Rum is an alcoholic spirit made from sugar cane, or it's
derivatives. According to the United States Government Federal
Standards of Identity, the following paragraph offers an official
definition of rum:
(f) Class 6; rum. "Rum" is an alcoholic distillate from the
fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane
molasses, or other sugar cane by-products, produced at less than
190 proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the
taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum,
and bottled at not less than 80 proof; and also includes
mixtures solely of such distillates.
Factors Affecting Rum Production
Significant factors that affect the taste, quality, color and
viscosity of rum include the raw fermenting materials, the method of
fermentation including the types of yeast used to convert sugars to
alcohols, the method(s) of distillation, the process of maturing the
spirits over time, the quality of water used and, in many cases, the
blending of various cane spirits to create a final product.
Additionally, some rum products include flavors and coloring agents
Fermentation and Distillation
When sugar cane juice or other sugar-based liquids are allowed to
rest, a natural process of fermentation occurs where sugars are
converted by yeast into alcohols, at approximately the strength of
wines. To further concentrate these alcohols, the process of
distillations isolates much of the alcohol components by evaporating
and condensing them into a second holding tank. The resulting
distilled liquid contains mostly alcohol, plus some other
ingredients that provide unique flavors. The more these alcohols are
isolated, the fewer flavor components remain in the solution.
Materials Used For Making Rum
Sugar Cane spirits vary greatly in the manner in which they are
created and by the products from which they are fermented.
Fresh Cane Juice
Some rums are made directly from cane juice, which is
fermented immediately after being crushed. This raw sugar cane
liquid typically contains 18 to 24 percent sugar in solution.
Rums made from fresh sugar cane juice include the cachaças from
Brazil and the Rhums Agricole from Martinique. Raw cane juice is
not able to be stored for extended periods and must be fermented
soon after being crushed.
Most of the rum distilled in the world today is made from
molasses, a by-product of the crystalline sugar making process.
After all of the crystalline sugar has been removed from the
sugar cane juice, the left-over molasses still contains
fermentable sugars and can be stored for extended periods of
time. A finer quality premium table-grade molasses contains more
natural sugars and flavors.
A third type of rum stock is concentrated sugar cane
syrup, sometimes referred to Sugar Cane Honey or Sweet
Table-Grade Molasses, which still contains all the sugars
present in cane juice, with most of the water removed. This
concentrated cane syrup may contain more than 90 percent sugar
and is able to be stored to be fermented and distilled at a
Classic Plantation Or Estate Method
In simple terms, the classic centuries-old process of making rum
from sugar cane juice is straightforward. When the cane fields are
harvested, the stalks of cane are crushed and the juice collected.
After extracting crystaline sugar from the reduced juice, the
resulting left-over molasses is fermented to begin the rum process.
Selected yeasts are added to convert sugar to alcohol. The resulting
fermented sugar cane solution is then distilled or concentrated to
140-190 proof and stored in barrels.
The classic plantation method is seasonal and the process is over
after the harvest is complete. There are few rum making operations
in the world that continue to follow the classic plantation method.
Methods Of Making Rum
The Traditional Pot Still
Many artisanal rums are produced by small companies in small
quantities. The traditional pot still is a method of distilling
fermented product in relatively small batches. The fine art of
the distiller is the key to success for the traditional pot
still method. The disadvantage is that each distinct batch may
vary to some degree and high volume production is not always
The Column Still
Most modern, well known brands of rum are made from molasses
distilled in large column stills. The process involves heating
the fermented molasses wine (sometimes called beer or wash) in
tall columns. Steam in the column strips the alcohol from the
fermented wine. The alcohol rich vapor is collected from the top
of the column then condensed into a clear high proof alcohol.
Resting And Maturing
Like vodka, which is nothing more than clear distilled alcohol with
water added, fresh rum, when first distilled,
is clear and lacks the sophisticated flavors and golden amber hues
of fine sipping rums. Unlike vodka, only a few rums are bottled
before being aged.
rums like Bacardi Silver and Don Q Cristal are aged at least one
year to gain smoothness, then carbon filtered to remove the color
gained from the barrels during the time spent aging.
