The previous article was to show an example of rum 2.0 (« new generation ») and its direct impact on our consumption habits. As in the case of the addition of sugar, the subject seems biased, and debate still carefully avoided: remember that it is not about personal taste ; everyone is free to love what he likes, and altered rum is not necessarily worse than another. The debate is about the transparency of these additions, and the honesty of producers who do not follow the same rules as others. And beyond, it is question of legality, as these products do not meet the definition of rum as a spirit (Regulation (EC) No 110/2008). Rum shall not be altered, flavored, unless clearly noted, and especially to be called differently.
[ thanks goes to CJ from RumProject.com for helping with the translation ]
And if it was rum …
maybe one day you did ask to yourself : how the rum industry manages to propose/offer us such sweet and smooth flavourful spirits ? Generally aged a few years. Such young spirits, yet so aromatic, soft and smooth. Aging magic ? Gifted masterblenders? Unfortunately it isn’t that simple, and even if the best rums are made by honest people (who are increasingly rare), there is a large majority of distilleres and brands which consider profit more than consumers. Using unscrupulous methods, helped by nearly unenforced laws and regulations, to lead us to swallow almost anything, at any price.
Do we really have to accept these times and give up (even forced) to such false temptations? Should we ignore the product in our glass and keep only our illusions? While these brands would wish this so, like all people with an interest in the history, it is also good and interesting to share the Giant’s magic tricks, which dangerously impose their dictates as standards, and even influencing the smallest ones (producers, distilleries) to do the same…
Things have rapidly changed, and the present times did not calm anything : interest and demand continue to increase, and all producers release their so called super premium rums, older and older, , and always faster. Enough to confuse consumers, and above all direct them to the most famous brands, the ones with the more exposure. These will be the ones who will influence the most , with the prettiest bottle, the finest advertising, in the coolest magazines. Nothing which guarantees quality, and which we seem to ignore all too often..
In the whole, many do not hesitate to cheat ; others are launching a brand of rum as we launch a perfume in the air of time, clinging to a nice story to fill the lack of knowledge, or experience. The consumer, drowned in the flood of informations, doesnt even seperate the distillery from the brand, the quality from quantity, rum…from rum.
From deception to supermarkets
There is, in most bottles of rum, a lot of things which we would call ingredients, and not listed on the labels. Added after distillation, before aging (when there is any aging), they will transform any base of alcohol into a competing beast. We will mainly talk about glycerin, but we will talk too about other ingredients later, which all particpate in the consumer’s collective wonder, but artifical.
Glycerol, the smoothing agent
Glycerol, glycerine or E422, its everywhere around (and within) us : in pharmaceutical preparations (syrups, capsules,..), cosmetics (ointment, cream,..), into manufacturing of dynamite or toothpaste, and into the cellophane of your kitchen. Solvent, antifreeze, lubricant, plasticizer, it can be found into fruit juice, wine , oils, but also in spirits, and of course in rum .
But why, and what for?
Glycerin is a colorless, odorless liquid, viscous with a sweet taste and a low toxicity ; it has a sweetening power equal to 70 % of glucose. Often used as an additive for its sweet taste without added calories , it will be voluntarily added to rum to soften it and especially give viscosity , body, fat, giving it a silky mouth in sum. This will turn any young and fiery ‘ spirits ‘ into exquisite sweetness ; the fire of alcohol will turn off and be sublimated (thanks to the artificial smoothing sweetness ) .
You’ve probably tasted a rum that appeared syrupy and sweet, rum gender very easy to drink and which can also be more or less nauseating after a while. Well, these may contain glycerol.
The moonshiners used to call glycerin « pearl oil », compared to beads that appeared on the edges of the bottles identical to those normally -and naturellement- created by alcohol in any self-respecting liquor .
What is worse is that often this is not detectable, other than through laboratory testings; and as no test is performed before commercialization, its up to every producer… but do not rely on any brands, distilleries, ambassadors or other business to communicate about it, it is a matter of omerta – unspoken – and again, politics both in vogue ‘not seen not taken’ … And as the trend is that kind of sweet rum softened and smooth, it has become a national sport. And the ones who resist a little bit to the vile temptation may not be short-lived …
A professional proven -and accepted- recipe
The recipe is simple and relates much of rums produced in the world, among the best-known brands . You take a near neutral alcohol, distilled to or even beyond 95% by industrial columns higher than churches ( and nearly devoid of our desired and famous esters) , skillfully mixed it with some flavors (vanilla, spices, wood chips, etc), add a little (or a lot depending on the country ) sugar, then our famous softening agent (glycerol) , and you get a blockbuster rum ready for any festival/competition.
Remove all these artifices , and serve it naked and what you certainly get is a taste alcohol burning in the mouth … (who said vodka ? ) .
Is it still rum ? just because its made from molasses ? alcohol from molasses remains alcohol (we are not so far from ethanol refineries). This is not production of spirits, and use the term ‘rum’ becomes illegal. the time of the industrial revolution has emerged this kind of product, let us not be fooled.
There are numerous advantages for producers
The cost and time savings first : it is much cheaper and faster to add glycerin, rahther than properly distilling real rum, and rather than aging it. Instead of trying to have a good result by working a product taking its time, they artificially accelerate things, and transform poor alcohol into a so called competitive rum which is made to look and feel older than it is.
Thus, no need to age for years. You just have to not use too much glycerin ( and other things ) not to kill the character of rum. It is also advisable to start to try 20 g / L glucose , or 5 ml per liter of glycerin… for a liquor. Anyone?
