German Rum – A category of its own
German rum? What the hell?!“ This is quite a reasonable reaction when hearing that a distillate so heavily related to warmer climates like, for example, the Caribbean, has a long lasting history in a, well, not so sunny middle European country. To be more exact, it was the city of Flensburg (the northernmost town of Germany) that coined the term “German rum“ pretty much all on its own. To be more exact, technically it all started in Denmark, the state Flensburg belonged to them until 1864.
During the 17th century the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway began to set sail towards the “new world“ and claimed as their own the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. About 60 years later the kingdom acquired the island of St. Croix from the French and immediately started to produce sugar and its by-product, rum, on a large scale for domestic use. It is said that on these three small islands no less than 128 mills were producing sugar by the end of the 18th century. The Danish empire did not only acquire a taste for sugar during the following 100 years of triangular trade, it certainly also did for rum. It became the spirit of choice in the region and even out-powered the predominant grain distillates.
In the middle of everything was the city of Flensburg, which was the most important harbour for the Danish kingdom during that time. When the city became German after the German-Danish war all strings attached to the still Danish colonies St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix were cut. The Germans now had to come up with a different supplier of rum to meet their growing need for a cheap spirit. They found it in Jamaica. Flensburg once again became the centre point of all activity surrounding sugarcane, but by this time was catering to a far larger consumer base.
When Germany raised the import duties on rum and sugar in 1885 to support the domestic industry, the wealthy German rum merchants did not take long to establish a new business plan. Instead of buying bulk rum they started to order what you would call a “rum-essence”: a highly aromatic, high-ester rum that was not enjoyable on its own, but had to be blended with a neutral spirit in order to be portable. Upon arriving in Flensburg, this “German Flavour Rum“ was then blended with neutral grain spirits of domestic heritage and diluted with water to drinking strength. This procedure allowed merchants to save on large import duties and kept them profitable, but also resulted in a large drop in quality. This did not keep the German consumers from buying it, and soon enough the product became known as “Rum-Verschnitt“ (eng.: “Rum-blend“) and was legally defined. To be called “Rum-Verschnitt“ the liquid had to contain at least 5% “German Flavour Rum“ and be 37.5% Vol. Alc.
Over the years two other definitions found their way into the German legislation:
Original Rum – bulk rum of bottling strength, bottled in Germany without changes to the liquid.
Echter Rum – bulk rum of cask strength, diluted to bottling strength with water and bottled in Germany.
Over the centuries the city of Flensburg has become synonymous with rum in Germany and has a rich heritage revolving around the world of sugarcane and rum. To this day Flensburg and its surrounding areas in the far north of Germany are hosts to numerous bottling plants for global rum brands. Who would have though?!
‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc’.