Age may just be a number, but when you slap one onto the front of a rum bottle, that number can mean a lot of different things.
“Many brands use age statements in different ways,” says Roberto Ramirez Laverde, the director of rum for BACARDÍ®. In the case of BACARDÍ rum, however, the calculus is simple: The number you see on any BACARDÍ bottle always represents the age of the youngest rum within the blend.
It sounds like a sensible approach, especially when you consider just how chaotic the numbers game actually is. For instance, depending on the brand and the country in which it’s produced, the numbers can signify anything from the youngest to the oldest to the average age of the rum in the bottle.
Moreover, they could have nothing at all to do with age and instead reference something as arcane as the number of rums blended. At best, this can be stifling to a consumer, if not totally misleading.
In the end, one wonders whether it’s all worth it. “It’s not so much the age statement that’s important but the maturation of the rum,” says David Cid, the global master of rums for BACARDÍ. “At BACARDÍ, we put a timetable on maturation, meaning we expect certain developments to take place over a specific period of time.”
“For instance, at four years, we know that our rums have matured from fresh, crisp notes into notes of mild vanilla and cedar, as well as an added layer of smoothness. In other words, the barrel should be playing a role in defining the profile. At eight years, the barrel takes over, and you get more caramelized, dark fruit flavors. Those numbers aren’t arbitrary; they represent something very real in our product.”
Of course, labels don’t always have to flash numbers to tell you what’s going on in the bottle. Martinique’s tiered aging system is a model of a timetable at work. Much in the same way that Mexico requires reposado tequila to be aged for a minimum of two months, Martinique’s AOC-regulated tiers indicate the age of rhum agricole. Rhum blanc, for instance, must be mellowed for up to three months, while rhum vieux requires at least three years of aging in the barrel.
“If we can help consumers understand how BACARDÍ rum uses aging statements and how to navigate our rums, it might expand to the whole category,” says Cid.
Perhaps even more important than the number on the bottle, according to Ramirez Lavarde, is getting consumers to understand the entire production process.
“We have to be able to properly communicate what aging really means and the value of undisturbed aging [the practice of allowing the spirit to develop on its own, without topping off],” he says. “We don’t always use numbers in our products, but when we do, we can present the value behind them. We can stand behind our numbers.”