Rum is distilled from sugarcane juice, and sugarcane byproducts (such as molasses). The distillate is a clear liquid which is then aged in oak barrels.
The majority of the world’s rum production occurs in the Caribbean and Latin America. Rums are produced in various grades – light, golden and dark. Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, where golden and dark rums are consumed individually ( neat! )
Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies, and the Maritimes – it has famous associations with the Royal Navy (mixed with beer and water to make grog) and Pirates (consumed as bumbo).
Within the Caribbean each production area has a unique style and product.
- English-speaking islands are known for darker rums with fuller taste that retains a larger amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Barbados and Jamaica are in this category.
- French-speaking islands are known for using exclusively sugar cane juice – and are generally more expensive than molasses based rums. Rums from Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique are in this category.
- Spanish-speaking islands and countries traditionally produce anejo rums with a smoother taste. Rums from Panama, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela are in this category.
There are many grades and variations used to describe rum depending on the location where it is produced. There is no universally accepted formula, but in general rum falls under one of the following grades.
- Dark Rums are known for their particular color – usually brown, black or red. They are usually made from carmelized sugar or molasses, and are aged longer (than other rums), in heavily charred barrels. This gives them much stronger flavour than either light or gold rums. Often hints of spices can be detected, as well as strong molasses or caramel overtones. Dark rum is the most common type used in cooking and for mixed drinks.
- Gold Rums (or amber rum) are medium-bodied and normally aged – though not as long as dark rums. They gain their colour from aging in wooden barrels (usually charred white oak barrels that are a byproduct of Bourbon whiskey). They have more flavour and are stronger tasting that light rum.
- Light Rums (also silver, or white rum) in general have very little flavour aside from general sweetness. Light rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove any colour. The majority of light rum comes from Puerto Rico, and their mild flavour is popular in mixed drinks rather than drinking straight.
- Premium Rums are in an elevated category and more akin to other sipping spirits such as Cognac and Scotch. They are generally boutique brands that are carefully produced and aged specifically to drink straight for their own merits.
- Flavoured Rums are infused with fruit flavours such as banana, mango, orange, citrus, coconut, starfruit and lime. They are generally less than the 80 proof standard and mostly server to flavour themed tropical drinks.
- Spiced Rums obtain their flavour by adding spices, and sometimes caramel. Most are darker in colour and are based on gold rums (though cheaper brands can be made from inexpensive white rums with extra caramel colour). Common spices are cinnamon, rosemary, absinthe, aniseed and pepper.
- Overproof Rums are much higher than the standard 80 proof. My only experience with these is Bacardi 151 – which is used in mixed drinks, often to light them on fire.