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Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Sugar

Code of Federal Regulations 5.22 (f) Class 6; rum.

“Rum” is an alcoholic distillate from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugar cane by-products, produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to rum, and bottled at not less than 80° proof; and also includes mixtures solely of such distillates.

I didn’t realize it till very recently, but there has been a battle brewing for the last year and a half. On one side are the Zacapas and El Dorados of the world, and on the other are those that prize their pancreas. Last year both the Finnish and Swedish governments tested a number of rums for sugar content and adulterants. And turns out sugar is added to a lot of rums, with El Dorado 15 year, Ron Zacapa Gran Reserva, and Plantation 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum XO being some of the worst offenders.

Enthusiasts came out of the woodwork to defend the honor of their beloved rum. Cognac is allowed up to 10g/L of sugar and/or wood sugar added post-distillation, tequila is allowed up to 1% not additives, and American whiskey up to 2.5%. Others let loose scorn - of course some rums have sugar added, can’t you taste anything (calling tastes into question)? A real dust devil that whipped anyone up and about, some swearing off their favorites, - but for how long? - others cozying up to their near and dear, pretending nothing had happened. Reform and labeling were called for but nothing to besmirch the great name of rum. Praises of the goodhearted small producer versus the megacorp. A true tizzy.

While I am alarmed at the amount of sugar added to some rums – for the record Martinique, Jamaican, and Barbados rums, from those countries, not rebottled elsewhere, are considered untouched by the debate – I find it curious how is allowed under our legal definitions. I’m not one for government interference, but if we are going to have importation restrictions why would we turn a blind eye? Obviously, Finland and Sweden had good reason to run analyses of these rums.

I am taking the news with caution. I still imbibe and enjoy El Dorado 12yr and Diplomatico Exclusiva Reserva but I have renewed respect for producers like Appleton and Mount Gay. Sweeter rums have shifted, in my mind, to postprandial treats. Or to be used in cocktails with ingredients that will buoy the sweetness.

I can understand some shifting away from the sugar bomb rums and others not caring. Giving people the information to make their own choice is the key here.

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