An Education on Caribbean rum

While many recognize the Caribbean as the home of rum, few understand the nuances of the spirit and what’s unique about the rums of the region. The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association (WIRSPA) aims to change that with a new rum education campaign.

The program includes a certification program for bartenders and trade professionals in Europe and North America. The group also unveiled the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque, a symbol of a spirit’s provenance, authenticity, quality and diversity earlier this year.


Fresh-cut sugarcane arrives at the Rhum Barbancourt distillery in Port au Prince, Haiti, for processing.

The region boasts a rich and diverse heritage of rum production. The spirit, which is made from sugarcane juice or molasses, was likely first distilled in Caribbean sugarcane plantations in the 17th century, after Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to Hispaniola (what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

WIRSPA hosted a group of North American spirits journalists in the Dominican Republic and Haiti this past June to provide some insight and education on the rums of the Caribbean. Here are some of the highlights.

The local flavor of Dominican rum

Ron Barcelo was founded in 1930 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Barceló Export Import, S.R.L (BEICA) was created in 2002. Its rum is produced from sugarcane by Alcoholes Finos Dominicanos (AFD), a plant that generates its own electricity from the bagasse (the dry residue from the sugar cane milling).

Barcelo rums are aged a minimum of one year in American white oak barrels; the barrels are toasted to protect the alcohol and the wood. The climate’s high humidity makes rum evaporate and age faster; producers lose up to 10% of the rum to evaporation in a year.

The company, which employs 1,112 people directly and 2,600 indirectly, has several initiatives to support the local community. Barcelo also opened a visitor’s center and museum at its processing plant in 2012 to help educate consumers on how rum is produced and the spirit’s history.

Five generations of rum making

“Water is the most important raw material in making rum—besides sugar,” says Gustavo Ortega, a fifth-generation master distiller with Brugal. The water used to make Brugal’s rum comes from the Puerto Plata mountain springs in the Dominican Republic.


Gustavo Ortega, a fifth-generation master distiller with the Brugal rum brand in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Founded more than 125 years ago, Brugal rum has been owned by The Edrington Group since 2008. The company has introduced a number of new rums and styles, including Brugal 1888 rum in 2011.

The first rum as a result of working with Edrington, 1888 is aged in white American oak casks, followed by two to four years in first-filled Spanish sherry oak casks—the same casks used to age the parent company’s Macallan Scotch whisky.

Brugal at press time had just released its Papá Andrés 2015 Alegria Edition, which is priced at $1,500 and comes in a crystal decanter. Profits from the rum will go to the Brugal Foundation, which aims to reduce poverty in the Dominican Republic.

Persevering after disaster strikes

Founded in 1862, Rhum Barbancourt uses sugarcane—no molasses—for its rum. The harvested sugarcane is crushed and processed at  Barbancourt’s facility in Port au Prince, Haiti. The rum is distilled twice and aged in large French limousin oak casks.


Extracting the juice from the sugarcane at Barbancourt.

When the massive earthquake devastated Haiti in January 2010, the Barbancourt distillery lost nearly half of the rum it was aging, says owner Thierry Gardere, whose great-great uncle Dupré Barbancourt started the company. Barbancourt was out of commission for months due to damages from the quake.

But the distillery has come roaring back in the past five years, with a rebranding and new products, including Pango, a pineapple-mango expression. Barbancourt is also planning a major facility expansion.

WIRSPA Makes Its Marque

A key part of WIRSPA’s rum education initiative is the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque, a stamp of authenticity, provenance and quality for rums produced in 13 Caribbean countries.

To start, WIRSPA aims to use the marque to promote the development of Authentic Caribbean Rum as a distinct sector within the beverage alcohol industry. But as adaptation of it increases, the marque will serve as a visual symbol to help trade customers and consumers identify ACR brands.


Charring barrels at the rum, bottling and aging facility of Barcelo in the Dominican Republic.

WIRSPA’s program also includes a rum education campaign for bartenders and trade professionals in Europe and North America. The initial stage involves training sessions led by WIRSPA’s international panel members across Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Individuals who complete the training receive the Authentic Caribbean Rum Diploma.

After obtaining the diploma, trade professionals can apply for full certification. This includes a one-week training program with rum producers in the Caribbean. Participants visit different distilleries and experience the full rum-making experience, from the sugar cane fields to fermentation, distillation, aging and blending.

The program aims to increase knowledge among trade professionals on the diversity and quality of Caribbean rum, according to WIRSPA chairman Dr. Frank Ward. Authentic Caribbean Rum is produced in nearly 30 distilleries in the island region.

Producers currently licensed are Angostura Ltd., Antigua Distillery Ltd., Barcelo, Brugal, Demerara Distillers Ltd., Grenada Distillers Ltd., Hampden Estate, J Wray and Nephew Ltd., Mount Gay Distilleries Ltd., National Rums of Jamaica, RL Seale, Rhum Barbancourt, St. Lucia Distillers Ltd., St. Nicholas Abbey, St. Vincent Distillery, Suriname Alcoholic Beverages, Travellers Liquors, Westerhall Estate and West Indies Rum Distillery Ltd.

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