Rum is a hard alcohol made from fermented sugar. This process usually includes the fermentation of the juices of the sugarcane plant, as well as of molasses and other by-products of sugar production. Rum is one of the major liquors in the world, with a history steeped in the myths of piracy, the Caribbean, and slavery.
The first true rums were made in the Caribbean during the early 17th century by fermenting the molasses left over from refining sugar into a heady liquor. Barbados is held by many to be the birthplace of rum, and for many years the Caribbean rums were known for their low quality and fiery taste. Not much later, much of the production of rum moved to New England, which used imported Caribbean molasses to produce their liquor. By the end of the 17th century, rum was New England’s most produced commodity and played a crucial role in the establishment of the region’s early economy.
Eventually, rum helped establish what became known as the triangular trade, a three-part loop of international trade that endured until the late 18th century. Because of the popularity of New England rum throughout the Old World, more sugar plantations were needed in the Caribbean. With the increase of sugar plantations to produce sugar for consumption and rum making, more labor was needed to work the land. Slaves were taken from Africa to the Caribbean, where they were traded to plantation owners for molasses, which was brought to New England and traded for rum, which in turn was sold in Europe to generate more wealth to purchase more slaves.
Distillation of Rum
Rum is distilled in the manner described in the introductory chapter of this book. The choice of stills does, however, have a profound effect on the final character of Rum. All Rums come out of the still as clear, colorless spirits. Barrel aging and the use of added caramel determine their final color. Since caramel is burnt sugar, it can be truthfully said that only natural coloring agents are used.
Lighter Rums are highly rectified (purified and blended) and are produced in column or continuous stills, after which they are usually charcoal-filtered and sometimes aged in old oak casks for a few months to add a degree of smoothness. Most light Rums have minimal flavors and aroma, and are very similar to Vodka, particularly those brands that have been charcoal-filtered. Heavier Rums are usually distilled in pot stills; similar to those used to produce Cognacs and Scotch whiskies. Pot stills are less “efficient” than column stills and some congeners (fusel oils and other flavor elements) are carried over with the alcohol. Some brands of Rum are made by blending pot and column distilled Rums in a manner similar to Armagnac production.
Classifications of Rum
White Rums are generally light-bodied (although there are a few heavy-bodied White Rums in the French islands). They are usually clear and have a very subtle flavor profile. If they are aged in oak casks to create a smooth palate they are then usually filtered to remove any color. White Rums are primarily used as mixers and blend particularly well with fruit flavors.
Golden Rums, also known as Amber Rums, are generally medium-bodied. Most have spent several years aging in oak casks, which give them smooth, mellow palates.
Dark Rums are traditionally full-bodied, rich, caramel-dominated Rums. The best are produced mostly from pot stills and frequently aged in oak casks for extended periods. The richest of these Rums are consumed straight up.
Spiced Rums can be white, golden, or dark Rums. They are infused with spices or fruit flavors. Rum punches (such as planters punch) are blends of Rum and fruit juices that are very popular in the Caribbean.
Añejo and Age-Dated Rums are aged Rums from different vintages or batches that are mixed together to insure a continuity of flavor in brands of Rum from year to year. Some aged Rums will give age statements stating the youngest Rum in the blend (e.g., 10-year-old Rum contains a blend of Rums that are at least 10 years old). A small number of French island Rums are Vintage Dated.