Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels.
The majority of rum is produced in the Caribbean and Latin/Central America. However, rum is fermented, distilled, aged, finished and finally bottled just about everywhere in the world nowadays.
The lack of rules and regulation of rum means that the spirit is extremely diverse. For the beginner this can prove very confusing. I am sure that every person who has explored or experimented with rum has bought a bottle with little idea of how the liquid inside will taste.
The World Wide Web and the growth of dedicated sites, blogs and more recently Social Media is transforming things. So much more information is now readily and easily available. Information useful to rum enthusiasts regardless of their experience or supposed expertise. Mobile and WiFi devices have further increased the ease of access. It is now possible to research possible rum purchases via the internet standing in the actual shop! The internet has also led to a plethora of online off licenses, spirit merchants and stores, with thousands of more rums now readily available to the average consumer, regardless of their physical location.
Sadly with all this information available and with so many so called experts around it seems the categorisation of rum has changed. Not for the better either. For reasons which I cannot fathom, rum is being measured by age and colour rather than by its geography and history. Terms such as Dark Rum, Golden Rum and Aged Rum do little to educate or assist the consumer in how the rum may taste. Neither do marketing terms such as Aged Rum, Premium Rum and Super Premium Rum. Though I can understand why producers may refer to their rums as “Premium” and “Super Premium”……
So with this in mind I thought I would do a little piece on the various Rum Styles available and try and clear a few things up.
If you wish to explore the different kinds of rums I have reviewed on this site please click on the images to the right.
Bajan Rum (Barbados)
This is a light, subtle usually golden rum, which by law is not permitted to have any additives other than caramel for colour. It is pure unadulterated rum. For many people this is the very essence of rum production and a lesson to all those who wish to distil the spirit. If any rum can ever be called The Noble Spirit it is from the island of Barbados.
The three main distilleries on the island are Foursquare, Mount Gay and The West Indies Distillery (which produces Cockspur rum).
Richard Seale (Foursquare Distillery) is one of the most vocal and engaging spokespersons for pure and unadulterated rum. Examples of his excellent work can be found in bottles of Doorlys XO, R.L Seale 10 Year Old and Rum Sixty Six.
Other notable rums from this island are
Mount Gay Eclipse, Mount Gay Extra Old, Mount Gay 1703, Cockspur Fine Rum, Cockspur 12/VSOR (same rum different name in different markets)
Jamaican Rum (Jamaica, obviously!)
Once again very little is allowed by way of additives. These are often very distinctive in flavour. It’s a hard taste to define its often described as “funk”. They are BIG on flavour. They are often heavy with Dunder (the yeast-rich foam leftovers from one batch of rum that is used to start the yeast culture of a second batch) and esters (this is a chemical compound I’d suggest Googling it as I really don’t quite understand it.
These rum’s are often pot rather than column distilled. This is a less efficient method of distilliation but it does produce more intense flavoursome rum.
Notable distilleries on Jamaica are Appleton Estate, Worthy Park and Long Pond.
Notable brands are
Appleton Estate (a line of several rums of varying ages), Hampden Estate, Myers’s, J Wray and Nephew White Overproof and Rum-Bar
Cuban Style Rum (Mainly Cuba but also the Dominican Republic’s rum are similar as are many Spanish speaking countries and islands)
These are often referred to as Spanish style (as most of the countries that produce them are Spanish speaking and were former Spanish colonies). Rum from these countries is often called “ron” (the Spanish term).
These are lighter rums, often good paired with cigars. Often more oak and tobacco than sweeter fruity rums such as Demerara’s. A Cuban white rum is often good for mixing. Cuban rum popularised Daiquiris, mojito’s and the Cuba Libre (white or aged rum, cola and lime juice) was invented there.
Bacardi originally started its operations in Cuba and is often seen as a reference point for Cuban rum (particularly White). However it has long since moved its operations abroad to Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
Examples of Cuban Style Rum are
Havana Club, Ron Cubay, Ron Abuelo and the rum producers of the Dominican Republic the the three big B’s – Brugal, Bermudez and Barceló all produce rum’s which are Cuban in their style.
Demerara Rum (Guyana)
These are usually dark, sweet, intense rums. The most famous of these are the El Dorado rums but Demerara Distillers rum is sold in bulk and can be found in most “Navy” rum blends.
Sadly there is only one distillery left on Guyana – Demerara Distillers Limited. Having said that they have so much equipment from the other defunct distilleries of Guyana there distillery is huge! They produce a lot of rum!
