The Barbados GI & Why It Will NOT Threaten Diversity & Innovation

There has been talk within Rum circles and Facebook Forums about the proposed Barbados and recently completed Jamaican GI, and how there are concerns that this may stifle innovation and quell diversity. The following is the ‘as written’ response to this fallacy by Richard Seale which he has kindly agreed to allow me to publish in its entirety….and it is the best thing that you’ll read on the subject. Enjoy.


As Jamaica has completed their Geographical Indication for “Jamaican Rum” and Barbados moves to completion of their GI, it becomes increasingly important to dispel the canards around this important process.

With rum we have many canards – rum has no rules – rum is diverse and varied because of this wonderful lack of rules. Unlike other spirits, we are told Rum has no “global rules”. And that there are efforts to have a global rule which will crush our diversity.

See my takedown of this here –

A recent canard is that a GI (a registered intellectual property) is a further threat to this diversity and a threat to “innovation”.

The irony of this situation is that a GI seeks to preserve and protect this diversity. It is the essential tool by which this is accomplished. And the dreaded fear of selling rum under one “unified” rule is EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS NOW AND IS PRECISELY WHAT A GI WILL SOLVE.

If Caribbean producers sell rum into the US, it is not the standards of identity (“the rules”) of Jamaica, Martinique or Barbados that apply. It is the rules of the United States TTB that apply. That is right, despite being from three very different and diverse rum producing countries, they will be sold in the US under the same ONE rule. This means that although AGAINST THE LAW OF JAMAICA to add anything to rum besides caramel a Jamaica Rum can be sold in the US with added flavours including sugar (and labeled as Jamaican Rum) because the generic rule for Rum sold in the US allows blenders to be added to any rum.

But the situation is very different for the spirits produced by developed countries. The United States TTB will enforce the rules of Scotland for a Scotch Whisky sold in the US. The United States TTB will enforce the rules of Cognac for a Cognac sold in the US. The US will not protect a Jamaican Rum or a Barbadian Rum from adulteration in the US. The US does not control the use of the word ‘Agricole’ in the US market leading to all sorts of hideous products, not remotely consistent with the standards of ‘Agricole’ being legally labeled as Agricole

Now the US does not directly recognise GIs so creating a GI alone will not be enough to solve this issue in the US but the US illustrates the challenge of protecting our diversity very well and the GI will be the necessary first step.

The same situation applies in the EU save for the fact that the EU does recognise some GIs at this point (for example the word Agricole is protected) and it is hoped that they will recognise the GIs of Jamaican and Barbados in due course. At the moment, a Jamaica Rum and a Barbados Rum are sold in the EU under one and the same EU rule. If the EU recognises our individual GIs, it means that a Barbados Rum sold in the EU will need to meet “Barbados Rules” and a Jamaica Rum will need to meet “Jamaica Rules”. That diversity everyone wants will be protected – that dreaded ‘global rule’ for rum, avoided.

Because the EU recognises the GI for Scotch Whisky, the additional requirements to meet the standards of identity for Scotch Whisky over the EU generic standard for whisky are recognised and the label “Scotch Whisky” is protected throughout the EU. The GI for Jamaica Rum and the draft GI for Barbados pose additional requirements, over and above the generic EU definition of Rum (the “one” rule) to protect and preserve the characteristic identity of these rums. The GI is the tool by which we will protect our diversity. The GI is the tool by which we avoid having to produce under one “global rule”.

What of the claim that a GI stifles innovation?

Lets be clear as to what exactly is innovation. Marketing gimmicks that do not add value are not innovations. Changing the elements of repute in a Jamaica Rum or a Barbados Rum is not innovation. A GI is not a legal restraint on a producer. All producers continue to operate under the existing laws. A GI is a piece of intellectual property protecting how a type of “trademark” can be used – it places no law whatsoever on production. It constrains no one from producing as they please. It constrains them from labeling as they please. A Jamaican musician can play any tune just do not expect it to be called reggae unless it sounds like reggae.

