I recall hearing the words “there is power in a name”. I don’t remember when and where I heard this. But I’m very sure this rings true in the liquor world. A liquor brand may not be recognized by a consumer. But a liquor’s provenance will automatically communicate its prestige and quality.
If a rum newbie were to ask a rum Facebook group, like Ministry of Rum, which rums a whisky drinker should try? Barbadian rum would surely be amongst those answers. This wasn’t the case when I started with rum in mid-2017. Back then, a lot of people were still unaware of the fake age statements and sweetened rum. So, the go-to answers were rum similar to Ron Zacapa “23” or Dictador “12”. But thanks to guardians of rum like Richard Seale, honest rum from countries like St. Lucia, Barbados or Jamaica, have gained more proper recognition.
There will still be those who most will recommend the infamously sweet rum from Spanish speaking countries like Diplomatico (Venezuela) or Ron Zacapa (Guatemala). But these are likely those who like sweet drinks and don’t think much of transparency, or don’t care about being lied to by brands via fake age statements and unlabeled dosing of rum.
For the none rummies, there’s been a year’s worth of raging battle for the Barbados Geographical Indicator (GI). On one side you have Mt. Gay, Foursquare and St. Nicholas Abbey who are fighting for the tradition of Barbadian rum. On the other side, you have Ferrand’s WIRD who is pushing for looser standards.
What is a GI? According to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 1995 Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), GI’s are defined as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” For example, both Scotch and Bourbon have GIs.
Three out of four distilleries want to protect the Barbados GI and the integrity of Barbados rum. Their wish list includes the following:
(1) That Barbados rum will be aged in Barbados as the climate of maturation has a defining impact on the nature of a spirit.
(2) Maturation must be in new oak or in refill casks from a list of recognised wine and spirit denominations.
(3) Age statements must refer to the youngest spirit. Vats are not acceptable for age statements.
(4) The addition of sugar syrup and flavorings is prohibited. However, caramel coloring under strict guidelines will be allowed for consistency.
On the other camp is Maison Ferrand (MF) whose rum arm is Plantation. Plantation used to only be an IB rum bottler. Then MF acquired the West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD) in Barbados in 2017. They are now distilling and aging Barbados rum in WIRD. They still continue to source rum from countries like Fiji, Panama and Trinidad. Along with that acquisition were shares in Jamaican distilleries Long Pond and Monymusk/Clarendon. I’ll add that they also want to make changes with the already established Jamaican GI.
For a bit of a background, WIRD is a Barbados rum distillery that was founded in 1893. Most of its business today is distilling rum for other companies to be shipped in bulk and to be bottled as rum or base for liqueurs. One of the most well-known products that come from them is Malibu which is under Pernod Ricard. The other is a very sweet and premium looking “rum” called Bumbu.
MF is not all for the GI being proposed by the other side. They say some of the protections are preventing innovation. MF also says they truly believe that a GI must be inclusive and faithful to the roots of ALL Barbados rum-making. They agree that for a rum to be considered Barbadian rum, it must be distilled and aged in Barbados… but for one year only. They also don’t agree with the no sugar added part. Because, for those unfamiliar with Plantation, Plantation often adds sugar to their rum. They also secondarily age their rum often in ex-Cognac casks which are aged further in France.
The version of the GI MF is fighting for simply looks like they are trying to cash in on the rising reputation and prestige of Barbados rum. (Hugely brought about by Foursquare’s Richard Seale). I can see the concern for duppy’s share (Caribbean equivalent of angel’s share) due to the hot climate but a minimum of only year of aging in Barbados? It’s clearly a selfish angle seeing as they’re the only one among the Barbados rum distilleries that has aging facilities outside of the country (MF’s Châteaux Bonbonnet). It’s reminiscent of the times when the colonists just took resources away from their colonies to make themselves rich.
They say that the GI must be inclusive and faithful to the roots of all Barbados rum making. To me, that sounds like a flashy excuse for being allowed to cut corners. I am no Barbados history expert, but I am sure there were shady practices in the past of Barbados rum-making, just like every growing and unregulated industry in the past. How is rum going to get the respect and prestige it deserves if its standards don’t match up to Scotch and Bourbon? Scotch and Straight Bourbon don’t allow additives aside from water and caramel coloring. Aren’t shady practices in American whisky the reason why the Bottled-in-bond act was made?