Examples of Demerara rum
El Dorado Rum, Woods 100 Navy Rum, Skipper Rum are all 100% Demerara rum other rums such as
Pussers and Lambs use a blend of Demerara and rum’s from throughout the Caribbean.
Rhum Agricole (French speaking Islands such as Martinique)
This is a cane juice rum with a very distinctive vegetal taste. I find it very similar to Cachaca (but much more pricey). The term rhum is the French term for rum.
Examples of this rum are
Rhum Clement, Barbancourt 5 star (some would say its not technically a Agricole), La Mauny and St James
Trinidadian Rum (Trinidad and Tobago)
Unfortunately these rums are now only really produced by Angostura. It is the only distillery left on the island. They bought out the neighboring Fernandes distillery in 1973 (though they still produce their line of rum) If you enjoy these rums then you may wish to consider trying some Caroni rum (expensive the distillery is no longer running).
Angostura’s rums are light and easy going. Quite sweet, floral and slightly creamy/buttery. The Caroni rum I have tried is quite different! It is quite intense a mix of Demerara and Jamaican style.
This is quite a difficult rum to categorise as the Caroni rums are very different to the current Angostura dominated Trinidad rums. The Scarlet Ibis is a relatively young but more intense slightly rough rum. Worth seeking out.
Vat19, Scarlet Ibis, Angostura 1919 and 1824
These are historically the more popular styles, however as rum is produced in almost all of the Caribbean (and beyond) several other styles have also come into play.
Central American/Caribbean Premium Rums
Think Ron Zacapa (Guatemala), Zaya (formerly Guatemala now Trinidad), Dictador (Colombia), Diplomatico (Venezuela)
These are usually sweet (too sweet for many) rums with premium packaging and price tags to match. I wouldn’t try and fit these rum’s into any of the classic styles. They have sprung up in an attempt to make rum more of a premium spirit. They have their critics. When done well they can be very good. However, what they actually do to make them “well” is open to some debate.
Many believe that several of the rums in the previous category should be classed as Spiced or Flavoured rum. However these are rums which are categorised as Spiced on their packaging or marketing material. Very popular here in the UK and the US. The US has hundreds of these relatively cheap mixers on offer. They have enjoyed a bit of a boom in recent times.
Foursquare Spiced (very authentic), Sailor Jerry (uses a decent base rum), Pussers Spiced (again authentic but not to everyone’s tastes) all well worth a try. Spiced Rum is very rarely expensive. Though they are trying to premiumise this market as well.
Again another segment of the rum market which has achieved some recent growth. These are usually young unaged rum’s (often white) which are flavoured to well not taste like rum.
Think Malibu Coconut Rum as a classic example. Bacardi have experimited with some pretty nasty variations on Flavoured Rum such as Arctic Berry(?) and Razz (Raspberry)
More authentic takes on Flavoured Rum can be found with Santa Theresa’s Rhum Orange Liquor or Clement’s Creole Shrub.
Navy Rum (Royal British Navy)
The navy style rum’s produced today are often a blend of rums from several different Caribbean islands. They are dark and often bottled at over 100 proof. Though this is not necessary to make it a Navy STYLE rum. You may see rums (such as Smith and Cross Jamaica Rum) state they are navy strength (ie over 100 proof) this does not mean they will have the same flavour as a Navy Style rum. Confused? Welcome to the world of rum!
Navy style rums usually have a fair chunk of Demerara rum in their composition.
Pussers, Woods 100, Lambs
The difference between white and golden or aged rum can be explained simply. White rum is often young and is not aged sufficiently to take on much of the colour that goes with ageing. It is filtered to remove the colour. It is used most commonly in cocktails most notably Daiquiris and Mojitos. It is common for many rum companies to have a white rum.
The most notable white rum on the market is Bacardi. Other well known brands are Havana Club and Mount Gay Eclipse Silver.
There has been an attempt to make more premium white rum in recent times. Bacardi introduced a white sipping rum in 2014. Diplomatico have their own white premium rum. White rums such as El Dorado 3 Year Old and Plantations 3 stars have added some “respectability” to this segment of rum in recent times and are worth seeking out.
White Rum is predominantly a mixer. Sweet and light.
So that to me is rum in a (admittedly large) nutshell. It’s difficult to truly define every rum on the market and I’m personally not one for pigeon holing or forcing square pegs into round holes. I hope these definitions prove more useful than terms such as Ron Anejo or Rhum Industriel!