Who wins cheat … but for how long?
It’s good to talk about glycerin, but it’s even better to find out some… just to argue and make plausible this article, that is.
Earlier this month of July 2015, I decided to send to a laboratory some samples of rums , the only way to detect glycerol. In addition to being chosen according to their availability in my cabinets, they all have in common to be kind of oily and sugary.
Here is the list of rums chosen for this occasion:
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva , Zacapa 23, Botran 15 , Zacapa XO , Don Papa 7 & 10, Matusalem 23 , Angostura Cask Collection N°1, Centenario 20 , Dictador 20 , Pampero Aniversario.
Time to prepare and send the samples , the results fall a few weeks later :
Glycérol (g/L) Sugar (g/L) others (mg/L)
Don Papa 7 2.4 29 vanillin : 359
Don Papa 10 1.75 27 –
Angostura cask 1
0.34 18 –
0.4 (older bottle)
vanillin : 2.45
Pampero An. 0.10
Dictador 20 < 0.05 0-5 –
Matusalem 23 < 0.05 – –
< 0.05 44.1 vanillin : 4.8
Botran 15 < 0.05 – vanillin : 3.51
Centenario 20 < 0.05 > 40 –
(sugar = mainly saccharose, but also fructose and glucose found ; and maltose)
Considering the cost of analyzes, some datas (marked « -« ) are missing.
The lower glycerol rate (0.05g/L) shows no trace in the analyzed rums. All that is above, shows a trace of glycerol voluntarily added :glycerol, as sugar, do not pass the distillation process.
For comparison, the rate of 0.2 g/L of glycerol is more akin to the standards of some vodka ; Don Papa’s rate, for instance, is closer to a liquor. Add to much glycerol and it becomes laxative.
For vanillin: it is necessary to distinguish the syringaldehyde molecule which naturally occur during heating of the barrels (this molecule has a characteristic flavor of smoked & spicy) from artificial vanillin, present in the table.
What does this mean?
There are rum producers who voluntarily add glycerin to their products, to change its taste and perception, to hide alcohol notes, perhaps too present in the ‘original’ product. In addition to the sugar already grossly added and surely other additives (vanillin, spices, …). Let’s not forget these rums are actually sold (and promoted in festivals) as « premieum » and « super premium » …
We are very far from the genuine product’s image, highlighted by these same brands, and we could logically take this for false advertising . What they call a natural and a respectful product, authentic, is actually a mass of artificial products, additives, intentionally added to make these drinks artificially aged.
Of course, this does not prevent a particular brand to offer a product to your liking, but the fact to deliberately hiding these additions, and especially openly lie on the product, does not bode well for the consumer.
And what about the so-called talents of some brand’s master blenders, which are sometimes put forward as stars for their work? Is it really justified when we know they are at the origin of rum stuffed with additives? Should we carry in triumph the hormone chicken producer, because he’s selling more than his neighbor? And what about the rewards, medals, gleaned during the rum festivals… Certainly that, we, as consumers, are already accustomed to this kind of fake products, that our palate is accustomed to the artificial sweetness, and that we will look for it at each new tasting. Certaily helped by some guys who respect nothing, not even those who buy their products.
The tree that hides the forest
Same fight for all food things, we think to learn about everything and we discover new things, new additives , new ways to hide things , increasingly petty . In the case of rum we already know some magics (caramel for coloring, oak chips to accerate aging, sugar, glycerine,.. but the truth is, there are still many different ways ( often very old for some ) of « improving » and « change » the spirits profile of all kinds.
This may shock some people. But misinformation should not become a lasting solution; deny and refuse to see things either. Everyone is free to make its own opinion, with all the cards in hands.
The goal is always the same , however , to round or improve flavors and to artificially age the rum.
Below are examples used in the vast world of spirits …
– The use of wood in the form of more or less toasted chips (Charcoal can also be used to soften the flavor of bourbons and rums)
– Softening agents (glycerin, glucose syrups, …)
– aged rum syrup, to improve the rum without having to store it the years
– A little orange flavor (gasoline)
– A little sherry, port or bourbon: Sherry is generally used as an additive in rum although most distillers industry will not admit. For best results, combine sherry and then dilute alcohol to a drinkable level before aging.
– making sauces / alcohol based maceration (maceration of prunes, raisins)
– artificial vanilla flavor that falsely gives complexity to the flavor of oak
– neutral alcohol
– seeds (black pepper, for a touch ‘woody’, cilantro for flavor ‘tropical’, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg …)
– leaves (lemongrass, mint, ..) in the form of maceration with alcohol
– caramel to color
And of course with the blessings of some producers (and some non european legislations), who will see these additions as many natural and wonderful things, based on family secret formulas or recipes … but they never communicate it, for some reason …
Rums that are not rums, or not entirely , factories that produce rum the exact same way they produce vodka or who knows what else, using tricks to arrange and flavor according to the needs and desires they have created in consumers. There’s something for every one , and it’s certainly not that kind of nebulous article that will change things
Since the debate on sugar, and surely soon around glycerin, too many involved people (from the industry) seem to avoid the real questions ; the few opinion leaders who dare to speak, carefully avoid the debate, arguing (failing to answer real questions) that « there’s something for everyone’s taste. » That’s right, there’s something for everyone’s taste, but not at the price of misinformation, lies, and illegality.
Let’s hope that one day the amateur who pushes the doors of its cellar will have all the cards in hand to drink with diligence and intelligence. Hopefully someday the quality and information override the quantities and lies.