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Plantation XO 20th Anniversary

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

Color: caramel.

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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 3/10

There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement if you want to make a purchase then that’s great.

CategoriesRum
  1. Scott
    Scott says:

    Excellent article mate. Really sticking it to the man.

    “Yes. This is me making a stand against Maison Ferrand.”

    I’m standing with you brother.

    1. Avatar
      René says:

      I have enjoyed reading your article, very interesting. I have never been a fan of rum, but a few years back I decided to open up my horizons. After some research to better understand this beverage, I found my best enjoyment with these two following rum; “Barbancourt” Haitian rum and “El Dorado” Guyanese rum.
      They are very different from eachother but I found great reviews for the both of them.
      I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions about them, if this is something that interests you.

      1. Avatar
        Charlosa says:

        Not generally disagreeing with points raised in this “review” of the Plantation XO 20th Anniversary, but there’s a few comments I’d like to make in response:

        1. Yes, there are definitely issues with the way that Maison Ferrand are trying to mess with the Barbados GI. I personally think that the other 3 distilleries are on the right track and Maison Ferrand are wrong about the GI. However, I do think that that the GI aspect of this review should have been written as a separate opinion piece and referenced in the review.
        2. The paragraph with the statement: “But they just can’t call whatever they make in WIRD Barbados rum” is a little one sided. You’re right that rum that is sent over to France, to be second aged and treated to their dosage process of adding “aged sugar” (their words not mine) shouldn’t get to call it Barbados rum, based on the GI that’s been proposed by the majority of the distilleries on the island. But, in theory, there shouldn’t actually be anything to stop WIRD producing Barbados rum, which could meet the proposed GI and therefore be able to call it Barbados rum. Of course whether they’re willing to do so is a different matter.
        3. Despite all the information provided re Barbados rum, the proposed GI and the different approach to rum by Plantation and its parent Maison Ferrand, you end up finishing the review by tarring all Barbados rum with the same brush in the statement: “If this is the future standard of Barbados rum, then I will not buy anymore Barbados rum in the future.” Irrespective of whether Maison Ferrand win or lose (hopefully lose) in their efforts to change the Barbados GI, the other producers are not likely to follow their lead and as such you should very much advise drinkers to try Barbados rum, but to encourage them to look at the rums from Foursquare, Mount Gay and St Nicholas Abbey distilleries.

        Otherwise, great job 🙂

        Cheers

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Charlosa,

          1. Yes, I admit that was a mistake on my part. But I did cover my ass by saying I am making a stand against MF. It should already hint I am not for the GI they want.

          2. That’s the point there. Nobody is stopping them from making what they want. But they want to use the Barbados rum name to make some of their rum more prestigious. They can still sell their product as rum but not as Barbados rum.

          3. My last sentence was meant to… scare people. The world is filled with ersatz products inspired(?) by more quality and integrity filled products. If people want to enjoy Barbados rum now, as Foursquare is fighting to keep, they should be aware of this. Vote with their wallet I guess.

          The majority of Barbados rum I’ve had are from Foursquare. Mt. Gay is not very interesting to me. SNA is very hard to get from where I live. So I’ve only been really encouraging people to try Foursquare. I already did a vertical on them a while back.

          Cheers

      2. John
        John says:

        Hi Rene,

        Barbancourt is more of an enigma to me. The impression I get from more knowledgeable and usually older rum geeks is it’s past its golden days. They changed their production process which hurt the quality. It used to enjoy being the only Haitian rum in the market. But after Luca Gargano started bottling and selling Clairin from various producers, Clairin started taking the spotlight. Although Clairin is more of the spirit of Haiti and not Haitian rum.

        I already reviewed the El Dorado 15 and 21. Look it up if you haven’t.

  2. Avatar
    bifter says:

    Why don’t you tell us what you really think, John? 😉

    I’ve enjoyed this rum before but I agree it is overly sweet, I wondered how much of that came from the cognac and how much potentially from added sugar but I think you’ve clarified that for me! I intend to give Foursquare a try sometime soon.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Bifter,

      Alexander likes to talk about how they age sugar syrup in used barrels in Cognac. While I agree this can elevate the quality of sugar, I still don’t like drinking sweetened rum. So it could be both? I assume they also sweeten their Cognac (it’s legal) if they sweeten their rum. That sweetening should also linger in the ex-Cognac barrels.

      I already did a Foursquare Vertical a while back. Check that out if you haven’t.
      Cheers

  3. Avatar
    Tom says:

    John, great piece and I’m totally in agreement with your angle. I’ve enjoyed rum for some years now but have only begun my forays into more premium offerings. After initially being wowed by the Plantation XO I came across the documentation of their dosage practices and felt cheated – how much of what I tasted was the sugar and how much the quality of the production practices and aging? What makes this more egregious is that Maison Ferrand (which makes some delicious cognac, to show I’m not too biased) is forbidden in its cognac production from chaptalization, or adding sugar. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

    Thankfully and as you point out there are options for quality Barbados rum that experiment with new techniques as well. I have a bottle of the Real McCoy 12 year Madeira cask open now – the cask adds some really fun elements while not overpowering the rum. While a blend of pot and column stills it all comes from and is bottled at FourSquare under the McCoy label.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for commenting. Cognac actually allows dosing. The big boys dose their Cognac to maintain consistency. I don’t know if Ferrand doses their Cognac. Because I’ve only had a few of their Cognacs but I’m more likely to assume they do. Alexander likes to talk about how they age their sugar syrup in barrels to, the way I see it, elevate dosage.

      If you’re a huge Foursquare fan, I’ve heard from some rum geeks that the Real McCoy Madeira tastes like the beloved Foursquare Criterion. I haven’t had any Real McCoy yet but I’d love to some day. I’m told it has a higher pot still content in the blend.

  4. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Excellent article John. It’s a great shame that this sort of rum is the only option for many in the world that want to try something other than regular corner shop rum. In a country like Spain it’s the only option but I know there’s not much choice in the U.S.A and Canada too for goodness sake. That’s one heck of a lot of sugar in that but it’s okay for those tiki cocktails but not for straight drinking. “Innovation” – yeah right, do me a favour. My epiphany moment, quite some tears ago, was a bottle of the much touted Ron Millonario XO. It was beyond sweet liqueur and had the texture of cough medicine. I changed sides after that. I tend to be hardcore about this and go with Seale and Gargano but rum is a large family and I think we can accommodate all sorts within limits. Nevertheless, I’m in tune with you about the future direction. Rum can be a great drink right up there with the best of whiskys, however, just like whisky, it’s the money that talks. Cheers John. WT

  5. John
    John says:

    Hi WT,

    I know a lot of bartenders too who don’t like sweetened rum. It makes the cocktail less flexible as they can only add a lot less sweeteners. I’ve drank this in a Corn N Oil but added a lot more bitters to counteract the sweetness.

    The US is slowly getting better rum selection. Foursquare is more available now. LM&V is also getting into markets of the US.

    I’ve never tried Ron Millionario but I’ve learned to steer clear of the “rons” as a lot of them are sweetened.

    Cheers

  6. Avatar
    chris says:

    wish I read your article befor buying the plantation in the carib. The 20th drew me in foolishly as a spontaneous buy, yep sucker bait. Bought it along with my usual English harbor 5 and my beloved Old Grog to max out my booze limit

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for commenting. On the bright side you won’t repeat the same mistake? English Harbour, while a bit sweetened, is pretty good rum though!

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