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Rum Unleashed: Exploring the Intriguing Diversity of Rum Types


What is rum made from? Sugar of some sort. Most often, by-products of sugarcane production, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice by a method of fermentation and subsequent distillation. Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage. After distillation, a clear liquid is produced that is typically aged in oak barrels. Rum is referred to in Spanish in terms such as Ron Viejo or “old rum” and Ron Añejo or “aged rum.”


For the most part, the world’s rum production occurs in Latin America and the Caribbean. Major rum producing countries include the Dominican Republic,Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Belize, Martinique, Guatemala, Colombia,Brazil,Haiti, Belize,Venezuela, Bolivia,U.S. Virgin Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana, Peru, and Cuba.


Rum is produced in many areas including New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico, India, in the Canary Islands of Spain, Australia, Hawaii, the Philippines, Reunion Island, Mauritius, South Africa and Canada, to a lesser extent.


Lighter rum made from molasses is typically used in cocktails, while golden and dark rum is usually consumed by itself, i.e., straight or neat, or in cooking, but also commonly consumed with mixers. Premium rum is also produced and is made to be consumed either straight or on ice.


Rum is a part of the culture in most islands of the West Indies as well as in the Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland. Rum has well-known associations with the English Royal Navy, where it was mixed with water or beer to make grog, and with piracy, where it was consumed as “Bumbo”. Rum has been a popular medium of commerce, used to help fund enterprises such as slavery, organized crime and military insurgencies (the American Revolution and Australia’s Rum Rebellion).



There are two major types of rum. Agricultural or “Agricole” and Industrial or “Industriel”. The basis of the two categorizations is determined by the base of ingredients distilled. To further clarify, Rhum Agricole is rum made from sugarcane juice alone and which tend to retain a sugarcane flavor. For Rum Industrial (also called traditional rum), is rum made from sugar solution made from molasses (a refined sugar production by-product) and water.


Lastly, there is "Rhum grand arôme" a special designation which designates the rum made from molasses (which had been left for fermentation) and using a mix of Vinasse an extended period. (Vinasse is the residue left in a still after the process of distillation).  This kind of rum develops a very strong aroma. This rum is typically used in baking and cooking. Varying rules and laws of the country producing the spirit always have defined rum. The issues in defining rum include differences in proof level, aging times and naming standards.


Colombia, for example, requires their rum to have a minimum alcohol content of 50% alcohol by volume (ABV), while Chile and Venezuela require a minimum of only 40% ABV. Mexico requires rum to be aged for a minimum of eight months, while the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Venezuela require two years. Standards of naming are also part of the picture. Argentina, for example, defines rum as white, gold, light and extra light. Grenada and Barbados use terms including white, overproof and matured while the United States uses the terms rum, rum liqueur, and flavored rum. Australia uses the terms dark or red rum and white rum. They also use underproof, or UP, overproof, or OP and triple distilled.


In spite of these variations in standards and naming, the following divisions are provided to illustrate the broad variety of rums produced.


Regional Variations

In the Caribbean, every island or area of production has its individual style. Often, these styles can be categorized by the language spoken in the area. Because of the strong influence of Puerto Rican rum, most rum consumed in the U.S. is made in the 'Spanish-speaking' style.

Spanish speaking countries and islands typically produce añejo rum with a smooth taste. Many types of rum typical of this style come from Cuba, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Venezuela. Rum from the U.S. Virgin Islands represents this style, as well. The Canary Islands makes honey rum which is also known as Ron Miel de Canarias and which carries a geographical designation.


English speaking countries and islands are usually known to have darker rum with a fuller taste that brings out more of the underlying molasses flavor. Typical of this style are rums from Grenada, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Saint Kitts, Trinidad and Tobago, the Demerara region of Guyana and Jamaica.


French speaking countries and islands are best known for Rhum Agricole or agricultural rums. These rums are produced from sugarcane juice alone and tend to retain a sugarcane flavor. They are also more expensive than molasses based rums. Typical of this style are rums from Haiti and Martinique, (previous French colonies).


Brazil produces a spirit similar to rum known as Cachaça. This rum could be classified as a Rhum Agricole, as it’s made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice. Certain countries, including the U.S., categorize cachaça as a kind of rum. Seco is a kind of alcohol similar to rum from Panama. It is also similar to vodka in that it is triple distilled.