Among premium rums
on the market, aging in oak barrels is one key element to producing
a superior product. The choice of used whiskey and bourbon barrels
is common. The alcohols in the rum interact with the wood to add
subtle flavors, extract color and develop a smooth characteristic
that is highly desirable to aged rums. For example, Appleton rums
from Jamaica are aged in used Jack Daniels whiskey barrels from
Another method for maturing rums is the use of new oak barrels,
often charred to an alligator-skin type texture, giving the rum a
stronger interaction with the wood element in the maturing process.
The size of the barrel makes a difference as well. Small barrels
offer a higher wood to spirit ratio and tend to mature faster.
Some rums are aged in barrels previously used for sherry, cognac,
port and other distillates, imparting their own unique
characteristics. These variations can give a master blender a range
of flavors with which to create unique blends.
Because methods of maturing can vary greatly, the simple age
statement on a bottle of rum is not always an indication of the
maturity of the spirit. Rums aged in small charred oak barrels, for
example, can become quite mature at three to five years, while other
methods take many more years to achieve similar wood-infused flavor
Clarity and Viscosity
Rums generally gain golden and amber hues as they mature. Some
distillers use burnt sugar or caramel coloring to further enhance or
balance the color for consistency. Many dark rums gain most of their
rich color and often their full-bodied flavor from added caramel or
Over time, some water and alcohol evaporates from the aging barrel.
This missing liquid has long been called the "angel's share." The
remaining product in the aging barrel becomes more concentrated in
flavor, color and viscosity.
When evaluating fine rums, judges will examine the color, clarity
and viscosity of rums by holding a tasting glass up to a light
source and swirling the product. The resulting drips of liquid on
the glass, known as "legs" offer an indication as to the range of
thin or thick characteristics. The rich color of the rum may
indicate a level of maturity compared to other products. Exceptional
clarity may indicate sophisticated filtering methods have been used.
The master blender of a fine spirit is the rock star of the
organization, possessing great talents and abilities necessary to
produce the unique products of that brand. There are mysteries and
closely guarded secrets involved in the aging and blending of fine
spirits. In many cases, aged rums are blended, then stored in
barrels again to further mature and "marry the flavors" before
bottling the final product.
One unique method of blending, known as the Solera Method, involves
adding small amounts of newer rum to barrels of aged rum as the
angel's share is depleated. After many years, the resulting marriage
of rums of many ages can create a complex blend often described as a
symphony of tones or flavors.
In the US, the age statement must refer to the youngest rum in the
Most rums can be classified in one or more of a few distinct
Or Clear Rum
White rum is clear, usually has milder flavor and lighter body than
gold or dark rums. These light rums 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. They are often aged one or more years, then filtered to
remove color. White rums may be cheaper to make and less expensive
to purchase that more mature rums.
White rums are popular in the most common drinks, such as the Cuba
Libre (rum, Coke and lime), the Daiquiri, the Mojito and the Piña
Colada. Many rum cocktails call for a white or light rum, a gold rum
and/or dark or spiced rum.
Popular white rums include Bacardi Superior, Don Q Cristal, Cruzan
Estate Light, Oronoco, Mount Gay Silver, Matusalem Plantino, Rubi
Rey, 10 Cane, Flor de Caña Extra Dry and Diplomatico Rum Blanco.
Or Pale Rum
As rum mellows in barrels over time, it takes on amber or golden
hues. These golden rums 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.
Examples of gold rums include 1 Barrel, Abuelo, Appleton Special,
Barcelo Dorado, Brugal Añejo, Bermudez Ron Dorado, Cacique Anejo
Superior, Cockspur 5 Star, Diplomatico Añejo, Doorly's 5, Don Q
Gold, El Dorado 5, Gosling's Gold, Matusalem Clasico, Maui Gold Rum,
Montanya Gold, Mount Gay Eclipse, Pyrat Pistol, Sergeant Classic
Gold and Sunset Captain Bligh Golden Rum.
Dark rums are often matured in oak barrels for two or more years to
develop rich flavors and hues of mahogany, copper and caramel. 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
Dark rums 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.
