There are many brands of rums who IMHO are guilty of misleading consumers about the ages of their rums. This is done in 3 ways:
1. Stating a number on the label without actually calling it an age statement.
2. Using a solera system where only a small fraction of the rum matches the age statement.
3. Complete fabrication.
An example of #1 is Flor de Caña. They sell a range of aged rums which carry a number 7, 12, 18, or 25 on the label. Next to that, instead of saying years old, they state ‘slow aged’, which means nothing as it has no legal definition so it is just a marketing gimmick. They depend on retailers who will happily tell consumers in their advertisements and shelf tags that these products are actually ‘X’ years old. They even advertise that they are ‘Fair Trade Certified’, which as an organization just lost all credibility for me. I sent Fair Trade an email with my concerns and am waiting to see if they respond.
Before I address #2, let’s look at the TTB rules on age statements for spirits. From the TTB BAM Ch. 8 we find: “Age is the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers”, “Age may be understated but may not be overstated”. There are no exceptions for rum or for solera processes, which I’m convinced in Spanish means bullshit age statement. So unless every single drop of a rum in the bottle has been aged in oak containers for at least 23 years, then that producer can’t label their product with a 23 year age statement. Zacapa 23 is not a 23 year old rum which consumers often mistake it as.
That brings this to example #3. Without doing a compliance check by visiting each distillery it’s not possible for me to name brands. I can do the math though. Rums aged in the tropics lose an incredible amount to angels share each year, from 7 to 12% a year. Producers do consolidate barrels as they age which helps, but does not stop this process. Losing 10% the first year and 7% each year after, which is the low end, the angel’s share is 60% after year 12. It’s an 82% loss by year 23. Start factoring in the time and expense of holding inventory for 23 years, the cost of exporting to the US, federal taxes, importation cost, the wholesaler’s and the retailer’s cut, it’s easy to see that when you see rums for sale for under $50 that boast age statements of over 20 years, alarm bells should be ringing.
The rum brands on my naughty list I will not buy include:
Flor de Caña
Kirk and Sweeny
Now getting into the brands that add sugar or other sweeteners post distillation without disclosing such is a whole other issue for a future blog post.