Rum is a distilled beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses and sugarcane juice by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak and other casks. The majority of rum production occurs in and around the Caribbean and along the Demerara River in South America though there are rum producers in places such as Australia, India, Reunion Island, and elsewhere around the world.
Rum is produced in a variety of styles. Light rums are commonly used in mixed drinks, while golden and dark rums are appropriate for use in cooking aswell as cocktails. Premium brands of rum are also available that are made to be consumed neat or on the rocks.
Within the Caribbean, each island or production area has a unique style. For the most part, these styles can be grouped by the language that is traditionally spoken. Due to the overwhelming influence of Puerto Rican rum, most rum consumed in the United States is produced in the Spanish-speaking style.
Spanish-speaking islands traditionally produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Rums from Cuba, Panama the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are typical of this style.
English-speaking islands are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retains a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Barbados, Bermuda, the Demerara region of Guyana, Jamaica and also Panama are typical of this style.
French-speaking islands are best known for their agricultural rums (rhum agricole). These rums, being produced exclusively from sugar cane juice, retain a greater amount of the original flavor of the sugar cane and are generally more expensive than molasses-based rums. Rums from Guadeloupe, Haïti, Marie-Galante and Martinique are typical of this style. Additionally, certain rums from the English-speaking island of Trinidad are produced from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. The flavor of light agricultural rums is significantly different than that of other rums, Panama also produce all of this.
The grades and variations used to describe rum depend on the location that a rum was produced. Despite these variations the following terms are frequently used to describe various types of rum:
Light Rums, also referred to as light, silver, and white rums. In general, light rum has very little flavor aside from a general sweetness, and serves accordingly as a base for cocktails. Light rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove any color.
Gold Rums, also called amber rums, are medium-bodied rums which are generally aged. These gain their dark color from aging in wooden barrels (usually the charred white oak barrels that are the byproduct of Bourbon Whiskey).
Spiced Rum: Theses rums obtain their flavor through addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in color, and based on gold rums. Some are significantly darker, while many cheaper brands are made from inexpensive white rums and darkened with artificial caramel color.
Dark Rum, also known as black rum, classes as a grade darker than gold rum. It is generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels. Dark rum has a much stronger flavor than either light or gold rum, and hints of spices can be detected, along with a strong molasses or caramel overtone. It is used to provide substance in rum drinks, as well as color. In addition to uses in mixed drinks, dark rum is the type of rum most commonly used in cooking.
Flavored Rum: Some manufacturers have begun to sell rums which they have infused with flavors of fruits such as mango, orange, citrus, coconut, and limke which is a lime rum found in Sweden. These serve to flavor similarly themed tropical drinks which generally comprise less than 40% alcohol, and are also often drunk neat or on the rocks.
Overproof Rum is rum which is much higher than the standard 40% alcohol. Most of these rums bear greater than 75%, in fact, and preparations of 151 to 160 proof occur commonly.
Premium Rum: As with other sipping spirits, such as Cognac and Scotch, a market exists for premium and super-premium spirits. These are generally boutique brands which sell very aged and carefully produced rums. They have more character and flavor than their “mixing” counterparts, and are generally consumed without the addition of other ingredients.
Dry Rum: Dry rum is a rum made strictly from sugarcane juice fermentation. It originated in Panama, where it is commonly referred to as “‘seco’”(lit. dry). The complete translation would be ‘ron seco’. Most rums are made from the fermentation of sugar cane molasses, which differs from dry rums. Another difference is that dry rums are not stored in oak barrels, but in steel or aluminum vats.