So what are these innovation stifling constraints in the Barbados and Jamaica GIs:

– Barbadian trained operators

– fermented and distilled in Barbados/Jamaica

– Saccharomyces types only for yeast

– local water source only

– free of additives except caramel which must only be used for colour (Barbados draft GI has a quantitative albeit generous limit on caramel) – the same restriction in Scotch

– minimum ester levels for Jamaica rum (by marque)

– aged in oak (“small” is the Jamaica requirement, 700 litres maximum for Barbados)

– aged entirely in Jamaica (a min of two years in Barbados).

– Jamaica rum must pass an organoleptic test

I will address the wisdom of “restricting to oak” in another post, save to say that is hardly onerous and Scotch Whisky has the same “restriction”. There is a plethora of excellent oak casks available for “innovation”. One obvious point is that it keeps a point of difference between rum and cachaca and preserves an important distinction in our social and economic history.

Aging is Europe is a product of the colonial way of doing business where only limited value was earned in the colonies and product whether it be sugar, rum or bauxite was to be shipped at the lowest commodity value. Bulk brown sugar would leave the Caribbean in the ship’s hold but arrive on the supermarket shelf as branded granulated sugar. Bulk molasses sold as branded ‘treacle” once on the shelf.

The advent of continental aging therefore had nothing whatsoever to do with product quality and it is absurd as ageing Scotch Whisky in southern Spain. It simply steals value from the local producers leaving rich European brands and decrepit local operations. The Barbados GI arguably does not go far enough. Bravo to Jamaica – this “restraint” is worth millions in forex earnings. A greater share of what you pay for that bottle of rum ends up in the Caribbean with “restraints” like this.

Conforming Rums must (may?) use the words “certified Geographical Indication” on all documents including labels. Non conforming rums can be made but they will not be able to simply state “Jamaican Rum” or “Barbados Rum” and most importantly – “the use of any indication or sign which may cause a buyer to believe that a rum has the right to use the protected Geographical Indication “Jamaica Rum”, although it does not satisfy all the conditions defined in the present decree will be prosecuted”.

You cannot sell your product under another’s brand because of trademark law and you cannot sell your product under another’s protected origin because of intellectual property law. You add something to Jamaica Rum – it is no longer Jamaican Rum – that is the law of the land of Jamaica. A recognised Jamaican GI means you cannot avoid Jamaican law by selling in Europe. No more selling pure rum as “dry style rum” and sweetened rum as “rum”. In Jamaica and Barbados, rum without added sweetener is just known as rum. I have never in my life heard any Jamaican or Barbadian call it “dry style” rum. Would I dare go to Scotland and call all whiskies “dry style”? Who am I to dictate that.

So you can continue to flavour Jamaica Rum you just cannot label it in a way that may cause confusion to the buyer that they have purchased certified Jamaica Rum. The diversity and identity, created by Jamaicans, will now be protected.

Europeans created the concept of protected origins and it is used extensively by developed countries to develop and protect the intrinsic value of their products in export markets. Our time is now.

We and fellow Barbadian owned producer St Nicholas Abbey are on the record as supporting the Barbados GI as drafted.

The EU generic rule for Rum for which all Rums need to comply

The generic US TTB rule for Rum for which all Rums irrespective of origin need to comply

The US recognises and applies different rules for different types of Whisky. No such recognition for Rum – so a Rum labeled Agricole in the US need not even be from fresh juice

The US TTB will enforce the rules of different origins for different spirits but not for Rum. Even Canadian Whisky is protected.

A GI is a form of Intellectual Property – it is not a law constraining how Rum can be made

The EU will recognise GIs – they must then comply with the rules they submit through their technical file

The EU will protect a registered GI. Scotch is a GI and so Scotch sold in the EU must match the rules in the Scotch technical file, it is not enough to conform to the generic EU rule for whisky

The EU does protect some GIs for Rum. We hope to add Barbados and Jamaica to this list

An example of Cognac applying to New Zealand to say protect our origin. We need to do the same for Rum and the GI is the first step. Diversity can then be protected.

