This is the question which will be posed by Ian Burrell during a conference/debate at Tales of the Cocktails in New Orleans. For our summer series, we have chosen to give the floor to those who make rum. We will ask each of them the same questions and will start off with a strange bird from Grande Terre: Hervé Damoiseau.
Rumporter: Who are you?
Hervé Damoiseau: A strange bird from Grande Terre who is deeply attached to Guadeloupe and the French Antilles, the producers of the best rhums agricoles in the world.
Rumporter: How did you get into rhum?
Hervé Damoiseau: Like Obélix, I fell into it as a child.
Rumporter: First of all, THE question: in your opinion, when does a rhum stop being a rhum? Afterwards, we are going to ask you a series of propositions which will form a debate.
Hervé Damoiseau: A rhum is a rhum when it is produced solely from sugarcane base materials, and when it hasn’t had so many sweeteners or flavourings added to it that it should rather be categorised as a liqueur or punch.
Some propositions to be debated or discussed:
– Special fermentations: very long fermentation, development of the fungus or bacteria (grand arôme, clairin, batavia arrack, shochu).
Hervé Damoiseau: Everyone has their own methods and business culture. Every producer decides that his/her method creates the aromas that her or she wishes to share with consumers. This is what makes our rhums so diverse and is something which should absolutely not be standardised.
– Extra-pure distillation around 96.5% (or very weak non-alcohol content).
Hervé Damoiseau: In this case, too, everyone has their own methods and business culture. At Rhum Damoiseau, our rums are between 86 and 88%, whilst also guaranteeing the 225g of non-alcohol content which provides the necessary elements of taste! Some well-known large international brands are close to 60g and are therefore more neutral, which in no way corresponds to our way of doing things, and is very different from the taste appreciated in our rhums. This is perhaps why we only represent 1% of the world market. One could see this as a positive thing and say that: “everything that is rare is precious”.
– Blending/Diluting with a pure (sugarcane) distillate.
Hervé Damoiseau: A blend? For aged rums, why not? But white rum should remain as it is naturally.
– Aging in special casks (wine casks, essences other than oak).
Hervé Damoiseau: Originally, two essences were authorised; oak and chestnut. The finishes that appeared some years ago, in casks from Sauternes, Porto, etc., are very interesting but I wonder if that perhaps constitutes a move away from our current GI and designated origin, since it could be suggested that this is a light form of flavouring?
– The use of wood shavings.
As long as they are natural, why not?
– The use of wood solutions.
If they are added before the aging process… Never after, otherwise it becomes flavouring.
– Very strong filtration (activated carbon).
If some people find that interesting, why not?
– Sweetening (sugar, syrup, molasses – black rum, etc.) And what’s the limit?
I don’t agree with it, and if legislation on the subject has to change, it shouldn’t go above 15%, because you have to accept that all of the evidence suggests consumers like sweetened products, which also poses a problem for public health and obesity. Adding colouring as long as it is a natural caramel in order to refine the colour is OK but, in this case also, within the defined limits.
– Flavouring (fruits, spices – spiced rum – etc.)
No problem as long as the product loses its title as “rum”. There are too many marketing methods for the consumer to know what they are drinking… but there is also the issue of taxing the product.