During my passage at “Le Salon du Rhum du Belgique” my curiosity about Belgian Rum increased, as I saw many local Brands of rum I had never heard about. Speaking to these Brand managers it seemed that most of them were famous for their Gin. In Belgium Gin is very popular as it is a leading country in Grain based alcoholic beverages. Belgium is a world leading producer of beers, Jenevers (similar to gin but traditional to Belgium) and Gin’s. They all have the base product as a common ingredient. For centuries many villages in Belgium have a brewery and a lot of them a distillery. In the last 5 years, due to the popularity of Gin&Tonic the number of distilleries increased. There are many villages with a Gin distillery or only a Gin brand were they blend grain alcohol with botanical mixtures without distillation. Korhaan Distillery making Gin since 1833.
Most of these Gin producers now come with their own Rum. Some of them also went into Vodka, Whiskey and Cognac, however not using the “cognac” name on the bottle. I will leave the motivations to start creating, branding and advertising Rum out of the scope of this article, as there can be many. It can be for the love of the noble spirit RUM. It can be because Rum is getting more popular worldwide. It can also be in addition to Gin sales as the popularity of Gin&Tonic is over its peak. It can also be because it is possible to label the word RUM on any distillate that is more or less connected to what we know as Rum. There are no laws that will stop them using their Gin based botanical creativity on a Rum based distillate. The same would not be possible with Cognac, Whiskey, Armagnac, etc…. Rumstylez @ Le Salon du Rhum du Belgique.
When Leaving the “Le Salon du Rhum du Belgique” this experience was only a footnote as I had tasted some of the best Rums in the world on the event. My mind was more on the Plantation Extreme n°3 Long Pond’s, the Vulcan Chambers Still Rum from Barbados, the new Grand Arôme from Savanna and the old Neisson’s I had sipped with love and emotion. A few days later my curiosity again increased when looking at a side of the road advertisement for an event some 30km’s from where I live. It was a Gin&Rum festival, where Rum and Rum&Tonic would be promoted next to Gin. I felt I needed to finally know a bit more about this Gin&Rum world. On their web page I saw it was the first year the Festival was promoting Rum as a sidekick for Gin. So I decided to go and take a look. Gin&Rum festival.
When arriving at the festival and making my way to the entrance I felt a bit like a Rum spy infiltrating unknown spirit grounds. This was However not at all necessary as all Gin producers seemed to be very nice, helpful and flavor loving persons. I had many nice conversations, tasted many “Gin Producer’s” Rums and learned a lot (about Gin). The Rums I tasted were very diverse as such were the methods to produce them. Most of them could be defined as spiced Rums however in most cases the bottle only stated “RUM”. Gargano would go crazy trying to classify these rum’s as almost their entire Flavor profile happens after distillation or they are distilled from a wash completely different then traditional sugar cane juice or molasses wash. He would have a hard time calling a Rum made from a combination of Sugar beet & Sugar Cane molasses, tobacco leaves, orange juice and vanilla extract a “Pure Single Rum” when distilled in a single Pot Still. I found out that in the Gin’s Producer’s Rum world a wash is not a boring, smelling, barrel of fermenting molasses. There was even a “RUM?” made out of fermented bee honey. Next to the producers that distill starting from a Wash very different to traditional Rums, there were many that re-distill purchased rum with an added herbal mixture or flavor-maker. These producers skip the fermentation process. This is a common practice in the Gin world, where a neutral (mostly grain based) alcohol is re-distilled with an herbal or botanical mixture. I have found only one producer making RUM completely in the Rum way starting from fermenting imported molasses. The group fermenting and/or distilling their Rum was smaller then the group of Gin producers blending their Rum. This is also a common practice in the Gin world, where botanicals are blended in a grain based alcohol without re-distillation. Most of them buy a Rum blend of their choice and then blend it together with flavor makers. Some of them also blend the Rums together themselves starting from different base rum’s from all over the Caribbean. Only a few of them really blend a traditional rum together or just resell a blended rum. How Gin's are made.
In general we can state that the Gin Producer’s Rum world is one of additional Flavors. While traditional rum producers try to hide the added components as much as possible to promote the natural character of their rum, they rather do the opposite. They are proud of their secret herbal or flavor mixtures that were added giving the Rum’s their unique flavor profiles. They will also have to persuade their Gin loving customers to make the switch to Rum together with them. They will not sell the bulk of their product to the small world of Rum - aficionado’s. So they are in a way obliged to walk the path of the additional flavors. For this reason you will also not find aged Rum in their portfolio. As Gin is mostly unaged and in a lower price category then aged Whiskey and/or Rum, so will be their Rum. It would be hard to sell an expensive aged rum, to make a super expensive Rum-tonic Botanicals used in Gin. .