The Scotch Whisky technical file details the difference between the rules of Scotch and the generic whisky rule of the EU. They add further detail to this page.

To gain a recognised GI in the EU, a technical file must be submitted.

Jamaica has an organoleptic test requirement for its GI

I personally find it hard to understand why anyone that has an interest in the future and protection of the Rums and the people of Barbados would ever not think that the Barbados GI is an essential thing.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


7 responses to “The Barbados GI & Why It Will NOT Threaten Diversity & Innovation

  1. I’m not against GIs, actually I like the idea and many of those requirements sound reasonable but this anti-continental aging/anti-IB mindset isn’t doing rum any good if you ask me…
    I might have a biased point of view here but if you ask me, rum aged in europe and bottled by european bottlers has done quite a lot for rum as a whole…
    “The Barbados GI arguably does not go far enough. Bravo to Jamaica – this “restraint” is worth millions in forex earnings. A greater share of what you pay for that bottle of rum ends up in the Caribbean with “restraints” like this.”
    That sounds great on paper but it’s not as black-and-white in reality…
    “sabotaging” european competitors by not allowing to label their bottlings poperly won’t make people like me buy more 100% caribbean products.
    Maybe this GI will help competing with mass market producers like Plantation that play in the same niche like most local producers (low ABV blends) but for people like me, this GI might make the situation worse. It will only strengthen Velier and weaken other IBs, creating less options and making it harder to get hands on good rum.
    I’m buying IBs almost exclusivly and that is due to caribbean producers not catering to what I enjoy.
    If caribbean producers want “a greater share of what I pay for that bottle of rum end up in the Caribbean”, they should just take a page from those bad, bad colonialist IBs notebook and start releasing more stuff like “Pure single Rum” themself…
    If I had easy access to some good high’ish proof rums like Rockley-style rum directly from WIRD, or if I could get a proper Mt Gay Pot Still rum without digging up an old Duncan Taylor or Cadenhead somewhere (or going to Velier and buying a “Mount Gilboa”), I would love to give more money to caribbean companies, but they simply don’t give me the opportunity to do that while IB’s do, even if they have to rely on rum, not aged in it’s place of distillation…

    • The GI is not anti IB and does not sabotage Euro competitors – you have read into the GI things that are simply not there.

      IBs can and will continue to bottle and label Barbados and Jamaica Rum. Jamaican Rum will be required to be aged in Jamaica.

      IBs of Scotch Whisky can only bottle Scotch Whisky aged in Scotland. Why cant the Caribbean have the same privilege?

      It is the colonial model that has made it difficult for you to get your hands on great rum. Think of the 100+ closed distilleries that you will never get your hands on because they never developed a brand under the colonial model.

      To say you buy IBs exclusively because Caribbean producers were not catering to what you enjoy is to entirely and completely misunderstand the situation. Caribbean producers were not able to develop brands and never had the opportunity to offer you anything at all. For example there has never been a Hampden or Worthy Park brand till now. How do you blame them for not offering what you enjoy?

      By requiring aging at the Geographical origin, more value is earned in the Caribbean whether supplied by the official brand of the distillery or an independent bottling. This is the only way to sustain the rum producers. This is normal business model for every spirits business except colonial rum.

      Having a level playing field for age statements is not “sabotaging” the Euro IB. It is making it fairer for the Caribbean producer.

      It is astonishing for me when you say that the IBs have “done a lot for rum as a whole”.

      What of the producers?

      Do you really believe the producers exist because of the IBs or do the IBs exist because of the producers?

      You speak of “proper pot still MG” – do you know that MG sold 100% pot still rum in Barbados up until around the time it was acquired by an American company in the 80s.

