From the editors

Rum, Scotch and the rules of the game

  • ‘Glenfiddich single malt: made in Italy.’ Can you imagine that on a label? If you can, then can you also envisage the stooshie that would ensue?

    Just before lawyers start sharpening their quills and calculating their fees, this has not happened. Neither will it happen. It won’t, because Scotch is one of the most tightly regulated spirits in the world. It has controls and laws covering everything from production to labelling.

    Some firms may occasionally chafe against the limits of these rules, but they are there for a good reason – such as stopping people making ‘Glenfiddich’ anywhere other than in Scotland.

    It sounds an absurd notion that an internationally recognised brand would have its name stolen by another firm, which then placed it on one of its own bottles. I mean to say, old boy, there’re things called trademarks. It’s just not done to steal another chap’s rights in this fashion. To which I say: welcome to the happy world of rum.

    Just two weeks ago, Bacardi announced the US-wide distribution of a brand called ‘Havana Club’, but made in Puerto Rico. Yes, I know. Havana is in Cuba. What’s more, Havana Club is a trademarked Cuban rum brand. Even the US recognises this. Bacardi, however, doesn’t accept this state of affairs.

    The launch of Puerto Rican ‘Havana Club’ is the firm’s latest attempt to ensure that Cuban rum cannot enter the United States and has more to do with spite and a fear of the erosion of brand share than it has of upholding any noble legal position.

    Havana Club logo

    Rum do: Bacardi’s Havana Club is produced in Puerto Rico

    A Scotch whisky site isn’t the place to enter into the intricacies of the long-running case – which is making various lawyers very rich – but it is evidence of how important strong regulations are in protecting brand rights.

    The current argument in rum – which has acquired the same heat as NAS in Scotch – is over sugar addition. In some countries adding sugar is banned, in others it is legal. Neither is there an upper limit on how much sugar can be added – as there is with cachaça or Cognac – or whether it should be declared on the label.

    Those who add sugar (and other additives such as vanilla and citrus) say it isn’t illegal, and anyway it has been common practice for centuries (which is true). Those who are against it say it fools drinkers into thinking rum is sweet, covers up immaturity and erodes distillery and national rum character. Can you imagine a similar debate in Scotch? No. Because the sugar issue wouldn’t arise.

    Rum has another issue, this time over age statements. In some countries – Cuba and Puerto Rico, for example – the new distillate has to spend a minimum amount of time in cask before it can be called rum. In others it’s rum as soon as it appears in the spirit safe.

    In some countries – Cuba, the English- and French-speaking Caribbean – the age declared on the label is defined by the youngest component in the blend. In others, where solera aging is practised, an average age is calculated. Some firms simply put a number on the bottle. Result: confusion. Again, could this happen in Scotch? No.

    Most rum producers agree that tighter regulations are needed and look at Scotch with a certain degree of envy, but it is difficult to achieve consensus as rum is already governed by various and occasionally conflicting national regulations. It is unlikely that global regulations could ever be applied.

    The result is that a major part of rum education involves trying to explain all of these differing ways of making the product and cutting a clear path through the confusion – before you can even start talking about the spirit in a balanced, generic fashion.

    So for those who rail against Scotch’s rules – be careful what you wish for.

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