Rumporter: Hello Cyrille, you’ve announced recently to our colleagues at Singlecast the creation of the International Sugarcane Spirits Awards, which is a whole new kind of competition. Can you tell us more? Who are the people behind this project?
Cyr Mald: It started with an observation by Ian Burrell, of the UK Rumfest (whose fair no longer hosted tasting contests) and Cyrille Hugon & Anne Gisselbrecht from Rhum Fest Paris: how could they combine the expertise of Rhum Fest Paris in terms of organizing competitions and Ian’s charisma to create a Paris-London association? The observation soon became an idea: why not co-organize a contest under a single identity and, most importantly, offer something different, something we would promote together and that would allow us to create a vast inventory of existing sugarcane spirits all over the world.
But to that aim, a modern contest was needed: A contest that would speak to the new aspirations of both professionals and consumers. Jurors would have to be guides. We had to select the best experts and offer them the best possible conditions so that they could deliver a message that would truly speak to consumers.
The process brings at the same time more leeway and much more precision at every stage of the tasting.
R: How is this tasting competition so different from others?
CM : It is different in the way it functions and the way it interacts with producers, purchasing advisers and end-consumers, to whom the competition results are eventually destined.
Another difference is that the whole process has been dematerialized. After the results are known, the detailed product sheets will be made available to the public, and amount to a de facto reference guide for sugarcane spirits. This process brings at the same time more leeway and much more precision at every stage of the tasting.
R: We understand that the jurors will be tasting from home? Why? Will you impose a modus operandi?
CM: They taste from home so that they have the time to taste and take notes without pressure or aromatic disturbances. They fill in electronic scorecards, making their observations immediatly usable. This mode of operation is strict, but accepted as self-evident by these great professionals. There are ethical and technical guidelines, whose details are accessible online. The guidelines are very precise as they are, but we do not rule out reinforcing them further if necessary. To that aim, we will welcome suggestions from professionals and consumers of the sector.
Furthermore, every juror was selected, among other criteria, for their ability to commit to the guidelines. The jury consists of 24 prominent figures unanimously recognized as the most skilled experts in the sugarcane spirits scene. Based on expertise, the rigorous selection process also aims at achieving a homogenous geographical distribution across the globe. Each juror will work in tandem with one of 24 deputy experts. They’ll receive the samples at the address of their choice, and will have one month to submit their observations on the samples received. Why? So they can taste peacefully, free from outside our inside pressures, in conditions they know and deem ideal for the tasting.
Their names are among the best-known in the sugarcane spirits world
R: Speaking of jurors, can you already give us names?
CM: Their names are among the best-known in the sugarcane spirits world. You’ve probably heard them all, or at least most of all. All the most renowned experts will be there. We will announce the full list when all the experts we’ve contacted have confirmed their participation. However, I can already cite: Ian Burrell obviously, Peter Holland, John Gibbons, Suzanne Long, Dirk Becker, Thanos Prunarus, Marco Graziano, Emiliano Pena Fernandez, Lisette Davies – to name but a few.
R: Regarding the categories and their classification, what is your approach and why?
CM: It has been a central, critical point from the start. In order to reflect the reality of the market as closely as possible, and guarantee the appropriate visibility for each type of rum, ron, cachaça, etc., we have created a categorization that is unique and specific to our sector.
However, our effort to be inclusive was limited in two aspects. First, we decided to exclude the most strongly-rectified spirits, as they fall, strictly speaking, more or less into the vodka category, regardless of the raw material (sugarcane included). Second, consistency demanded strict raw material limitations: any spirit whose distillate isn’t 100% based on sugarcane or sugarcane-derived products was disregarded. We end up with 18 categories, defined collectively by Ian Burrell, Alexandre Vingtier, Louis Marti, Marc Battais and myself, as well as many experts in the field. Although the categorization was unanimously approved, it is not written in stone, as our role is not to define or redefine the market, but to follow its evolution. The classification may very well evolve from one year to the next. The categories are available on the Website.
Will be able to use it as a guide for shopping, for finding specific aromatic profiles, or as a tasting guide
R: How will the results be announced? From what we understand, you’ve decided to go further than every other contest by putting the jurors’ tasting sheets, usually discarded once the competitions over, online. Why? How are you going to standardize the results in order to present them?
CM: It’s not exactly like that. There are two distinct matters here: the contest results, meaning the attribution of the awards, on one hand, and on the other the tasting sheets, which concern every participant regardless of whether they were awarded a prize. Each juror’s observations will be put into detailed visual charts, but in order to render a general perspective of all the jurors’ reviews, their charts will be aggregated to achieve a result as close to reality as possible. Only the aggregated charts will be made accessible. Only the harmonized data will be available for the final consumer, who will be able to use it as a guide for shopping, for finding specific aromatic profiles, or as a tasting guide to deepen their understanding of sugarcane spirits. Among other things, we are also planning to collect reviews on the pertinence of the tasting sheets.
R: To conclude, what is the procedure for rum producers to enter the competition?
CM: Opening up the sector is in our DNA, as there is strength in numbers. This is why we invite every producer, bottler, retailer, representation agency of rum, ron, cachaça, etc., to apply on our Website. The application process is online, and guided. We really tried to make things as simple as possible!