      You might be surprised to learn the availability of the high proof rums from IBs has a lot more to do with the producers than the IBs. I have never seen an IB visit our distillery.

      • Thanks for the reply, I appreciate you taking time to respond here!

        I’d love to be proven wrong here but I can only judge the situation from the point of view of a regular, EU based consumer who enjoys bold heavy, high proof rum. I can only judge what I can buy. Reading that caribbean producers never had the chance to build up brands is sad but in the end, I’m just a consumer and I want to be able to buy and enjoy rum, I’d love it if it came from a local caribbean producer but since I started getting into rum (6-7 years ago), IB’s were the only reliable source for this kind of „niche“ Rum that I enjoy and it’s only now that I see some very few producers like WP or Hampden come forth an release rum I’m somewhat interested in under their own brand.
        But is this something that will actually gain traction among other producers with GI in place? Maybe it will and limiting foreign aging will lead to more „experiments“ and IB’esque bottlings but from your perspective: do you truly believe that these GIs will lead to more rum being bottled in a way that I would enjoy? Do you see yourself (or Mt Gay, WIRD) come up with something like a light/medium aged, >50% alc., pure pot still rum under an own Brand now that those GIs are done.
        Do you see any chance that we will ever see something like a super high ester rum from New Yarmouth again, if not from an european warehouse (yes, I know your personal stand on rums above Wedderburn but some people actually like this kind of stuff).

        “IBs can and will continue to bottle and label Barbados and Jamaica Rum. Jamaican Rum will be required to be aged in Jamaica. ”
        Which would pretty much limit the range of bottlers to Velier since most other IB’s only source from rum sold as bulk.
        Maybe more IBs will follow Velier and come to the Caribbean and hopefully Caribbean producers can built up their own brands (and start to cater to smaller groups like me) but to me, it feels like this might limit my sources of even further. Again: I’d love to be proven wrong but I’m a little cautious here.

        “It is astonishing for me when you say that the IBs have “done a lot for rum as a whole”.”
        As I said, I might have a biased POV here but if not for those independently bottled high proof Pot Still rum, my interest in Rum would have never grown. Stuff like Cockspur just doesn’t come close to a Rockley-style rum. The colonial way of doing business caused big problems for the caribbean rum world, thats nothing I want to argue about but the way I see it IBs have played a valuable role in preserving what is left and making it available for the regular consumer. (of course this rum had to be produced by caribbean distilleries first…)

        “Do you really believe the producers exist because of the IBs or do the IBs exist because of the producers?”
        I never said producers would exist only because of IBs. What I said was that my interest in rum was built up and secured by the steady stream of what IB’s have bottled. I’m painfully aware of how dependent IBs are on producers.

        “You speak of “proper pot still MG” – do you know that MG sold 100% pot still rum in Barbados up until around the time it was acquired by an American company in the 80s.”
        No I didn’t know it and that’s a fucking shame they had to stop that but could you try to explain how this GI will improve this situation for me? (Keep in mind we’re at two different positions here: you being the local producer, I’m being a foreign consumer with a rather specific preference…)
        Isn’t Mt. Gay still owned by Rémy Cointreau?
        The way I understand it, this GI will it make harder for Rémy Cointreau to sell more pot still rum to europe (if they wanted to) but I don’t see an incentive to bottle that stuff themself, please correct me if IÄm mistaken.

        Again, I hope to be proven wrong and I’s love to see rum flourish and I’m sure those GIs will help in some way, Bar/Jam Rums deservs their own GI but I’d hate it if people like me became „collateral damage“ on that way.

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  5. I think the producers should get everything they deserve. After all, the IB’s would still sell it, even more so maybe if they called it Scottish Aged Wedderburn Mark 5, Foursquare Pot/Column or whatever. My next purchase is going to be Cadenhead’s Foursquare Rum because the Scottish aging gives it a drier profile which is a nice change.

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