Over the past few years as a writer and observer in the Spirits industry, like many of you I have seen the rivalry of brands in the Rum industry reach levels never seen before. I have many friends, contacts, and acquaintances working for/owning different companies, establishments, or as show promoters who are actively involved in the conflicts or just focusing on keeping their businesses and livelihoods out of the fight so that they are not collateral in what some are calling the “Rum Wars”. War seems like a rather dramatic word, but for the people invested in the ongoing conflicts it is very personal as time and resources are used to win the hearts, minds, and money of industry professionals and consumers.
Truth - that is a powerful word in the Spirits industry and is not one that certain brands are comfortable with using. Instead, they opt for Obfuscation. They would rather dazzle you with information that is a good story about rum made the same way it was produced back when pirates sailed the Spanish Main, the power of continental aging, and magical blending techniques that their Master Blender learned while sweeping floors at some legendary distillery.
Good story telling is exciting; it stimulates the imagination and makes the brand memorable. Unfortunately, over the time that I have studied rums and other spirits, I have learned that the better the story the more research must be completed to get to the truth. I absolutely love it when a good story and the truth are a matched set; sadly, this does not happen often enough. You “flip enough rocks” and you discover that the rum with a neat backstory is manufactured in a Caribbean blending house where it is loaded with flavoring agents and chemicals, or worse created at a Central American/India “Dial-a-Spirit” distillery where neutral spirits have flavoring agents added to simulate the age and flavor notes desired by the client. Slap on marketing and serve.
In many of these cases, what started as obfuscation very quickly becomes out-right deception. Then the truth seekers discover the facts, present them to the world, and a brand is doing damage control. Others do not care as they consider the average “rum enthusiast” a miniscule fraction of the rum consuming world and not worth acknowledging. It’s a poor decision many brands are discovering is a critical error as they are held to account for their deceptions by educated consumers.
Social Media has been a blessing and a curse for the Spirits industry as it gives brands bold enough to use it a powerful way to communicate directly to the consumer. It has also served as a bridge between competing brands to achieve mutually beneficial goals such as the recent Geographic Indicators that are becoming reality across the Caribbean. The Indicators demonstrate that rums meet the criteria to have a marque from its island of origin. I saw this as a positive thing that enforces the truth and value of a brand and islands’ product and was surprised when there was resistance to it in the industry. I understand that Rum producers do not want to be told how to make their products and feel any regulation is a threat to their freedom. To them I say if you are making a product that is 100% compliant with the requirements of an island with one of the Geographic Indicators, run with it, celebrate it, and use it! If you have some variance in your production process that prevents you from using the GI, “You do You” and let the consumers dictate the market.
One of the many things that brought me to explore Rum is its diversity. The ability to enjoy the blends created for private labels, the vintages of private bottlings, and the proprietary methods of the different producers is a joy. Therefore, when you see people you respect in the industry picking sides on matters - instead of jumping to conclusions, ask questions and look for motivations-monetary, political, or personal. It is these motivations that factor in decisions concerning which brands get supported. For consumers I only have this suggestion: Step back, do your research, and choose truth. Let the truth of the matter win your heart, remove your mind from the conflict, and spend your money supporting the brands you want to support. If something someone writes seems dodgy, check it out and challenge it. I have found it may take a good bit of time, but truth has a way of winning the day.