The Problem with Rum Sugar Lists
While recently scrolling through the r/rum subreddit, I noticed a post expressing confusion about whether Angostura 1787 was sweetened. (“Dosed” is the current in-vogue term for rum with additives.) The confusion arose from seemingly conflicting data on various online “rum sugar lists” that have sprung up since Johnny Drejer pioneered the methodology circa 2014.
For those unfamiliar with such sites, they contain a list of various expressions alongside an estimated amount of sugar present in each rum. Here’s one example. The estimate usually involves a formula utilizing the rum’s stated ABV on the label as well as the ABV as measured by a hydrometer. (For further reading on hydrometers and their use, see this post and p. 132 of Modern Caribbean Rum.)
Scrolling through the Reddit post’s comments, I found myself increasingly dismayed. My issue isn’t that a particular rum is sweetened. Nor is it with the potentially large margin of error between a hydrometer estimate and an actual laboratory test. Rather, my issue with sugar lists derives from two maxims:
Data on the internet lives forever
To the first point: a quick Google search shows that one of the most popular sugar lists was created in 2015, making it seven years old as I write this.
To the second point, there are two well-known examples of a rum brand substantially changing their expressions to use far less added sugar:
El Dorado’s 12- and 15-year expressions have been noticeably less sweet in the past two years. El Dorado attributes this to a circa 2005-era change to discontinue lining certain casks with caramel before adding rum for aging. My interview with Shaun Caleb was the first to broach this production change.
Pusser’s 15, which also happens to be made at DDL, has essentially no sweetening after a circa 2019 reformulation.
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We can add some of Angostura’s expressions to the above. Data from Finland’s Alko laboratory shows that recently tested samples of Angostura’s 1787 expression have just 2 gr/liter of sugar, whereas prior tests from Alko showed far higher amounts of sugar. As a point of reference, Mount Gay’s Peat Smoke expression shows 3.0 gr/liter per Alko’s test. Small amounts of sugar can be introduced from cask aging, so even a rum known not to use additives may still contain very small amounts of sugar.
Sweden’s Systembolaget laboratory confirms Angostura’s recent reduction in sugar content. I personally am more inclined to trust laboratory data from sites from Alko and Systembolaget, but even those are subject to being out of date.
Beyond the above examples, the European Union adopted the EU 2019/787 regulations in 2019, which limit products labeled “rum” to 20 grams/liter of sweetening products. Certain rums previously above the 20 grams/liter mark may well have been reformulated to use less sweetening to not run afoul of the regulations.
The big-picture point is that enthusiasts placing a large emphasis on sugar list data can be misled by obsolete data. Yes, sometimes hydrometer tests are updated, but more often, they aren’t. Furthermore, conflicting results from different sites cause confusion, as we’ve seen with Angostura 1787,
In an ideal world, authors who share rum sugar list data online would ensure the data is reasonably up to date. In reality, that rarely happens; it’s hard work! A “better than nothing” approach would include adding the date of testing and the year the rum was bottled, if available. This lets the reader make a slightly more informed decision about trusting the site’s data.
To be very clear, I’m not saying enthusiast-generated rum sugar lists are intrinsically bad. However, making decisions based solely on what a particular list says is dicey. Blind adherence to potentially out-of-date information might lead someone to miss out on a rum they’d enjoy or discourage others from trying it.
In the end, the same scrutiny one uses to evaluate a rum for purchase should also be applied to the data used in the evaluation.
Completely missing the poibt that there is nothing stopping Angostura and all other companies disclosing more accurate and up to date information themselves of course
Excellent points here, Matt. You mentioned multiple rums by name that I have written off previously (based on my tasting, not based on sugar lists) that I should probably have another look at. I agree with other commenters -- the real solution here is label transparency. I’m sure you agree.