Rum is produced in more than 80 countries, using many divergent methods, with copious variations of fermentation, different types of distillation, myriad blending styles and a plethora of aging techniques, BUT :
All Rums have a common raw material : Sugarcane molasses and/or Sugarcane juice and the process stages are :
1. Dehydration of sugarcane juice by way of condensation, followed by centrifugal separation of molasses.
2. Fermentation of molasses or sugarcane juice.
3. Fractional distillation of the fermented molasses or sugarcane juice.
Most rums can be classified in one or more of a few distinct categories. Let’s learn more about the most popular types of rum.
White Or Clear Rum
White rum is clear, usually has milder flavor and lighter body than gold or dark rums. These light types of rum are most often used to create cocktails that do not have a need for bold rum flavor.
In the U.S., most white rums are sold at 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume. White rums are cheaper to make and less expensive to purchase that more mature rums.
In Europe, the minimum % of alcohol must be 37.5 (75 proof).
White rums are popular in most common drinks, such as Cuba Libre (rum, Coke and lime), Daiquiri, Mojito and Piña Colada.
Gold Or Pale Rum
As rum mellows in barrels over time, it takes on amber or golden hues. These golden types of rum usually present a more flavorful profile than the white or clear rums. Gold rums are used to make cocktails in which a stronger flavor is desired.
Gold rums are often aged several years or more and some coloring may be added to provide consistency. Subtle flavors of vanilla, almond, citrus, caramel or coconut may be present from the type of barrels used in the aging process.
Gold rums are often enjoyed on the rocks or neat, in addition to being used in cocktail recipes. They are popular in recipes for baking and making desserts as well.
These medium bodied rums are often quite affordable compared to older aged rums that have allowed to mature for many years.
The term Dark Rum is essentially meaningless.
Many aged rums are referred to as dark, only to distinguish them from light. The label of dark rum is often assigned to a range of rums that are not clear, from light golden amber to black, as well as rums that are well aged.
Dark types of rum are often aged in oak barrels for extended periods.
When used in cocktail recipes, the robust rums offer a contrast of more flavorful profiles compared to white rums, overproof rums, flavored and spiced rums.
The darkest, richest, heavy bodied rums are often referred to as black rums, offering bold tropical essence to libation and recipes. Black types of rum are popular ingredients used to balance the flavors of drinks against gold, white and spiced rums.
Most black rum is made from molasses, a thick, dark sweet liquid left over in the process of manufacturing crystallized sugar. The black rums retain much of this rich molasses and caramel flavoring and are sometimes colored with burnt caramel to achieve consistently dark hues.
Black rums are essential to many uses in the baking and candy-making industries, imparting bold sweet spicy flavors to cakes, candies, desserts and sauces.
The barrels used to mature black rums are often charred or fired heavily, imparting much of the wood’s strong flavors to the liquid. They may also have remaining molasses in them.
Black rums are popular in British territories such as Bermuda, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands and Guyana.
Navy rum refers to the traditional dark, full-bodied rums associated with the British Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy was famed for its custom of providing a daily ration of rum to sailors, as far back as 1655 when the British fleet captured the island of Jamaica. Rum traveled aboard ships far better that French brandy. As a matter of fact, where grape-based spirits of wine and brandy eventually went bad in the heat of the tropics, rum seemed to improve as it aged in the barrels aboard ship.
Around 1740, the practice of watering down the rum and supplementing it with lime to prevent scurvy became popular. This change is often credited to Admiral Edward Vernon, who was known to wear an old grogham coat and his potion was nicknamed grog, or later, tot. The tradition of providing British sailors with a daily ration of rum continued until July 31, 1970, known as black tot day.
To ensure the viability of the economies of its territories, recipes for navy rum included blends of spirit from British territories, including Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.
One of the first official purveyors of rum to the Navy was Mr. Lehman Hart, starting in the early 1800s. A few decades later, Alfred Lamb began aging his dark rum in cool cellars beneath the river Thames, earning his product the nickname of London dock rum. The Lemon Hart brand was registered in 1888 and remains to this day a popular staple of naval-style rums. United Rum Merchants was created as a merger of several leading rum concerns.
Unique to the rums of Guyana is their legacy 200 year old wooden pot still that produces an uncommonly rich and full bodied spirit. This Demerara rum is an essential ingredient in many navy rums.
The final supply of old British Royal Navy Imperial Rum, representing the spirit of international adventure, honor and bravery on the high seas, have recently been re-bottled and are available for the most serious rum collectors.
Premium Aged Rum
Many fine rums are aged in oak barrels for years to achieve a superior flavor profile. The interaction of spirit and wood has a positive effect on the smoothness, the richness and the subtle flavors of the rum.
Aged rums often represent the finest examples of mature rums from a distillery, often blended to achieve complexity and distinctive flavor profiles. The cost of storage and the loss of some rum from the barrels through evaporation adds to the cost of producing aged rums.
These older, more mature rums, often labeled as anejo in Spanish territories, are often enjoyed neat or on the rocks like a fine cognac or single malt scotch. In addition, many cocktail recipes call for the inclusion of these flavorful and rich types of rum.
Aged rums generally take on darker and richer colors due to the time spent in barrels. Charred oak barrels can impart dark tones. Cognac and sherry barrels can produce a reddish tint.
Rums labeled premium or ultra-premium often contain age statements. In the U.S. and some other territories, the age statement refers to the youngest rum in the blend. For example, Appleton Estate 21 from Jamaica is comprised of aged rums at least 21 years old. Other territories have differing standards. For example, Zacapa Centenario 23 from Guatemala is a blend of rums aged 6 to 23 years old.
While most rums sold are blended from multiple sources before bottling, some unique rums are bottled from specific vintage years of production.
