Cuba's Rum GI Submitted To EU for Approval
There’s yet more good news in my ongoing battle against the “rum has no rules” trope: Cuba’s geographical indication (GI) for rum was published for approval with the European Union on Feb. 22, 2023.
Important note: publication for approval is the final stage of recognition by the EU. There is an “objection period” (typically 60 days) during which interested parties can submit their objection to the EU’s recognition.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that Cuba’s rules about what can or can’t be labeled “Ron de Cuba” may soon be enforced within European Union countries.
Any country can create production requirements that must be followed to use that country’s name on a label. For instance, “Jamaica rum” is a product of Jamaica and must follow the rules outlined in Jamaica’s GI for rum. But Jamaica’s regulations have no intrinsic enforceability outside of Jamaica unless other countries or blocs of countries (like the EU) agree to abide by those same rules. For the record, Jamaica hasn’t yet asked the EU for recognition of its rum GI as of March 2023.
Cuba’s geographical indication for rum (Denominación de Origen Protegida in Spanish) was established by Cuba’s government in 2013. However, Cuba didn’t apply for EU recognition of the GI until 2021. If it is recognized, Cuba’s GI will join these other rum GIs that are recognized by the EU:
Guyana (“Demerara Rum”)
Guatemala (“Ron de Guatemala”)
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Key Elements of Cuba’s GI
The EU has strong guidelines about how the GI’s requirements are stated. It’s not uncommon that a country’s initial GI needs to be reworked and tightened up before the EU regulators approve it. Cuba’s GI was no exception.
I first wrote about Cuba’s initial GI back in 2017. The new EU-approved version hews close to the earlier requirements, although some small specifics were added or removed, and certain passages were substantially rewritten.
The text of a GI can be very dry, boring, and difficult to parse unless you regularly read this sort of document. (As you might guess, I happen to enjoy reading them.) To make GIs more understandable, I boil down all their verbiage into just the key production details while eliminating the obvious “fluff” that most GIs have.
What follows is a highly summarized version of Cuba’s EU-approved GI:
Source material: Must come from Cuban-grown sugarcane. (I’m surprised by this, as Cuba’s sugar industry has had challenges recently.)
Production steps that must happen in Cuba: fermentation, distillation, aging, blending, and filtration. Bottling/packaging is not cited, so presumably could happen outside of Cuba.
Fermentation: 24 to 26 hours. (Fairly short, relatively speaking.)
Distillation: Continuous (column) distillation only. The GI appears to contradict itself on the distillation requirements. One section says the distillate must be between 74% and 76% ABV, and another says the distillates have an ABV of less than 96%. It is a Spanish-heritage tradition to make both aguardiente (heavy rum at around 75% ABV) and redistillado (light rum at 96% ABV) to blend in different ratios. However, the GI does not express this clearly.
Aging: At least two aging stages are required in white oak casks. The 2013 GI stated that the first aging stage must occur in casks between 180 to 200 liters and for two years, after which the rum is carbon filtered. The new EU-approved GI makes no note of this requirement.
Designated classifications: The following classifications are described (“In the nose, the aroma is intense and harmonious, with slight sweet-fruity notes…”)
Ron añejo blanco (“Aged white rum”)
Ron carta blanca / añejo ambarino (“White label / amber-coloured aged rum”)
Ron carta oro (“Gold label rum”)
Ron añejo reserve (“Reserva aged rum”)
Ron añejo (“Aged rum”)
Ron extra seco (“Extra dry rum”)
Ron extra añejo (“Extra aged rum”)
It’s worth pointing out that none of the classifications include a minimum amount of aging for a particular classification. Thus, a 5-year aged rum could hypothetically be sold as “Extra aged rum.”
The bottled rum must have the following laboratory-measured chemical properties:
The ABV must be between 37.5% and 41%.
Esters must bet between 1 and 90 gr/hlAA.
Higher alcohols must be between 8 and 400 gr/hlAA.
Extra-aged rums can exceed the maximum limits of the above items. Put another way, the older, more expensive stuff doesn’t have to follow the same rules.
Cuba’s revised GI is fairly light on specifics relative to other rum GIs,. However, since Cuba’s government controls all of the island’s rum production, contention over the GI’s requirements is highly unlikely. If Cuba’s maestro roneros deem something within what the GI allows, that’s all that matters. In contrast, Martinique’s AOC is highly specific, down to the minimum width of the column stills.
Finally, all of the above is intentionally very high level. If you wish to dive far deeper into Caribbean rum regulations, Modern Caribbean Rum’s chapter 17 (“Rum Regulations”) has detailed summaries of over a dozen Caribbean GIs and rum standards.