Feel like your getting old? Imagine sitting in a wooden barrel in the Caribbean heat for a few years. Ageing any spirit is a difficult and expensive process. For rum, these problems are compounded tenfold over other spirits given the proximity of the nearest cooperage from where many of the islands making the rum can buy the barrels, so why do we spend time and money ageing?
Well let’s start with the obvious reason that in our beautiful rum nation of Australia we are one of the only countries that require any product labelled as “Rum” to be aged for a minimum of 2yrs in wooden barrels. Because of this old fashioned law many amazing and world recognised brands of rum are unavailable in Australia. With heavy taxes and a difficult legal system (imported rums still fall under a fuel law) many brands simply choose European and American markets for there rum.
Now that we got legal obligation out of the way we can talk about the most important part, flavour! Much of the Caribbean locally drink rum ‘straight off the still’, but there is a growing desire for aged rum on our side of the world, which has left many rum producers turning the oak. The significance of buying barrels from America, and even as far as Europe, is not an age statement, it is one of the oldest the flavouring techniques used, in essence ‘spicing’ rum. Through the breathing process of the oak rum is sucked into the oak in the heat and expelled back in the cold, leading to introduction of flavours such as vanillin and tannin from the specific oak being used. Given that temperature effects the introduction of the flavours from the barrels, the extreme temperatures of the Caribbean means a big difference compared to that in Europe, especially after a few years. Ageing in the Caribbean occurs on average three times quicker than in the UK and much of Europe due to this temperature disparity, hot days and cold nights. This is referred to as ‘tropical ageing’ and means it is important to consider where the rum in your hand comes from.
Another consideration is trusting the accuracy of that statement, which in the Caribbean, is a difficult thing considering the lack policing and internationally accepted standards. An age statement on rum is only ever as relevant as the listed country of origin. As difficult as all this might seem I’ve always found that quality is a flavour, not the shape of the bottle or a pretty label. If you’re in doubt about whether or not your rum tastes good then pick up a glass and have a taste, like it?