Barbados has a rich legacy of distilling rum going back to the mid 1700s, the Mount Gay brand is said to be the oldest commercial rum operation in existence. Although several of the colonies in that period also produced rum, Barbados registered the highest production.
Increase in global rum supply and other considerations led to many distilleries on the island closing operations. Predictably the local rum business has been infiltrated by foreign interest and although the financial and marketing muscle is promoted as the main benefit, the ‘dilution’ of local ownership now threatens the Barbados Rum Brand.
The majority of Barbadians are oblivious to the implications for the local rum business given the current state of the industry. Many Barbadians read an article in the Barbados Advocate of 26 August 2021 titled – WIRD Carries the Torch for Barbados Rum & Spirits Convention – without feeling any outrage at a French master blender defining the elements of local rum. As far as the blogmaster is aware France is known for making wine and champagne.
Richard Seale, proprietor of Foursquare Distillery, accuses the WIRD of “doing their best to derail” completion of the GI proposal. “It is long overdue that Barbados rum is protected in global markets, and the tool to do that is a GI,” says Seale. “At the moment, the consumer can buy a Barbados rum based on our reputation but end up with a substandard product because it has been adulterated with sugar.” He adds economic risks that come in the absence of a GI as well, highlighting that the consumer has no way to distinguish between a Barbados rum aged and bottled in Europe, and a Barbados rum aged and bottled in Barbados.The Spirits Business
It is a matter of public record there is disagreement between the four Barbados based distilleries over the important issue of geographical indication (GI) – West Indies Rum Distillery, Mount Gay, Four Square and Saint Nicholas Abbey. GI is “an indication which identifies a good as originating in the territory of a member, or a regional locality in that territory, where a given quality , reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin” (WTO).
The government of Barbados through its agent the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) requested the distilleries to detail a position on GI as a prerequisite for its approval. To date Mount Gay, Four Square and Saint Nicholas Abbey have agreed on a GI for Barbados Rum. Regrettably West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD) has registered objection to the proposal. Some opine WIRD is prepared to bastardize the Barbados rum ‘taste’ to benefit a narrow interest.
Imagine this scenario: three Barbados juice manufacturers collaborated to produce ‘proper’ local juice based on hundreds of years of knowledge capital accrued and decided to stage an event BUT the government of Barbados would support the event only if a fourth company making a juice sprinkled with foreign additives was allowed to participate…
The blogmaster is aware the issue of protecting the authenticity of the Barbados rum taste must recognize the business requirement for distilleries to be able to innovate and differentiate. It is still disappointing distilleries based in a country with the oldest tradition of commercial distilling of rum cannot agree to what is a Barbados rum. If ever there was a case for the Barbados government to flex its muscle in order to protect the preferred brand of rum, it is now. We are about to shift to a different phase of governance. The real meaning of transitioning to a native daughter of the soil in the role of President on the 30 November 2021 can be reinforced by our government imposing the will of the people to the unresolved GI issue. If WIRD threatens to close shop because the GI as agreed by the other three distillers means Barbados would have to be removed from the labelling of imitation rum products, allow them to please. Sometimes one has to stand for something or fall for anything.
As a country we have allowed too many businesses that use to define Barbadianna to be infiltrated by foreign interest and influence, in the process we have ‘diluted’ our identity as a people.
Relevant Link: The Spirits Business