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Old 12-21-2007, 05:00 PM   #32
Edward Hamilton
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Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Sailboat in the Caribbean and hotels.
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As I have previously stated my interest in this issue was and is solely to learn more about this product. Despite what some might believe I have not had the opportunity to taste any of the Chauffe Coeur rums. I have seen them in stores but have never tasted them, more on that later. I first learned of Chauffe Coeur Martinique Rhum Agricole a few years ago while I was in Martinique. As is my usual practice when I discover a new rum, I tried to determine where it was distilled and when I couldn’t find out from the label, I asked my friends at the distilleries, to no avail.

About ten years ago I was investigating the origin of Kaniche Martinique and Kaniche Guadeloupe rums for inclusion in my second book. I learned that according to French labeling regulations the name of an island can not be used in the brand name of a rum product. These Kaniche rums were not sold in France but only in the US. At that time the AOC general secretary was very interested in anything which appeared to claim to be from Martinique. I learned that there are a number of negociants in France who buy, sell, blend and/or bottle spirits. Having been to every distillery in the Eastern Caribbean more than a few times, I asked the distillers where they thought these rums were distilled. The consensus of the answers I got was that more than likely they were bought before 1995, blended and bottled in France and may or may not have been distilled in the French West Indies.

In the past three years rhum agricole has received unprecedented international attention. Martinique rhum producers are very proud of their products and are the only geographic region in the world to have an Appellation for their rhum agricole. Then along comes the Appellation Rhum Controlee, without the French punctuation in the word Contrôlée. I asked the AOC general secretary and the Martinique distillers about this new Appellation and was met with more than skepticism. After all, these distillers had worked together, not an easy task, for more than a decade to agree on and get their Appellation approved by the French government.

The problem of appellation is not limited to the rum industry on Martinique. In the EU there is considerable discussion concerning the seemingly innocuous term vodka, what it can be made from and how the raw ingredient must be identified. In the wine industry, the debate over adding sugar to the fermenting wine has become heated enough to distill more than a little wine into what could be called vodka, depending on how you define vodka.

Edward Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum are not the rum police. But let me ask a simple question. When you buy a bottle that has the words Tennessee Whiskey on the label do you deserve to be getting Tennessee Whiskey, or is it good enough for that spirit to be made in Georgia, or even Florida, by a bottler who simply uses the words Tennessee Whiskey as a trade name? After all it’s just a couple of words. When you pay the price for a bottle of amber spirit with the words Single Malt Scotch on the label is it good enough for that spirit to be a malt beverage distilled from sugar cane in India?

Currently the Scotch Whisky producers are spending a lot of money in India, China and even the US to avoid future conflicts with spirits bottlers who would rather use an established name recognized for quality than to admit to their customers that their product actually has very little to do with the brand name on the label.

Are there good spirits made in places other than Scotland or Tennessee? Absolutely. Are there good rums made in places other than Martinique? I have a cabinet full of them. Does the consumer deserve to be getting a bottle of Martinique Rhum Agricole when those words are on the label? I believe so, and so do the distillers and bottlers of Martinique. Part of the money the rhum agricole producers of Martinique pay each year to the CODERUM, their association, goes to protect their appellation from being used in a misleading or fraudulent manner. In Martinique, only rhums which conform to the AOC regulations can have the words RHUM AGRICOLE on the label. Furthermore, no one is allowed to use the word MARTINIQUE as part of their brand name.

After an expensive marketing survey of the US rum industry it was determined that Americans don’t drink white rum and that aged Martinique rhum agricole was too expensive to sell in the US. So the Dillon distillery produced a product called rhum brun - brown rum. There was no pretense that this rum was not made from sugar cane juice but rather molasses and Dillon Brown Rum was exported to the US. The result was predictable. The French wouldn’t drink that stuff, and neither did the Americans. But the result was that for more than the next ten years anyone who had seen or heard about that rum was convinced that Martinique made some of the worst rum in the industry.

Following that failure I have to admit to being prejudiced against anything called rum brun, though I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of the Chauffe Coeur rums. It may be hard to believe, but there are a lot of private label rums that have not yet crossed my lips, some for good reason, others because they weren’t available.

It is not my intention to cast doubt on the quality of the Chauffe Coeur Martinique Rhum Agricole, but I have to admit that they have yet to instill any credibility in their product in regards to being an authentic rhum agricole from Martinique by their Appellation Rhum Controllee, an Appellation which appears to exist solely on the label of this brand of rum.

As I have told more than a few rum bottlers who have made claims which are easily dispelled, “Why don’t you just tell me that you spent x years perfecting your special blend of rum and that you hope I enjoy drinking it as much as you enjoy making it for me?” But please don’t come to me with a bottle of rum and claim that it was distilled in a copper pot still in a country in which there hasn’t been a pot still operating since ‘before times,’ as islanders describe anything that happened before the oldest of them were born.

And don’t tell me about the combination of tropical sunshine, trade winds, terrier, sugar cane and distiller’s skill on an island that hasn’t grown sugar cane in more than the two decades I spent sailing the islands. Yes I spent time drinking rum on every rock in the Eastern Caribbean that was big enough to accommodate a rum shop. I also talked to everyone I met along the way in an attempt to learn who made the rum they liked and what made that rum special. And then I went to the places where these rums were made and talked to the people who cut the cane, fired the still and distilled the rum.

False and misleading marketing claims have become part of parcel of too many businesses. In China, "The counterfeit problem is increasing as the popularity of Western spirits increases," says Jamie Fortescue, director general of the European Spirits Organisation (ESO).
The ESO estimates that one in four spirits brands claiming to be of European origin sold in China is counterfeit. That could translate to a loss of EUR50m for the European spirits industry, says Fortescue. . .

One of the biggest problems facing the rum industry today is a tarnished reputation for unsavory and doctored spirits sold by unscrupulous marketers. As someone who has worked for years to do everything I can to help promote the good name of my favorite spirit it is my goal to raise the credibility of the growing selection of sugar cane spirits we are lucky enough to enjoy. It is my sincere hope that by positive discussion like this forum that those who choose to market sugar cane spirits will do so responsibly.

To date this forum has required almost no moderation with the exception of a few spammers who were quickly banned by the administrators; everyone’s first post is moderated. I’m not surprised that this thread has raised a lot of controversy, most of which has been positive discussion about an important question. I am closing this thread until I receive a response from those involved with the topic of this thread. If they choose not to answer the questions posed above, well, then they have spoken.

Should you try Chauffe Coeur Martinique Rhum Agricole with the Appellation Rhum Controllee? I will when I have a chance to do so. I just hope the good taste of this rhum will linger longer than the question of its origin and dubious Appellation.
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Edward Hamilton
Ambassador of Rum
Ministry of Rum

When I dream up a better job, I'm going to take it. In the meantime, the research continues.
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