Batavia arrack, or arrak, is an Indonesian spirit similar to rum that also includes rice in its production. Mexico produces several kinds of lighter and dark rums. It also produces other, less expensive flavored and unflavored liquors based on sugarcane, such as Aguardiente de Caña and Charanda.


Aguardiente is produced in Central America and northern regions of South America. This spirit is typically infused with anise, distilled from molasses and has additional sugarcane juice added after distillation.


In West Africa, especially in Liberia, a cheap, strong spirit distilled from sugarcane is called 'cane juice' or Liberian rum or simply CJ in Liberia. It can be as strong as 86 proof. A refined cane spirit known simply as Cane has been produced in South Africa since the 1950s.


In Europe, a “rum-like” spirit made from the sugar beet is known as Tuzemák (made from Tuzemsky rum, domestic rum) in the Czech Republic and Kobba Libre in the Aland Islands.


In Germany, Rum-Verschnitt (literally, blended or cut rum) is a cheaper substitute for genuine dark rum. This is a distilled alcohol made from genuine dark rum (typically from Jamaica), rectified spirit and water. Often a caramel coloring is used as well. The relative amount of genuine rum present can be low given that the legal minimum is only 5%, although the taste of Rum-Verschnitt is still quite similar to genuine dark rums. Inlander Rum is a similar, domestic rum produced in Austria. However, this rum is always spiced (brand name Stroh), while German Rum-Verschnitt, on the other hand, is never spiced or flavored.





Typically, the grades and variations used in the description of rum depend on the place where the rum is produced, not what is rum made from. In spite of these variations, though, the terms used below are frequently used to describe different kinds of rum.


Light rums- Also referred to as Silver or White rums tend to have little flavor aside from a general sweetness. Light rums are often employed as the base for cocktails. Lighter rums are sometimes filtered after aging in order to remove any color. Cachaça in Brazil is an example, though some varieties are more similar to "gold rums." Lighter rums tend to come from Puerto Rico. As opposed to being consumed straight, they are popular in mixed drinks due to milder flavors.


Gold rums- Medium-bodied, aged rums that are also known as amber or gold rums. They receive their darker color from being aged in wood barrels, often charred, white oak barrels from the United Stated, used in the production of Bourbon whiskey previously. These rums usually have a stronger flavor than lighter rums. They can be considered mid-way between light and dark rums.


Dark rums- A grade darker than gold rums are dark rums known by their color, which can be brown, black or red. They tend to be aged longer in heavily charred barrels, which gives them much stronger flavors than either light or gold rums. Strong spices can also be detected, as well as a strong molasses or caramel overtones. These tend to provide the substance and the color in rum drinks. Additionally, dark rum is very commonly used for cooking purposes. Many darker types of rum originate in Jamaica, Haiti and Martinique. However, Nicaragua and Guatemala in Central America produced two of the most award-winning dark rums in the world. They are called Flor de Cana and Ron Zacapa Centenario.


Spiced rums- A flavor added rum with spices and sometimes caramel. Most of these are darker in color and are based on gold rum. Some are quite a bit darker, although many cheap brands are made from cheaper white rum and then darkened with caramel coloring. Spices that are added include cinnamon, rosemary, absinthe/aniseed or pepper.


Flavored Rums- Rums that are flavored can be infused with fruit flavors including banana, mango, orange, citrus, coconut, star fruit or lime. These rums tend to be less than 40% ABV and flavor tropical drinks. Often, they’re enjoyed mixed with juices or on the rocks.


Overproof rums- These rums are much higher than the typical 40% ABV. These rums often have more than 60% ABV, and rums of 75-80% ABV are common. An example is Jack Iron Rum from Grenada, which is made by Westerhall Estate Ltd.


As with other sipping spirits such as Cognac and Scotch, premium rums are in a special market category. Boutique brands often sell carefully produced, aged rums. They often have more flavors and character than their counterparts used in mixing, and are often consumed straight. An example is Diplomático Ambassador Selection from Venezuela, made by DUA is La Miel.

Although many only think of tropical cocktails when they think of rum or “I don’t like Rum, it’s too sweet”; we can see that’s not always the case. Depending on how and where it’s made, rum can be sweet but also a bit dry or spiced or so strong you might think you’re drinking Vodka. Just like all other beverages the key is to be open to trying new ones. A variation of a margarita using Cachaça can be interesting and switching Spiced Rum in an Irish Coffee is a world of new flavor. Have fun experimenting! Class is in session. Drink Up!



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