Rum has at times not been viewed upon favourably, perhaps as a result of seafaring shanties and its reputation as the classic sailor’s tot. It is however a spirit worthy of our attention, sipping and tasting rather than just being hidden away in the occasional cocktail.
While Whisky is made from grain and Cognac made from wine, the base ingredient for Rum is sugar. Rum is an alcoholic drink made from sugar cane juice or molasses, and as such the islands of the Caribbean and the South Americas are its traditional home. Rum is also called Ron in Spanish speaking countries, like Ron Bacardi. When Rum is made in the French West Indies (Martinique and Guadalupe) it is called Rhum Agricole.
Rum is an incredibly diverse spirit with many production elements affecting the final tot – what it is made from, what it is distilled in, how long for and where it is aged. One scent that cannot be ignored is that distinct dark brown sugar note. It lurks in these beautiful drinks and once you spot it, the aroma lingers. You can also expect to find fruity banana bread and spices, dried fruits, vanilla and nuts. Rum is wonderfully complex and at the same time flexible and suitable for a vast variety of drinks, from a fruit cup style cocktail, to matching with cocoa and coffee or simply sipping as is.
In most instances, Rum is made from the thick gooey molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. This molasses is impossible to ferment on its own, so it is first diluted with water to a point where the yeast can get to work and begin to convert the sugar into alcohol. Just like Whisky and Cognac, this alcoholic liquid is then heated in a still and the alcohol is separated from the liquid to be then condensed and collected. As with all spirits, Rum begins its life as a clear spirit and takes on richer flavours and colour as it ages in the barrel.
To make Rhum Agricole you ferment the fresh sugar cane juice then distill it. As the sugar cane juice is fresh, it makes the most wonderful, expressive and aromatic Rhum. This can only be made once a year after the sugar cane harvest.
Barrel-aged Rum, aged in the tropical climate of the Caribbean ages quickly, and reaches maturity far earlier than barrel-aged spirits in colder regions. A six year old Rum aged in the Caribbean will look much richer and more complex than one aged in the United Kingdom for example.
White Rum is unaged Rum, best used in cocktails. It is possible to have white Rum that has been aged in a barrel too, as any colour obtained from the barrel can be filtered out later. These barrel aged white Rums are often more flavourful.
Try Havana Club Anejo 3 anos (Anejo 3 anos means aged for 3 years).
Aged Rums are darker in colour due to time in wood and the addition of caramel to adjust colour across batches that may otherwise be a little different. Dark Rums are more aromatic, deeper in character and can still work in cocktails, although these older rums are best known as true sipping rums, worthy of the same obeisance as Whisky or Cognac. Look for an aged statement on the bottle or the words Anejo, Vieux, Tres Vieux or hors d’age for Rhum from the French West Indies.
Just as Gin has juniper berries added to make the spirit taste like juniper, Rum can also have flavourings. The most famous flavoured Rum is Malibu, a white variety mixed with coconut from Barbados.
As the name suggests spiced Rum has flavoursome and fragrant spices added. These spices mirror and magnify the dark deep spiced heart of Rum and make them a terrific addition to cocktails.
While it make take longer still for Rum to shake its less popular position in the world of dark spirits, a quick foray into the wonders of Rum will not only show you the great diversity of this magnificent drink, but also expose you to the heights it can attain at the very highest standard.