One of the historical aspects that rum shares with Scotch is blending.
According to more knowledgeable rum geeks, there were no rum brands from the 1600s until the mid-1800; Bacardi became the first to appear in the 1860s. Most sugar estates in the Caribbean had distilleries in them, from which they’d sell their rum to merchants and/or blenders. In the case of British Caribbean islands, a lot of the rum would end up with the Navy. Some examples of rum merchants are Martin Doorlys and Frederick Myers.
This is pretty similar to the history of Scotch, wherein merchants would buy single malt and grain whisky from distilleries and then bottle the blends under their own brands. The legacies of those blenders are still alive today with brands like Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker around. Glenfiddich was the first single malt distillery to bottle and sell their own whisky in the 1960s. In any case, this practice of buying rum from distilleries is still very alive today. In fact, before this rum boom, Caribbean rum distilleries kept themselves afloat by bottling and selling rum in their local market, or they sold rum in bulk to brokers and blenders.
The rum boom has brought new life mostly to old Caribbean rum distilleries. Previously dormant and/or sparingly-active distilleries like Long Pond and Hampden have recently ramped up production. Foursquare Distillery, while active since they started in the nineties, has been investing in new equipment. Distilleries like Worthy Park have even been encouraged enough to start bottling their own rum. This is something, in spite of their long existence, that they’ve never done. In addition to all of these steps, some distilleries have even stopped selling aged stock to brokers.
Rum distilleries slowly getting more recognition has brought up a conundrum for the independent bottlers (IBs). Similar to the Scotch industry, some distilleries don’t let IBs use their names. This is partly because they want to keep a certain image in terms of the profile of their product; sometimes, it results in an IB purchasing a distillate that doesn’t conform to a distillery’s usual profile. Companies probably also don’t want the regular consumer to identify an IB’s bottling as their own. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list as to why others don’t want IBs to use their names. Just a few ideas as to why.
It was brought up in this video that rum distilleries partially owe the recognition they enjoy now to the IBs who have bottled them. This is a view I endorse. My first taste of Hampden rum was through Habitation Velier’s 2010 LROK release. Demerara rum wouldn’t be as famous as it is now if it weren’t for the now-legendary Velier bottlings that were initially bottled in the late nineties. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to buy their respective distillery bottlings.
This prompted the owner of Compagnie Des Indes (CDI), Florent Beuchet, to say in the video that he considers it unfair that bottlers like him are being restricted from using certain distillery names, which makes sense to me. Why handicap someone who helped you become better known, after all? When not allowed to use distillery names, bottlers like CDI and SBS now resort to placing the rum’s vintage and country of origin on the label. If possible, they will add clues such as still type and/or distillery marque.
Discussions like this have led to the question of whether are independent bottlers really (in)dependent, or should they be called dependent bottlers? Yes, they are free to do what they want with the rum they purchase. They can spice or blend or age it in whatever cask they want for however long—but without access to their spirit of choice, what will they sell? One example is St. Lucia Distillers (SLD) from St. Lucia (obviously, but good to confirm), who has stopped selling stock to brokers and blenders.
Previously, one could only get high-proof single cask bottlings from them via brands like Hamilton. Now, SLD is offering single casks themselves. If certain distilleries don’t allow their names to be used, how does that affect the value of the IB’s product? If you think about it, an IB can age a spirit in whatever cask/s and for any length, but the IB is at the mercy of the source when it comes to the distillate’s quality. Casks cannot make shit distillate into gold. Doesn’t this make them dependent on the distilleries and thus dependent bottlers?
Compagnies Des Indes (CDI) is a brand I’ve only touched on once in the past. They’re one of my favorite indy rum bottlers, so upon noticing this topic, I immediately started working on this article. The first time I saw their product was in Japan in 2018. Being completely unaware of them, I searched the web for reviews. I found some along with this article written by The Lone Caner. So far, my experience with them is few, as I only own a few bottles and some sample bottles. They’re luckily available in Japan and Singapore, which has made it easier for me to source them. As far as I know, they have no distribution in America. Apologies to the US-based readers.
As mentioned above, CDI is owned by Florent Beuchet. According to this article, he comes from a family of wine growers, which shows us that alcohol is in his blood. Being a French-based company, they’re more available and better-known in the EU. He said that he started swooning over rums when he worked as brand manager for Banks Rum in NYC. (For those who don’t know what Banks is, it’s a rum brand that is partially owned and represented by Jim Meehan. The brand was initially independent but is mainly owned by Bacardi now. They source and blend rum from different countries like Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Indonesia.) Upon seeing the beauty of rum, he decided to launch his own brand when he returned to the EU. It’s likely that being surrounded by bartenders who crafted great rum cocktails also had a huge impact.