We all know that Flavor or taste is a relative and a personal matter. I can honestly say that to my personal taste, many of the rums were delicious and only a limited few were bad. I liked a lot the rum mentioned above made out of a wash containing many flavors. When enjoying this Rum, I noted the orange was in the nose, the tobacco in the taste and the vanilla in the finish. It is remarkable that the producers invested a lot of time and energy finding the balance and taste profile. Another Rum I sipped was run over some high quality Belgian Chocolate. Its taste was more like a high end bailey’s rather then Rum, but it was delicious. So taste does not matter. What does matter is that most of them are merchandised as, or are labeled “RUM”. They should, as some of them are, be labelled “Spiced Rum” or “Additional Flavored Rum”. I would like to call them “Flavored Rum” but that would be confusing with the “German Flavored Rum” as used in Rum Verschnitt. It is simply a fact that this is misleading for the customer. The question is if this is a bad thing for traditional Rum. It definitely makes RUM classification even more difficult then already. On the other hand a new customer type and market is reached and will know about rum. The rum market is growing. The people knowing about and purchasing rum is growing. Many of these new reached customers will also come in contact with traditional rum, and many of them will like it. Another interesting fact were their import structures. They seem to be also different then the ones used in the traditional Rum world. From the dozen of Belgian rum producers (mostly bottlers) I know that already are longtime into Rum or have Rum as one of their core businesses, their import structure is similar. Most of them work together with E&A for their blends and with Liverpool’s M.R.C. for their aged Rum’s or single cask’s. Speaking with the producers on the Gin&Rum festival I did not here once the names of these producers or their locations. Instead I heard a lot “The Port of Antwerp” and also many ports and/or blenders in France. It reminded me of how it must have been in the 18th century when there were many huge Rum-importing ports in the whole of Western Europe. They were importing tonnes of bulk rum from anonymous distillery’s in the Caribbean. It was the time when Rum was huge, and every country in Western Europe had hundreds of brands. Now al of these Gin Producers are making a rum, there are for the first time in 200 years again almost a hundred of Belgian rum brands. My conclusion is that they use the absence of worldwide rum laws and regulations in their benefit to offer more diverse products. Many off them not really knowing about or having feeling with, our beloved noble Spirit RUM. This way they are contributing enormously to making from Rum a famous spirit and bringing many new customers into Rum. Customers that otherwise possibly would never have been interested. Here is a list of some of the Rums I have tasted during “Le salon du Rhum de Belgique” and the “Gin&Rum Festival”. This contains only a few brands off the exploding list of Belgian Rum brands that is growing every day. Stokerij RUBBENS: http://rubbens.be
1817: start-up as a grain distillery making Jenever (similar to Gin) They offer 2 types of Rum: Black River Rhum Martinique: Brand spokesman: The rum is distilled in Martinique, then brought in bulk to Belgium where it is only slightly re-blended with an herbal mixture. Findings: It’s a cough-syrup alike rum with lots more added flavor then expected. The website description on this Rum does not cover this rum. It is only a general description on what is Rum and how it is made. Brümbär Spiced Rum: Brand spokesman: The same process as with their Black River Rhum but re-blended with more herbs and flavor makers. Findings: This Rum was also syrup alike but was a lot more sweeter then the first one. It tasted more similar to many of the general known spiced Rums. Their website description for this rum covers exactly what is in the glass and can be a good help describing this rum. Shack Rum: https://www.shackrum.com
Shack Rum is made by buss spirits "https://buss-spirits.be/
", a gin producer since 2013. Brand spokesman: Selected Rum blends (mainly British style) are imported through the port of Antwerp. All rums used have aged minimum 5 years. The Rums are getting a short additional aging in ex sherry barrels. Afterwards they are blended with a botanical mixture. They have 3 vintages: Super Spiced, Orange and Honey. Findings: They are very good, decent and properly made spiced rum’s. The bottles indicate clearly the content. Website Info explains exactly how this rum is made and what you can expect. Price: 50 € Churchill’s Barrel Rum: http://www.churchillsbarrel.be
The Rum is made by Belgian B.E.S.T. Creators, famous for their Churchill's Gin. http://www.churchillsgin.be
Brand spokesman: It is a special Rum, distilled from a special wash. Imported sugarcane molasses are fermented for 48 hours together with local sugar beet molasses. Before the wash is distilled tobacco, vanilla and orange extracts are added. The rum is distilled in a single run in a stainless steel single pot still.
