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The new pure Super Rums

It’s about time some new – and pure – rums have appeared.

At The Rum Project it’s been our sad experience to find that many bottles labeled “rum” are not pure, but are colored and adulterated with all manner of additives including sugar, glycerol, artificial and “natural” flavorings, even sherry. When this is legal or not is debatable (we think not), but no one can dispute rums like Pyrat XO, Zaya or Diplomatico Reserva are quite altered in this fashion. Some are so syrupy sweet that they’d be better labeled “rum liqueurs”.

Still there are many rum drinkers who could care less, as long as “it tastes good”. The result: rum remains a rogue spirit, especially when compared to fine single malts which contain no coloring or additives of any kind, and often are bottled at higher or barrel proof (say 45 – 60% abv) and often are not even chill filtered.

But that is finally changing.

Two rums in particular have gone public: Diplomatico Ambassador Selection Rum (at $312) and Panamonte XXV Reserva Preciosa at about $400 per copy. Both justify their high price by exclaiming their purity! The Diplomatico Ambassador is alleged to be 100% heavy pot still rum first aged in oak barrels for 12 years, then finished in Pedro Ximenez Sherry barrels for another two, then bottled at the cask strength of 94 proof. The distiller claims “…no sweetener, caramel or other additives” are used, and that the rum is not chill filtered.

That’s pretty impressive. And the $400 Panamonte claims “…a blend of rare Panamanian aged rums…from molasses are matured for twenty five years in premium American white oak barrels once used for bourbon. There are no additives, colorings or other barrels used in this slow aging process…”.

Why is this important?

Two very expensive rums are promoting their purity, free of colorings, sweeteners, caramel or additives of any kind! This really puts the screws to the many distillers who have scrupulously avoided making such statements for the simple reason that their labeled “rum” does contain such adulterants, flavorings and additives. The Rum Project has long promoted the need for purity and honest in labeling and reviewing for some years now, a position that has not found much favor at the quasi-commercial sites.

Thus it is simply delicious that Diplomatico and Pantamonte have joined others, not least Richard Seale in promoting purity. That pot stilling, barrel proof and non-chillfiltering are also being promoted is just more icing on this new rum cake. What will be most interesting is to see the usual suspects and rum promoters pushing these pure rums on one hand, and the altered quasi-rums on the other…

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  1. Interesting but pretty absurdly priced. They justify price by promoting purity, which is actually less work for them (not filtering, coloring, etc.).

    Also, fyi, single malts can indeed (and many do) add coloring, though there is a trend to leave it out. That being said, you are absolutely right that rum is the wild west compared to heavily regulated whiskey.

    Still, a 14 year old single malt that put on a $350 price tag just because it was free of coloring would be laughed off the shelf.

    1. A couple of comments:

      First of all, regulations do allow for the addition of caramel coloring to single malts.

      Second, I'm not sure what's impressive about making consumers pay over $300 for a spirit without additives. Neither of these distillers is willing to make such a claim about any of their lower-priced offerings? Seems to me like a good reason to avoid ALL of their products.

      1. Good comments, agreed. It should be noted that Richard Seales has long promoted the additive-free purity of his rums which sell in South Florida from $15 to $24. Pusser's Blue Label also promotes its purity and lack of additives and can be had from $19 to $24.

        The issue is not the outrageous price of these rums, but (a) that they have now established "purity" as an indicator of quality and (b) the fact that most of what is labeled "rum" actually contains all manner of unadmitted additives.

        Now the other distillers will be forced to either admit their purity, or be doubted by their silence in not addressing the issue. This puts rum promoters in a real bind as the buying public questions the contents and seeks perceived quality represented by purity.

        It goes without saying that achieving harmony, complexity and balance through skilled fermentation, batch distillation and long and expensive aging is far, far more expensive than simply modifying thin and relatively tasteless column produced distillate to taste "rum-like" by the cheap and simple addition of color, flavorings and additives.

        1. Followup question on this topic: do agricole rums adhere to purity standards?

          2 Replies
          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            Ed Hamilton on the Ministry of Rum forum said "AOC regulations do not permit the addition of flavoring to rhum agricole. It should be noted that the AOC regulations for rhum agricole only affect that rhum made in Martinique and not all rum made in Martinique is AOC rhum agricole."

            So finally some r(h)ums that have the same purity levels as mentioned in the first post for 10-20x less cost!

            1. re: yarm

              There is sometimes an assumption that Martinique's AOC branded cane juice rums (established about 1996) sets the standards for what are called "agricoles".

              Actually what the French call "agricoles", or cane juice rums have been around for several hundred years. Cane juice "agricoles" are made in Haiti, Guyana, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Marie Galante, Reunion, St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Brazil (called cachaca), and even Barbados. And, oh yes, Martinique. These all produce rum from cane juice and almost all of them do not carry the AOC label designation.

              The local Martinique AOC cane juice rums are simply a subset of the cane juice category, and their local laws do not control any other agricoles. In fact and as admitted by Hamilton, there are agricoles made in Martinique that do not choose to carry the label, and thus do not have to submit to local laws regarding additives.

              Still, most of the world's cane juice rums are likely purer than most molasses based rums. Haiti's Barbancourt, perhaps the largest distiller of cane juice rums, is a fine example. The point remains that purity is something that most sophisticated tasters appreciate and seek. That two large producers are now promoting additive and coloring free purity as indicative of high quality is hopeful.

