After years of being in limbo, three of Barbados’ largest rum producers have decided to take the bold step and move ahead with an application for the highly-touted geographical indication (GI) for Barbados rum.
They said they could no longer sit back and watch others profit while Barbados, known as the birthplace of rum, continued to lose out on precious economic earnings.
Managing Director of Mount Gay Rum Distilleries Raphaël Grisoni has announced that his company, along with Foursquare Distillery and St Nicholas Abbey, have collectively submitted a “properly-written” GI application to the registrar here, which was just the first step.
The rum producers, who were addressing a ceremony last Friday, said they were prepared to bear the cost of obtaining the GI, which will require various applications in several countries.
“It is about the cultural heritage of Barbados and we have to protect it and have to make sure it will survive the test of time,” said Grisoni.
Noting that there have been talks about developing a GI for Barbados “for quite a few years now”, Grisoni said “This process was slow and [was] even dropped, and we decided it is a great opportunity to bring back value on the Barbados rum on the international scene.”
He said this move stood to benefit the entire country. “The strategy is to bring the maximum value here on the island, but also for the future investors on the island – having in mind that the Barbados rum GI is secure, their investment is secure.”
They were unable to say how soon the Barbados rum GI marquee would be implemented.
The GI is a sign that specifies that a project originated from a particular place. The qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product depends on the place of origin of the product. As champagne is to the northeastern region of France where it originated, rum would be to Barbados under a GI.
The proposed GI puts no restriction on the type of stills used during the distillation and both short and long-term fermentation but outlines several specifications.
Approximately three years ago, the country seemed closer to obtaining a GI, following a proposal prepared by Export Barbados (BIDC) and presented to the registrar. However, it was believed that it was blocked because it did not get the blessings of one of the island’s main rum producers.
Among the specifications outlined in that proposed GI were that rum distillers use Barbadian water to make their rum and that the rum must be aged here.
Officials of the three rum distilleries pursuing the marquee did not disclose the stipulations, however, Grisoni stressed that with the extremely high costs associated with rum production in Barbados “the only viable strategy for us to survive and . . . if we want to be able to continue to produce rum in Barbados for the next 200 or 300 years we need to adapt this added value strategy. We don’t have other choices”.
Master Distiller and owner of Foursquare Distillery Richard Seale expressed satisfaction that the process of obtaining a GI for Barbados rum had started, noting that it was made up of multiple facets.
He described it as a “prestigious status” that would be similar to Champagne and Cognac, which indicate where they are from and serve as a form of protection for the products. Another benefit of having a GI, he pointed out, was to use it as a marketing tool.
“I think what is not really so well understood is that without protection it’s very easy for your domain or provenance to be abused or counterfeited. I think this is something really taken for granted,” he said.
Seale, who has taken the lead in the exercise, explained that the GI was like a trademark, he said “you are going in and protecting not just your brand as a trademark, but you are protecting your origin”.
“It is not just a collective mark, but it is something that is internationally-recognised and has reciprocal agreements,” he added.
He said local rum producers were increasingly finding that there were bottles of spirits in other parts of the world claiming Barbados provenance and there is no way to prove or guarantee this, and this was a major concern.
Once established, each legitimate bottle of rum produced in Barbados will carry the mark, including a seal number that is traceable. The rum proprietors said this would allow for the status of Barbados’ rum to be raised even further.
Seale explained that while the three main rum distilleries have formed the “producer group” in order to start the process around the world, it will benefit any locally-produced brand of rum.
“So any brand can also use the mark as long as they meet the qualifying conditions,” he said, adding that the GI allows for consumers to distinguish between products produced in Barbados and those produced elsewhere.
He said officials were hoping that from this exercise the country would attract more business.
“What we are hoping and expecting is that more budding operations will come to Barbados. We know of two distilleries that have plans for Barbados, who will produce [rum] completely from cane in Barbados and they will use the mark,” he disclosed.
Late last year, Chief Executive Officer of Export Barbados Mark Hill indicated that Government was still in the process of developing a GI for Barbados rum, but said the process should not be rushed and that a scientific approach should be taken.
Hill indicated that the GI required a lot more than just historical value and sentiments and called for a wide range of specific qualities that would allow even microbreweries to benefit for years to come.