Debunking Rum Myths with Dave Broom

Rum is such a diverse category that it’s no surprise some myths have built up around it. SLOAN! asked rum expert Dave Broom about the common rum myths and to give his expert advice to cut through people’s misconceptions surrounding rum. Broom has just published a new book on the subject that is so comprehensive it is simply called “Rum: The Manual”. Here’s an extract to help readers disentangle and debunk these rum myths.

Dave Broom with sugar cane - the raw ingredient from which all rum is made.
Dave Broom with sugar cane – the raw ingredient from which all rum is made.

Myth 1: Sweetness

History shows that rum was sweetened from the start, so you can argue that this is traditional practice. My problem is that sugar levels in some rums are at quasi-liqueur-like levels. People may like it, but the downside of sugar doping is that any gain in popularity is a loss in complexity and character. Sugaring increases homogenization at the precise time when rum’s diversity should be celebrated.

The practice is unfair to producers who don’t, or are not allowed to, add sugar. Ideally, added sugar levels should be declared on the label and capped in the same way for cachaça or Cognac. There has to be honesty and transparency. However, given the problems over trying to legislate such a diverse category, it might be easier for producers who don’t add sugar or tint to say so on the label.

And another thing … If you want vanilla notes in your rum, use first fill casks. If you want to flavour-up a rum, then call it spiced. Don’t lie.

Myth 2: Fun/No Fun

People smile when they think about rum. It’s affability means it’s an automatic choice as a party drink, but don’t dismiss it as being only that. I was asked by a rum blogger if rum, in a bid to be viewed in the same light as single malt, should shed its fun image. “No!” I cried. Even now, in Scotch, new drinkers feel like they need a degree to start appreciating single malt.

It’s not a binary choice between being fun and being “serious”. The former has to be retained while widening rum’s remit. Rum covers more bases than any other spirit. Don’t restrict it.

Drinks Expert Dave Broom Debunks Rum Myths
Drinks Expert Dave Broom Debunks Rum Myths

Myth 3: Age

Scotch has created a model where a spirit gains credibility at 12 years. This puts rum in an awkward position as it matures more rapidly in tropical climes. A lust for “Scotch-style” age statements in tropical-aged rums will tend to leave you with extract of oak in your glass. Rums don’t get sweeter with age; they get drier.

Also remember, that while solera ageing is a valid technique, it needs to be explained that it’s different to static ageing. It’s impossible to give the exact age of a solera-aged rum as it’s a blend of different years. You can only give an approximate, average age.

Solution? Don’t look at the numbers; taste the spirit.

Myth 4: Labels

There is no universal, overarching rum regulation. Would it help if there were? Yes. Will it happen? Unlikely, as rum is already governed by regulations in each of its producing countries. What is legal in one place isn’t allowed in another. Getting them to agree to another set of rules will be well nigh impossible. That means that reading a rum label is confusing at the very time that rum’s premium sector is growing and people want to know what’s in the bottle. It is detrimental to the spirit to confuse or obfuscate.

So, can we do a classification ourselves? Possibly. Luca Gargano of Velier has come up with a proposed classification system:

  • Pure Single Rum: 100 per cent pot (i.e. batch)-still rum.
  • Single Blended Rum: a blend of only pot-still and traditional column-still rum.
  • Rum: rum from a traditional column still.
  • Industrial Rum: Modern multi-column still rum.

If bars and retailers began to use something like this independently, then we’ll at least have made a start.

Rum The Manual by Dave Broom is published by Mitchell Beazley (£14.99)

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