Findings: I would not call it Rum, because it does not taste like Rum at all. It was however an amazing experience tasting this liquor. The orange was all over the nose. The taste was pure tobacco. The finish was completely vanilla. It is sweet but totally not syrup alike. It is a well balanced product made by passionate people. However on the bottle it is confusingly called “Rum”, on the website it is clearly explained what to expect and what flavors are added. Price: 39 € Beernaert liqueur: http://www.beernaert.be
Belgian Gin and Liquors producer that started as a wine store in 1919. Their Rum is called: RUM PURE Brand spokesman: We want to let the customers try a real Rum that is not over-spiced or over flavored. We always want to stay true to the product. Our rum is an honest Blend from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Jamaica and the Antilles. Beside some caramel to keep the color and profile steady, no other additional ingredients are added. We buy the rum in Bulk in France, where it is blended for us, and then bottle it in Belgium. Findings: This is a very decent straight forward rum. It is also a bit special as a blend from French and British style. I see this more and more lately. It is not directly comparable with the many Navy blends on the Market. A good rum marketed by a pure Spirits loving person. Good Luck! The Infamous Rum http://infamous-dc.be http://www.infamous-rum.be
The brand is owned by a company “infamous C&D” with core business brand design & private label making. They have no history in the spirit business and have their Infamous Rum as their only product. The Rum is made by a company “SpiritsByDesign” specialized in making on demand spirits. They are a group of enthusiast and modern spirit loving people that have a modern company where any spirit project can be planned and made possible. https://www.spiritsbydesign.com
Brand spokesman: A rum blend aged for 8 years minimum is bought and a botanical mixture containing many herbs and flavors is added. Then the whole mixture is re-distilled. Findings: Again it bothers me to have a fully spiced rum, with only Rum on the front side of the bottle. On the other hand their website marks “Premium Spiced Rum”, and contains many info about the production and the spices that were added. Although many spices are added I found the star anise dominant. It is definitely a rum for Ricard or Pastis lovers. Price: 45 € Radermachers http://www.distillerie.biz
This is a well known Belgian Spirits distillery since 1836. Their Rum is called 1836 Rum. They make a rum with a lot of work and effort. Brand spokesman: The base product is 100% fair trade organic Paraguayan sugarcane molasses. The rum is distilled in Paraguay and imported. It gets a double aging for 3 years in Belgium in whiskey and bourbon casks. Before being bottled the rum goes through a cacao filter. This way it gets a touch of fine Belgian Chocolate. Findings: I really liked the product. The cocoa was overwhelming. It tasted like a high end Baily’s. Despite being a lovely smooth spirit it did not at all taste to Rum. This being the only disadvantage. Their 1836 is not published on their website. Only the 1836 Gin and Vodka are present. Distillerie DR. Clyde https://drclyde.be
They produce 3 kind of rums (white, standard and spiced) and are working on a high ester variant made using dunder (stillage) in a long open air fermentation process. It was an honor to meet Mr. Pierre-Yves SMITS, the owner of the brand. I have rarely met a person so passionate about fermentation, distillation and the search to the perfect spirit. This was definitely one of the nicest rum conversations I had in the past year. I really hope I can travel back to the complete south of my country soon to meet up with him again and organize some events or tastings together. Mr. Pierre-Yves SMITS: We are currently the only Belgian Traditional rum made completely in Belgium. The rum is made from imported sugar cane molasses that are fermented and distilled in a small pot still in our small distillery. Findings: As this was my last stop before returning home from “Le Salon” I did not want to drink a lot more. In the end I only tried a bit from their High Ester rum that was in a small anonymous bottle under their table. This thing knocked me out of my socks. I had some white high Ester Jamaican Habitation Veliers earlier that day. We all know this is high quality Rum. They could all go stand in the shadow compared to what I was tasting here. This rum was pack-loaded with esters. Not necessarily the same ones found in Jamaican rum. The taste profile was so large it is impossible to describe. The finish was so long that I still tasted the rum when arriving at my home 3 hours later. When this rum will be aged it could go and compete with the aged Hampden <HLCF> or <H> rums. Good work Dr. Clyde.