Rum invokes thoughts of sunshine, warm weather, parties and the beach. Aside from vodka, there is no drink more versatile and popular across every demographic than rum.
Rum is delicious, that’s for sure. But what is it exactly? Rum lovers the world over owe their gratitude to a plant: the sugarcane. Rum is a distilled beverage made from sugarcane products, such as molasses or fresh juice of the sugarcane. Molasses is the residue that remains after sugarcane juice is boiled and the crystallized sugar is extracted.
Due to a high demand for sugar in Europe dating back to the 1600’s, colonies were established in the Caribbean to produce the hot commodity. There wasn’t much use for the byproduct molasses until slaves in the 1700’s discovered that the thick, sweet substance could be fermented and distilled. Thus began the Triangular Trade. The British shipped molasses to New England where it was transformed into rum. Proceeds from the sale were used in the purchasing of West African slaves who were taken to sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean and South America.
The majority of rum production today takes place in the Caribbean and Latin America. Unlike Scotch and Bourbon, there are no global requirements for the production of rum. It is fermented using cultured yeasts or airborne wild yeasts for a period of 24 hours for light rums, to several weeks for heavy, full varieties. Each region or island, has it’s own production-style:
English-speaking islands and countries such as Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Bermuda are known for a dark rum with a fuller taste that retains a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor.
French-speaking islands and countries such as Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique are known for their agricultural rums. These rums are produced only from sugar cane juice and are more expensive than molasses-based rums.
Spanish-speaking islands and countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama produce anejo rum, golden rum made from a blend of rich, aged rum. The blend is filtered and then stored in charred oak barrels, imparting a mellow taste and rich aroma.
There are seven types of rum:
Dark Rum – Known for its color, dark rum is made from molasses. It is aged longer than the other types in heavily charred barrels that give a strong flavor with a strong overtone.
Gold Rum – Also known as amber rum, gold rum is medium-bodied and is aged in the same charred, white oak barrels as bourbon whiskey.
Light Rum – Referred to as silver or white, light rums have little flavor aside from a general sweetness. Sometimes they are even filtered after aging to remove any color.
Flavored Rum – Flavored rums are infused with fruit such as oranges, coconuts, mangoes and bananas. There are generally less than 80 proof and are used to flavor tropical drinks.
Overproof Rum – These rums are 150-160 proof, while the standard is 80 proof.
Premium Rum – Generally consumed straight, these “sippable” rums are carefully produced and aged from boutique brands.
Spiced Rum – These rums obtain their flavors through addition of spices such as cinnamon, rosemary, absinthe, and pepper. Most are darker in color and are based with gold rums.
How is rum versatile? Rum goes well in some of your favorite drinks – Rum Punch, Cuba Libre, Hurricane, Pain Killer, Dark N’ Stormy, Mai Tai, and the all time favorite Rum and Coke (the list goes on..). It is also found in a myriad of recipes – rum balls, rum cakes, rum raisin ice cream, bananas foster (and this list goes on and on…). So, grab a bottle and enjoy.
P.S. And before you do that, check out the New York Times article “On a Caribbean Rum Trail”. NYT writer Baz Dreisinger embarks on a fascinating rum tour of Jamaica, Barbados, and Martinique.