Vintage rums are most often seen from the French islands, where the growing and processing season is short. In some cases, private label rum brands purchase a large bulk of rum from a single production year, age the product and bottle it when maturity is peaking.
Boutique rum brands are bringing more vintage rums to the market every year. These types of rum tend to be limited editions that are valuable to collectors and serious rum enthusiasts.
Like in the production of fine wines, in some years the harvest is bountiful, while others are not as abundant. The amount of sugar contained in the raw cane might vary each year due to changes in rainfall and other environmental factors. The resulting differences are noted by the master distiller and the maturing process is monitored to achieve the ideal flavor profile for that vintage year.
Vintage rums are labeled with the year they were distilled and the location of their origin.
Most rums available for sale are 80 to 100 proof(40% to 50% alcohol by volume). Types of rum which contain higher concentrations of alcohol are often labeled as overproof.
Rums produced for popular consumption are distilled to remove non-alcohol components. The modern distillation process produces a spirit that is generally 160 to 190 proof alcohol (80% alc to 95% alc). After aging and blending, most rums are diluted with water to reach 80 proof standard (40% alc).
Some rums, such as Sunset Very Strong Rum from St. Vincent are not diluted. Sunset VSR is bottled at the full cask strength of 169 proof.
U.S. regulations prevent rums over 155 proof (77.5% alc) from entering the U.S. under most circumstances, so many manufacturers produce rums in the 150 proof range, such as Bacardi 151, Cruzan 151, El Dorado 151 High Strength Rum, Bruddah Kimio’s Da Bomb 155, Gosling’s 151 and Matusalem 151 Red Flame.
One of the most popular overproof rums is Jamaica’s Wray And Nephew White Overproof at 126 proof (63% alc.). This potent spirit is the most popular rum sold in Jamaica.
Overproof rums tend to be more popular in the Caribbean Islands where locals prefer a stronger drink. They’re also used in cooking recipes that call for rum to be ignited in flame (flambé) or drinks that blend a very strong rum into their recipe.
Classic rum punches are often made with high-proof rum mixed with tropical juices (and sometimes flavored rums and liqueurs) to deliver a “punch” to those that enjoy them.
Rhum Agricole is a specific category of rhum made principally in the French territories of the Caribbean, especially Martinique, but similar styles are also produced in Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante and St. Barths. Reunion Island (a French Overseas Territory, like Martinique) and it’s neighboring Island Nation of Maritius in the southwest Indian Ocean also produce Agricole style rums. Rhums made in Haiti from cane juice may also be considered agricole by some rum experts.
Martinique is the only geographic region in the world to have an AOC mark in the rum industry. Similar to the AOC marks for champagne and cognac, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée for Martinique rhum agricole is a standard of production, aging and labeling.
Rhum Agricole is fermented and distilled from pure, fresh cane juice. The spirit is distilled to about 70 percent alcohol, a lesser degree than most molasses-based rums, allowing the rhum to retain more of the original flavor of the full cane juice.
The lighter rhums agricole are rested for up to six months before being bottled as rhum blanc. They’re often used in the popular cocktail known as petit punch (‘ti punch) mixed with lime and cane syrup.
Other more mature rhums have been aged in oak barrels for years, taking on richer hues and flavors. After three years of maturing, the rhums are labeled rhum vieux (old rum). Some of these exceptional spirits are bottled as vintages, such as wines from France. For example, the Rhum J.M. 1997 vintage spent ten years in oak before being bottled in 2007.
The Brazilian sugar cane spirit known as cachaça (kah-SHA-sah) is one of the most popular categories of cane spirit in the world. Made from fresh sugar cane juice, cachaça is often bottled with little or no aging in barrels, presenting a full-flavored profile spirit most popularly enjoyed in cocktails, such as the caipirinha (kai-pee-REEN-yah), the national drink of Brazil.
Some premium products, referred to as artisanal cachaças, are often made in small quantities and aged in woods indigenous to Brazil. The region of Minas Gerais in Brazil is well know for producing artisanal cachaça. Using natural yeast in the environment, these spirits are distilled in copper pots in small batches. Maturing in wood develops special aroma components and softens the finish.
Large manufacturers of cachaça use tall column stills of stainless steel to produce vast volumes of spirit in a continuous process, most of which is enjoyed without maturing in barrels.
Flavored and Spiced Rum
The myriad types of flavors and spices infused into rums offer a wide range of interesting and multifarious variations of spirits, both full proof and limited potency liqueurs and creams. Spiced and flavored types of rum offer unique flavors to cocktails, rum cakes, holiday libations and many other uses, bringing decidedly tropical flavors to the palate.
Spices are generally derived from the seeds, dried fruit, root, leaf or bark of edible flora. These aromatic and pungent vegetal substances often provide excitement and zest to sweeter liquids. Many popular spiced concoctions were originally devised and distilled as medicinal cures and treatments for a laundry list of ailments known to plague modern society in the post-industrial generations. Many popular drink ingredients in the category of bitters evolved from such intendedly curative mixtures.
Roots of ginger, seeds of vanilla and allspice, bark of cinnamon or cassia and buds of clove are commonly used as flavoring agents for spiced rums. Fruit extracts of citrus, cherry, mint, black currant, coconut, mango, pineapple, banana and other tropical plants and trees bring luscious tones to flavored rum varieties.
Rum creams combine rum flavor with rich and decadent dairy textures to create dessert-like mixtures suitable for after-dinner libations or as a creamy base to other spirited drinks.
U.S. laws require products labeled as rum to contain at least 40% alcohol by volume. Some distilled spirits that do not meet this requirement are labeled as flavored rum, whether or not they contain discernible or dominant flavor agents.