, CEO, hopes to « develop La Mauny and Trois Rivières in France and abroad as very large malts and the best cognacs. » I bet he will distinguish the subtleties between rum and brandy, and bring excellence agricultural rums.