Examples of dark rums include Cruzan Estate Dark, Bacardi Select,
Flor de Caña 5 Black Label, Barbancourt 3 Star, Diplomatico Anejo,
Angostura Dark 5, Angostura 1919, Appleton V/X, Barcelo Dorado,
Cockspur 5, El Dorado 5, Matusalem Classico, Mount Gay Eclipse and
Santa Teresa Selecto.
The darkest, richest, heavy bodied rums are often referred
to as black rums, offering bold tropical essence to libation and
recipes. Black rums are popular ingredients used to balance the
flavors of drinks against gold, white and spiced rums.
Most rum is made from molasses, a thick, dark sweet liquid left over
in the process of manufacturing crystalized sugar. The black rums
retain much of this rich molasses and caramel flavoring and are
sometimes colored with burnt caramel to achieve consistently dark
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.
Black rums are popular in British territories such as Bermuda,
Jamaica, the Virgin Islands and Guyana.
Examples of black rums include Coruba, Cruzan Black Strap, Gosling's
Black Seal, Maui Dark Rum, Myers's, Skipper Demerara, Woods 100, and
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. Lemon
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.
Some popular navy style rums include Lamb's Navy Rum, Pusser's,
Lemon Hart, Skipper Demerara and Wood's 100.
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
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 rums.
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.
Premium aged rums include Angostura 1824, Appleton Extra, Atlantico
Private Cask, Bacardi 8 and Reserva Limitada, Barbancourt Reserve
Especiale and Estate Reserve, Barrilito 3 Star, Barceló Imperial,
Botran Solera 1893, Don Q Gran Anejo, Chairman's Reserve, Cockspur
12, Cubaney 15, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, El Dorado 15, Flor de
Caña 18, Gosling's Family Reserve, Matusalem Gran Reserva, Mount Gay
Extra Old and 1703, Santa Teresa 1796, Trigo Reserva Aneja, Vizcaya
VXOP, Zacapa Centenario XO and Zaya.
While most rums sold in the U.S. 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.
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. Examples are Rhum J.M. 1997 Vintage from
Martinique, Plantation Venezuela 1992 and the 1998 Vintage from
Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados.
Most rums available for sale in the U.S. are 80 to 100
proof (40% to 50% alcohol by volume). Rums which contains 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. After aging and
blending, most rums are diluted with water to reach the 80 proof
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
U.S. regulations prevent rums over 155 proof 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. 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, including
Martinique, 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
Agricoles. Rhums made in Haiti from cane juice may also be
considered agricole by some 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
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.
Some examples of rhums agricole include Clément XO and Cuvee Homere,
Darboussier Rhum Vieux 1983, Depaz Blue Cane Amber Rhum, Rhum J.M.
Agricole Blanc, La Favorite Rhum Agricole Vieux, Neisson Rhum
Réserve Spéciale, St. James Hors d'Age.
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
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.
Examples of popular cachaças available in the U.S. include Agua
Luca, Beija, Beleza Pura, Boca Loca, Cabana, Cachaça 51, Cuca
Fresca, Fazenda Mãe de Ouro, Leblon, Moleca, Rio D, Sagatiba and
Aquardiente is a spirit fermented and distilled from fruit, most
often sugar cane. The name can be translated to burning water or
Aquardiente spirits are not aged. Their simple distillation process
retains robust flavors of the vegetal matter used.
In Columbia, aguardiente is usually flavored with anise. Each region
of the country produces their own spirit which cannot be exported to
other regions. In the Andean region, the spirit is often enjoyed
straight. In the Caribbean regions, where rum is more popular than
aguardiente, the local spirit is more likely to be mixed in
Perhaps most popular aguardiente enjoyed in the U.S. is Cristal
(made from sugar cane and labled guaro), produced in Manizales,
Colombia by Industria Licorera de Caldas. A variety of flavors have
been introduced into Cristal products in recent years including
peach, orange and lime.
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 rums 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.
Some examples of the more popular and mainstream brands of spiced and flavored rums include:
Castries Peanut Rum Cream
Bacardi Limon and Dragonberry
Cruzan Mango and Coconut
Don Q Passion
Parrot Bay Coconut Rum
Crisma Rum Cream
Taylor's Velvet Falernum