Last week, six friends, who happen to be professionals in the spirits industry, joined me to judge rum submissions from 12 countries. The list of sugar cane spirits awarded medals in the Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition can be found here, along with information about my friends, aka the judges. Since the results were announced I have received more comments from email than any other since I began hosting competitions in 2006.
The spirit, no pun intended, behind the Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition is to recognize brands in a competitive setting. The results should only be used as a guide to your next purchase. Competitions are also a way to discover new products and get verified information into the Ministry of Rum database. Competitions are also a way to reach more press about the sugar cane spirit I love. There are always a couple of journalists on the panel of judges as well as other journalists who cover the competition and the results for a number of online magazines.
I hope this sheds some light on the process employed for the Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition, a process that has been adopted by a number of other spirit competitions. I look forward to next year, in the mean time I hope you have a chance to try more tums this year, there are some very good rums coming to a store or bar near you.
Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions.
You don’t have the bests rums in the competition?
Entries were submitted by distillers, blenders and pr firms from around the world. I don’t go out and buy a bunch of rums off the shelf in some US city, or wherever I happen to be. That approach would limit the competition to products that are available in a given city. Once a rum has won a few medals at competitions, sometimes the brand owner feels that it is a liability to risk not winning the highest medal every year.
If you don’t buy bottles off the shelf how can you be sure you’re not getting a competition bottle?
I rely on the distillers/blenders/pr firms not to misrepresent their product. In the words of Ronald Reagan, trust and verify. So, how do you verify that you’re not getting a competition bottle? All of the judges taste rum every week as part of their profession. With that said, once the judges have submitted their scores we reveal the rums and talk about any surprises. On occasion, judges have felt that the bottle before them wasn’t the same as what they remember from previous tastes. Unless the product isn’t available locally, we have gone out and obtained a bottle. And most of the judges have extensive collections so we can usually come up with another bottle, another reason the judges are chosen carefully.
Obviously, this competition was sponsored by . . .
I’ve been accused of being sponsored by several spirits companies in the past, but this year the number of different sponsorship accusations is already at three. None of the judges are compensated for their participation other than for their lunch. So they aren’t inclined to leave as soon as we’ve tasted the premium rums. This year Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove, one of the best bars in the country, and it happens to be a tiki bar, was kind enough to offer the use of his bar for the tasting. Thank you Martin.
How do you determine the classes of rums? There should be more categories.
Ideally every rum would be in its own category, which is something I am considering, but more on that later. Categories are adjusted according to the entries. The premium rum category doesn’t include any white rums for instance. Of course there are premium white rums, just look at the prices on some of the white rums on the store shelf. Maybe I’ll change the category name to Premium Dark rums. At least that would satisfy one person. Me.
Sometimes there are only one or two rums in a category, such as the spiced rum category. Flavored rums are generally combined in a flight with spiced and the judges are instructed as to which are spiced rums and that the other rums are flavored, though the flavor is not revealed. I have tasted ’spiced’ rums that tasted more like vanilla-flavored rum than what I expect in a spiced rum. I go by the label and if the predominant word is spiced then that’s where the entry goes.
What rums didn’t win medals?
While many of the rums tasted do win bronze, silver or gold medals, not every rum wins a medal in this or any other competition. I don’t publish a list of rums that didn’t win medals because I don’t believe that publishing that list would encourage others to try them. And it could be viewed as a ‘do not drink’ list for rum snobs. The truth is that the quality of rums being submitted is better every year. Small and large distillers are making and selling better products that deserve recognition.
How could XYZ rum win a gold medal and not ABC?
If this competition was being held in any other country the results would be different. Tastes among rum lovers vary. Tasting 10 or more rums in a flight is a difficult job, which leads to an idea that might be more palatable to more people. Let the judges taste one sugar cane spirit at a time and then all of the judges would discuss what rating that spirit should receive. In the present system there is no discussion so no one or two people can influence the other judges. In the proposed system, less experienced judges may be intimidated if their opinions vary from those who they might think know more about the spirits than they do. On the other hand, using a smaller group of judges makes it possible to have a discussion with less possibility of prejudice.
I’m always looking to improve everything I do. If you have constructive input I would like to hear it, drop me a line. There’s an email link at the bottom of this page.