He formed CDI in 2014. The bulk of his inventory comes from Holland (most likely E&A Scheer in Amsterdam) and UK (most likely Main Rum in Liverpool). What caught and keeps the attention of rum geeks is his refusal to sweeten any of his rums. According to The Lone Caner, he has no patience for rum with “solera” age statements, AKA fake age statements. Transparency, honesty and not sweetening rum may be common these days, but back in 2014, a lot of rum brands were less transparent or straight-up denied sweetening their rum. Plenty of rum brands are still in denial of their shenanigans. Safe to say he shares the same beliefs with Richard Seale and Luca Gargano.
Aside from not cutting corners and selling honest rum, CDI is known for the single-cask releases, although there are some groans; some of these single casks are diluted. Nevertheless, the few I’ve tried from him have been good to great. He seems to have a particular fondness for the Danish market since he only bottles special releases for them.
I remember CDI bottling some New Yarmouth Jamaican rum a couple of years ago. This caused a commotion in a good way, as New Yarmouth rarely gets bottled as a single distillery. In case you’re wondering why, it’s Appleton’s lesser-known sister distillery, said to produce the Wray & Nephew rums. They’re not all single casks: they bottle their own blends, too. Some of what I know of are the Boulet de Canon series, which are finished in ex-peated Scotch casks. There’s also a Caraibes blend and a 5 year Jamaica blend, none of which I’ve tried yet.
One of the rum from my collection which I consider very interesting is this 18 year old Guyanese from the now-closed Uitvlugt distillery. Don’t worry; all the stills in it were moved to the Diamond Distillery. Aside from the age, it is a single cask aged in ex-Armagnac casks. How often does one come across any spirit aged ex-Armagnac casks? According to CDI’s website, the rum was distilled from the four column metal Savalle still. It is bottled at 45%.
Compagnie Des Indes Guyana Uitvlugt 18 Year – Review
Distilled Nov 1997. Bottled April 2016. Cask: MGA4.
On the nose: Medium and lasting aromas of licorice, anise, cloves, allspice, rotten bananas, browned apples, tea, nutmegs and toffee with bits of dark chocolate. At the end are light aromas of tepache, lanzones peel, kombucha, raw ginger, paint thinner and lemon peel oils. Some pepperiness goes in-between the aromas at random points.
In the mouth: This is very similar to the nose, but the notes are in a different order. There are medium tastes of tea, tepache, kombucha, toffee, rotten bananas, nutmeg, lanzones peel, browned apples, licorice, anise, cloves and allspice. In between are very short bursts of unpeeled ginger, banana peel and paint thinner. At the end are just-as-intense tastes of Chinese medicine root, sarsaparilla and bayleaf.
This is a complex and full-bodied rum. It gives off a lot of unique flavors you won’t get from other rum-producing countries. Sadly, I don’t have experience with Savalle distillate, so I can’t pinpoint which flavor comes from distillate, or which come from the cask influence.
If you’re looking to explore more rum, this is a great rum bottler to follow. He only focuses on bottling rum, which is unlike IBs like SMWS, Kill/Golden Devil and Berry Bros who focus on whisky. Another good point is the prices are reasonable. I remember finding this in Japan for about $90. 18-year-old rum aged in an uncommon cask for that price sounds like a steal, no?
I have that 5 year old Jamaica blend but at Navy Strength. There’s a fair amount of CDI available down here in Australia at all different ABV’s for whatever reason, including a few at 40%
I’m guessing the high alcohol tax there forces the brand to lower the abv? From what I recall, the 5 year old Jamaica blend is bottled at a slightly higher abv. Good to know CDI is fairly available there too. They bottle good stuff.
Good read. Thanks. I’ve only tasted CDI’s West Indies 8 blend, and quite enjoyed it, despite it being a tad one-size-fits-all, if you know what I mean. Still, good easy-access stuff. I’ll be on the lookout for a single cask bottling. In France, I’m spoiled for choice.
Interesting reflections on the “Secret” labeling for some of CDI’s rums and the idea of dependence for independent bottlers. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other yet, but in rum the “Secret” labeling looks less silly than it does for some single malt scotch whiskies. I chuckle when I see “Secret Orkney” on a label. Haha, seriously?
It would be interesting to hear from a brand ambassador himself or herself as to why brands impose the “Secret” labeling.
Thanks for the kind words. It’s still hard to get CDI in Asia but I look forward to getting more bottles from him.
The using of “secret” distilleries seems to be a way for the distilleries to “protect” their own brand. I think this is sad. It’s understandable that they guard their name against dubious brands who will take shortcuts for a profit but good brands like CDI should be allowed to use their name. It’s additional marketing in my opinion.