          2. Its ironic that the things we like about rum come from the impurities in the alcohol due to the pot distillation and barrel aging. ;)

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            1 Reply
            1. re: EvergreenDan

              Perhaps Everclear 190 will now raise their prices, lol...

            2. I am still amused by this:

              "but are colored and adulterated with all manner of additives including sugar, glycerol, artificial and “natural” flavorings, __even sherry__."

              "The Diplomatico Ambassador is alleged to be 100% heavy pot still rum first aged in oak barrels for 12 years, then finished in __Pedro Ximenez Sherry barrels__ for another two"

              Why switch barrels from possibly new (or more likely old barrels adulterated with Bourbon contaminants) into barrels that add the additional flavor of *gasp* sherry? Sherry casks are not cheap but are sought after for what they contribute to the flavor of the aging spirit.

              2 Replies
              1. re: yarm

                It is a common misconception that ex-sherry barrels are are just chock full of absorbed or leftover sherry which - magically - does not go to vinegar and voila! Adds sherry flavors. Just like most rums and single malts taste like corn-based bourbon because of all that leftover bourbon.

                An interesting story is that of Macallan Single Malt whiskies, long known for their use of sherry seasoned Spanish oak and their "sherry profile", consisting of overtones of apricot and orange. Macallan used many thousands of ex-sherry barrels and the day arrived when they simply could not be had. Macallan then contracted their own Spanish oak, coopered their own barrels and "rented" them to the sherry producers, to be returned to Macallan. Even this failed when sherry producers decided they preferred American oak.

                Macallan's solution: In desperation they then contracted for Spanish oak (Quercus robur) and used it plain - without sherry seasoning! Amazing! And the result: they discovered that the wood - Spanish oak - was far more important than the sherry in maintaining their well known "sherry profile".

                1. re: Capn Jimbo

                  Well, I do confess that's the first time I've ever heard of Quercus robur referred to as "Spanish Oak." Q. robur is most often called English oak by those who build ships and defeat the Spanish Armada; in the wine trade, Q. robur is often called French oak -- so, too, however, is Quercus petraea. Slovenian oak, popular in Italy and here in the U.S., is also Q. robur.

                  Quercus alba is commonly known as American oak, and is found throughout the eastern US and the upper Midwest. In Oregon, however, the oak is different: Quercus garryana. Both are used in winemaking.

                  The good news about Sherry is that it's actually not that easy to turn into vinegar -- especially Pedro Ximenez which, again, is the ONLY sherry that is sweet as it ages in the barrel. And if you've ever rinsed out casks and dared to taste the water after a sweet wine has aged within, there *is* some sweetness there -- that isn't when rinsing out, for example, a dry red wine.

              2. >>> The Diplomatico Ambassador is alleged to be 100% heavy pot still rum first aged in oak barrels for 12 years, then finished in Pedro Ximenez Sherry barrels for another two, then bottled at the cask strength of 94 proof. The distiller claims “…no sweetener, caramel or other additives” are used, and that the rum is not chill filtered. <<<

                Bourbon -- by law and regulation -- must be aged in charred new American white oak (i.e.: the new whiskey must be placed in new wood). Sherry is typically ALSO aged in American white oak. but -- as with *all* wines -- the barrels are *not* charred.

                Charring the oak caramelizes the sugars in the wood. Whether there is any sweetness left in the oak after the Bourbon has been bottled is debatable.

                ALL sherries age as completely DRY (no measurable sugars) wines with the exception of Pedro Ximenez (or "PX"). Add PX to a dry Oloroso sherry and the result is a Cream Sherry. The aging of PX in barrels *definitely* leaves not only flavors from the PX in the wood, but also some sugar.

                No additives? No sweetener? No caramel? I have no doubt that nobody from Destilerías Unidas is standing over the casks adding caramel coloring or C&H pure cane sugar, or _________ to the rum as its aging. But certainly the rum is picking up flavors, AND sweetness, from the oak . . . .

                1 Reply
                1. re: zin1953

                  Another misconception is that charring releases wood sugars - actually it destroys them. OTOH toasting does create some sugars, but only enough to create a bit of vague sweetness. You can be sure that the syrupy, clinging sweetness you experience in many rums has been added. The unlabeled use of sugar, glycerol, artificial flavorings and real sherry is another matter.

                  Those very few rums that do use sherry finishing both admit and promote it. BTW, Panamonte Preciosa does NOT finish in Spanish oak and promotes that point. And both Panamonte and the Ambassador headline the fact that they are free of the unlabeled, non-wood related additional and unadmitted additives common to so many of the common rums.

                  And that is the point. Speaking for myself I want to know whether what I am tasting is due to the rum (fermented cane sugar, syrup or cane molasses), its fermentation, distillation and long and expensive aging in traditional oak barrels or due to the relatively cheap additional additives and artificial flavors dumped into lesser rums.

                  I won't soon forget a demonstration I attended in Miami where Richard Seale poured the crowd his "new rum" and asked three questions: Cane juice or molasses? Column or pot stilled? And age? Most guessed pot stilled molasses based rum, 7 to 10 years old. He then admitted he'd phonied up a brand new thin column-stilled rum with vanillas and other additives to "make it taste aged".

                  We'd all been had. It is this practice that these new rums are challenging - and making you pay for - the absence of such shenanigans.