WIRD: Barbados rum GI must avoid ‘standardisation’

18th December, 2019 by Amy Hopkins

The West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD) has called for an “inclusive, not an exclusive” geographical indication for Barbados rum as a disagreement over the terms of the regulation wages on.

WIRD: GI “must protect all of Barbados’s rum heritage”

WIRD was acquired by French drinks maker Maison Ferrand in 2017. It is one of four distilleries based in Barbados, alongside Mount Gay, Foursquare and St Nicholas Abbey.

While all distilleries agree that a GI is important to protect the future of Barbados rum, there has not been a consensus on its specific terms, with WIRD arguing in favour of greater flexibility.

The Barbados government has asked the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation to gather each producer’s view on the GI and draft a common proposal. However, the government will not approve the legislation until all the distilleries agree on its content.

WIRD has issued a joint statement on behalf of its managing director, Andrew Hassell, and Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender at Maison Ferrand and WIRD, which produces liquid for his Plantation Rum brand.

WIRD argues that allowing Barbados rum to be made in “diverse, innovative ways” would be in keeping with the island’s history of rum-making, and that it would allow the industry to avoid “standardisation”.

The statement, provided exclusively to The Spirits Business, reads: “Our take [is] the GI is protecting the entire history of Barbados rum-making. There are techniques that have been documented and used for hundreds of years and we at West Indies Rum Distillery have been making rums this way for over a century.

“There are also many external documents [that] prove rum has been made in diverse, innovate ways and we encourage you to read them. Why should we handcuff future generations of rum makers to one particular style of rum and lead to rum standardisation in Barbados?

“We at West Indies Rum Distillery are all for an inclusive GI, not an exclusive GI. We are fighting to protect the heritage of rum and its future.”

WIRD believes the GI “must protect all of Barbados’s rum heritage, not […] modern practices”, and stay true to the “diversity” of the industry, which WIRD says it has “spent years researching”.

Specific points

WIRD makes rum for Maison Ferrand’s Plantation brand

WIRD has expressed its support for a number of points, including the requirement for Barbadian rum to be fermented and distilled (but not necessarily aged) only in Barbados.

The distillery favours “mandatory tropical ageing” in Barbados for at least one year, but argues that the “historical practice” of ‘double-ageing’ – which involves a secondary maturation period in another country – “must also be preserved”, as long as brands are transparent about it.

“It is an established historical fact that dock rums and navy rums have contributed greatly to establish rum as we know it,” said WIRD. “Importantly, the sea voyage of the rum in a barrel also contributes to its taste and aromatic character. This is not only a historical fact; it is a scientific fact.”

The distillery also argued that using only oak casks for ageing “does not make historical sense and limits rum-making to its recent practices”. As such, the distillery advocates the use of “every type of food-grade wood”.

According to WIRD, prior to the “great standardisation of the 20th century”, which led to pervasive use of ex-Bourbon barrels for rum-ageing, the spirit was matured in a variety of woods, such as chestnut, mulberry and acacia.

“We need to be able to revive this unique heritage, which offers fascinating taste profiles to be re-discovered,” said WIRD. “Limiting Barbados to American oak barrels or to oak barrels would be a great mistake that would obliterate historic practices.”

When it comes to the controversial topic of sugar, WIRD supports the use of E150a caramel or burnt sugar as long as the ingredients are stated on the label and as long as they are derived from sugarcane.

The distillery supports the use of spring, rain and sea water in fermentation, as well as water from aquifiers, and is in favour of using all yeasts.

In addition to column and pot stills, it also argues that chamber stills should be permitted. WIRD claims to be the only distillery in the world where an original 19th century chamber still remains in operation.

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