Rum is a spirit with a rich and dramatic history, dating back thousands of years to the Malay culture where they produced a wine made of sugar, referred to as brum.
Rum as we know it today was first distilled in the 17th Century in the Caribbean with many rum distilleries opening plantations across equatorial regions. Interestingly, rum bottled straight after distillation – in the Caribbean tradition – was described as ‘hot and vile liquor’. Many barrels of rum were loaded aboard ships and sent to England. Discovered by the sailors aboard the ships, the rum took on delectable flavours. By the time it reached British shores – there wasn’t much left!
Rum gained popularity worldwide quickly and unfortunately was even used as a bartering tool in the American slave trade.
How it’s made
Rum is produced through the distillation of fermented sugar and water. The sugar originates from sugar cane crops and is processed in three ways.
-Sugar cane juice is produced by crushing the fibrous sugar cane. This can be immediately fermented and distilled as practiced in the French West Indies. As the sugar isn’t as processed as other methods, the rum has a sweet flavour.
-Cooking the sugar cane into a syrupy substance is another popular method as it preserves many of the characteristics of the sugar cane juice but allows the syrup to be stored and distilled year-round, not just at harvest time.
-The third and most frequently exercised practice is to process the juice into molasses. These rums aren’t as sweet as the sugar cane-based rums.
Once the sugar cane juice or molasses has been extracted, the distillation process begins. It’s at this point the rum is barrelled and aged for several years to give it the defining characteristics of rum. If the rum is spiced, then these spices will be added to the mix before the distillation process begins.
Rum varies greatly in both colour and character. Ranging from a clear, colourless spirit through to a translucent golden hue and dark brown, the variations in colour mirrors the variation in styles.
Younger rums are transparent and are generally lighter bodied and spicier, imparting a sweeter spirit wave than their older counterparts. These rums are the ideal components in rum cocktails such as a daiquiri, Pina colada or mojito.
As rum matures and gains complexity in the resting phase, natural tannins within the barrel gives the rum a golden hue which intensifies the longer it’s in the barrel. After several years, the rum reaches a rich brown shade. The natural Esters in the wood barrels infuse the rum with vanilla and Smokey oak tones, creating rums that are often enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
Finding the right rum
The best way to pick a rum is by its colour. The darker a rum, the more complex the flavours. Look at our rum cheat sheet:
Dark Rum: Complex and powerful, dark rums is aged in oak barrels. This smoothens its body and gives it more complex flavours. Best enjoyed: Neat or in a cocktail such as a Daiquiri.
Spiced Rum: These rums have an extra kick of flavour thanks to spices that are added during distillation. Spiced rums are best enjoyed with delicious cocktails or mixers such as the spiced rum sangria.
Light Rum: With big and sugary primary flavours, these rums are on the sweeter end of the spectrum Light rums are best enjoyed in classic cocktails such as mojitos.