The protections are preventing innovations? No one is telling them that they can’t use innovative casks, add sugar and the other things they are fighting for. But they just can’t call whatever they make in WIRD Barbados rum. If they work hard enough, everyone will eventually find out that MF owns WIRD and every rum bottled by Plantation from WIRD is from MF. But I guess they want to cash in quickly.
They seem to be getting more desperate as they also claim to make 82% of the rum in Barbados. This flexing of stats just sounds obnoxious. If Jack Daniels were the best-selling American whisky in America, does that mean every American whisky be charcoal filtered? I also have to ask, how much of this 82% really gets bottled and sold as Barbados rum?
Mt. Gay who is owned by Remy Cointreau is siding with Foursquare. One of the big companies! These are usually the greedy bastards always willing to cut corners to make a quick buck. But not this time. Surely LVMH sees that the future of Barbajan rum is more secure if they don’t cut corners.
I’ve had a lot of Foursquare rum. They make great rum without needing to rely on aging outside of Barbados and the sweetening. The few Mt. Gay I’ve had were nothing spectacular but they were decent. Still, it’s a lot better than everything being indistinguishable from one another because of all the added sugar.
Yes. This is me making a stand against Maison Ferrand. But I am not entirely against them. I find Plantation to be an interesting company. I like that a lot of their base products are bartender friendly. I love their Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum and OFTD as they are great mixers. They can make good unsweetened rum. I have tried a few of them. But I am not a fan of what they want to achieve with the formulation of the Barbados GI. I am not a fan of the changes they want to achieve with the Jamaican GI. I think these kinds of efforts that will ruin the distinct characteristics each country has worked hard for and each countries’ histories are known for. This championing of half-assed and cutting corners of sweetening rum to please the mass market is going against what real and proper rum is striving for.
On to the review.
According to the Plantation site, this Plantation X0 20th Anniversary was bottled to honor the 20 years of Alexander Gabriel’s being a master blender. This was aged in ex-bourbon casks in Barbados then further aged in ex-cognac casks in France. According to Fatrumpirate, this has around 24g/l of added sugar. Allegedly, there are 8 to 15-year-old rum in this blend. I doubt this is truly 40% abv as the added sugar will lower the abv of this. This… rum(?) liqueur(?) costs £53.75 in the Whisky Exchange, which is the same as Amazon, or £53.95 from Master of Malt.
Plantation XO 20th Anniversary – review
On the nose: A rough and sweet greeting of coconut liqueur, toasted coconuts and cappuccino. Followed by banana liqueur, toffee, snickers, roasted almonds and milk chocolate.
In the mouth: Overwhelming tastes of banana liqueur, coconut liqueur and hints of Rocky Road ice cream. Followed by espresso latte, milk chocolate, toffee, caramel candy and milky way chocolate.
This is my opinion alone… and probably the opinion of many other rum geeks. This is too sweet. This “rum” tastes more like a coconut chocolate flavored liqueur. Drinkers with a sweet tooth may give this a high score but this is really not for me.
Aside from the sweetness, I have more complaints regarding this product. There is a huge “20” on the front which is clearly meant to make uninformed buyers think this is a “20-year-old” rum. There are already too many rums with misleading numbers on the label or fake age statements. The premium packaging will also help in making the buyer think this is a real 20-year rum. Despite the “th” of the 20th being slightly visible.
The 24g/l of added sugar in this is just sad and disgusting. Where’s the pride in being a “master blender” if one has to wrap this in premium packaging. Did Plantation bungle up the blending? Did they not put enough effort into sourcing quality stock? I’m quite sure this rum did not come to them already sweetened. Why does a brand have to hide their product behind sugar?
Disappointing. So disappointing and disgusting. I am actually sad I thought very highly of them one time. If this is the future standard of Barbados rum, then I will not buy anymore Barbados rum in the future.
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