Is sweetened rum still rum?

Many rums originating from countries outside of the European Union are beginning to occupy an increasing share of the European and French rum markets. While the white rum market may now seem close to saturation, the aged rum market is expanding, and it’s a safe bet that several non-EU rums will see above market growth in years to come.

Their growing success is due to:

– Consumer demand for new products and flavours;
– Attractive pricing;
– Quality packaging, marketing and PR. Of course, the principle importers are known for their expertise in this area;
– A flavour that has been labelled as “gourmet” by consumers, quite different from that of the traditional rhums of French overseas territories, which are characterised by powerful aromas in both the nose and mouth.
The first three reasons cannot be criticised. Indeed, it is up to producers, including those in French overseas territories, to create attractive and on-trend products, to be able to sell them and to offer the consumer the best price-quality ratio. In terms of obtaining gourmet flavours however, I havehipster-saccharummy doubts. Indeed, these flavours are often created by adding a massive amount of sugar (up to 51 grams/litre) to the product before it is bottled. However, European Regulation (110/2008) and French regulation do not allow sweetening, but only the addition of caramel before bottling in order to change the colour of products.
French law is a lot more precise, forbidding the addition of sugar above 2% of obscuration (in other words, the difference between the natural rate of alcohol by volume at 20% and the real rate of alcohol by volume at 20%).
Our inter-professional organisation carried out an analysis of different rum brands, both from French overseas territories and imports. French overseas territories’ rhum respect these restrictive rules (an undetectable amount of sugar, obscuration generally below 1.5%). However, rums from non-EU countries, including the most renowned brands, present up to 12% obscuration; six times the amount authorised by French regulation. The question to be asked is therefore: at up to what amount of added sugar is it still introduced into the market as a “rum” and not a “liqueur”?

The answer is provided in both the European Regulation 110/2008 and French regulation: all sugarcane alcohol with added sugar is not a rum but a liqueur or a sugarcane-based spirit. What is more, as is the case for any product with agricultural origins, whilst the addition of sugar does indeed increase the consumer’s desire for the product, it also poses the question of the consumer’s health, since she or he is drinking large quantities of sugar without realising it. The European Commission wants to require nutritional labelling for wines and spirits, in order to allow the consumer to assess the impact of their wine or spirit consumption on their daily nutritional intake.
Moving beyond the issue of public health, my colleagues and I also question the relevance of establishing regulations to which we are subjected (and due to which we have to undergo numerous inspections) and yet evidently do not seem to concern our colleagues in non-EU countries. Far from wishing to impede the access of rums from non-EU countries to the French and European markets through regulatory standards, we merely want them to be made to respect the rules, in particular those concerning labelling, to which we are bound.

There is a high risk that strict application of French and EU laws only to products from French overseas territories (and therefore part of the EU) marginalises said products by letting consumers believe that a good aged rum must necessarily be sweetened. In this way the rhums of French overseas territories run the risk of being restricted to a niche market, in which it will be very difficult for them survive.
It seems extraordinary that our profession must once again fight against the inertia of the public powers in France and the EU to ensure common regulations are respected, whilst for us respecting these rules is a must, even for imported rums.

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