No matter the season, there’s always room for rum. Make rum punch in summer. Serve it hot and buttered in winter. And sip it straight anytime! Sugar cane has never been put to greater use, in our humble opinion.
Rum is crafted from a distillate of fermented sugar cane juice, syrup, or molasses. Originally hailing from the Caribbean islands, you’ll find it largely still produced there. But the love for rum prevails worldwide. That’s undeniable. Every year, its popularity in the United States increases, as we see new offerings lining shelves.
Rum transports us. It unwinds our watches and sets us on island time. One sip, and stress flees. Busy schedules reveal themselves as what they are: shackles. Rum sets us free. It’s the epitome of don’t worry, be happy.
Join us now for a look at this champion of spirits. We’re turning rum inside out today! We’re appreciating rum’s past, present, and future with you!
What Is Rum?
Rum is an alcoholic spirit. And it springs from sugar cane (or its by-products). In America, we say it’s less than 190 proof and never bottled below 80 proof. But to be honest, there’s freedom when it comes to distilling rum. There aren’t a lot of widely accepted rules. Unlike Scotch or bourbon, it can be made anywhere, anytime. And there’s no question: it’s rum. Overall it is one of the least classified spirits there is.
Types of Rum
There are two main types. You have traditional rum, made from molasses and other sugar cane derivatives. And then rhum agricole (which is “agricultural” rum). It’s only crafted from cane juice.
Some prefer this cane juice type. It’s earthy. The traditional rums bring a ton of caramel and even fruit. Most rum you find today bears these traditional qualities.
We’re talking about the most important thing first. Taste. What’s all the fuss about when it comes to rum? You’ll soon find out if you don’t know.
Though the Caribbean produces the most, rum is crafted all over the globe. And honestly, each region brings something unique to the rum game. They each play by their own cultural rules and lawful regulations.
As you might imagine, this gives bottles a myriad of distinct characteristics. By and large, though, rum is sweet. Remember: sugar cane. But the sweetness isn’t cloying. It’s balanced with warmth, smoothness, and even smoke. It’s rich and powerful, yet tender and drinkable.
You don’t have to live that pirate life to enjoy rum. If you’re sipping, you’ll find plenty to discuss and value. And the cocktail force is strong with this one.
Brief History of Rum
Pull up a chair. Let’s look at the life of rum, what it is, and how it’s made its way in the world. Some people see it as cheap and sickly. But that’s simply not true. The artisan offerings are works of art. You’ll usually find them on the top shelf at higher proofs.
Once Upon a Dark ‘n’ Stormy Time
If you’re like us, knowing a spirit’s background affects your overall drinking experience. You realize you’re tasting more than a single bottle. You’re tasting culture and time itself. You’re sipping on a legacy. Whether it’s a good or bad one.
Rum doesn’t have a neat story. It’s on the rocks, you could say. Rum started out as medicine, which probably isn’t surprising. Sugarcane was initially cultivated in New Guinea. It was fermented around 350 B.C in India.
Flash forward to 1400. Trade routes were being carved out as explorers set sail, discovering new islands and ways of life. Sugar was a top commodity on the trade routes.
It’s believed that sugar cane and its uses were perfected in the Arab world, though. Arabs introduced sugar – in all its sweet splendor – to Europe. Here, the history turns very dark. Sugar required water and manpower. Lots of it.
The Portuguese actually enslaved Africans in their mills. They had about 80 mills and 200 cane plantations. And the slavery didn’t end there. Explorers saw that islands had plenty of water but not enough people to meet demand.
They brought slaves to Azores, the Canary Islands, and eventually to the Caribbean. How did they obtain these slaves? The payment was alcohol.
It’s a long sprawling history. But around 1600, Barbados was making a name for itself in rum. And so were the 3,000 colonists living in New England. People expected great things from the colony. But the land and climate were not ideal for growing grapes, grain, or fruits.
Rum became the drink of choice there. It was cheap, and it was considerably stronger than beer or brandy. Once again, a drink for every season. By the late 1600s, towns like Boston and Salem were distilling rum. A century later, they were epicenters of the good stuff.
Slavery was the answer again, unfortunately. More demand called for more manpower. See why we said this history isn’t neat? Rum history is a history lesson in American slavery.
Preconceived Rum Notions
Some of you probably hold rum in low regard. But times have changed. Granted, rum took its sweet time coming to fancy banquet tables. Yep, it was slow as molasses getting into the graces of high society.
It was the drink of the poor and lawless pirates in the Caribbean. But, it was easy to get. And so easy to produce. It was everywhere. A wellspring of rum.
History Wrapped Up
By the 1700s, rum and molasses represented Britain’s main source of trade income. The Triangle Trade was thus established. Caribbean molasses was traded to New England. The molasses would become “traditional” rum. This rum was traded to West Africa for more black slaves. Those slaves would be shipped to the Caribbean to work cane plantations. And the cycle continued. More and more molasses to New England.
Rum was there in the Louisiana Purchase. The American Revolution. And Prohibition. Oh, if rum could talk…
How Is Rum Made?
Now, you know a little about rum’s origins. But how is this champion actually made?
It all begins with sugar cane. So, the Caribbean and Latin America are ideal locations. The quality and flavor of rum largely depend on raw materials and how they’re fermented.
Rhum Agricole – Straight from Cane Juice
Here, sugar cane is crushed. And then it’s immediately fermented. The raw juice can’t be stored without spoiling. So, the entire process hinges on nature. This raw cane juice is 18-24% sugar.
Traditional Rums – From Molasses and Syrup
Most commonly, you’re staring at these bottles. Molasses is, of course, a sugar cane by-product. Crystalline sugar is extracted from the cane juice. What’s leftover is molasses. It holds plenty of sugars that will be fermented. Molasses, unlike the juice, may be stored. If you’ve heard the term “Black Strap” before, you’re discussing low-grade molasses with very few sugars remaining in the liquid.
“Table-grade molasses” is sugar syrup. This constitutes the other type of “traditional” rum. The syrup is a concentrated liquid. All the sugars that are present in juice are still here. In fact, it’s 90% sugar. But, almost all of the water is removed, so it can be stored longer than the fresh cane juice before being fermented.
Beginning with Cane
First, sugar cane or the by-product is collected. Then water and yeast are added. All of it rests together.
As with other spirits, fermentation changes sugar to alcohol and CO2. This is what goes down in the vat. The yeast is responsible for changing sugars into alcohol. Depending on the type of rum, this process can take anywhere from a single day (lighter bodied rums) to three weeks (full-bodied rums).
Then all this fermented liquid is heated up in a still. Volatile elements evaporate, and vapors are condensed into a clear liquid in a second vat. The clear liquid is mostly alcohol, along with a few extras that give rum its sought-after flavor.
Barreling and Maturing
Before any aging can happen, the distilled liquid must go into wooden barrels. The interaction with the wood brings that signature golden color and a host of flavors. Note: Even clear rums like Bacardi Silver spend at least one year aging in a barrel. It’s how that smooth, easy-going flow is achieved. They do filter to remove any color, though.
Rum can age in a variety of barrels. You’ll find distilleries using whiskey, bourbon, cognac, sherry, and port barrels. Whatever is chosen, the smaller the barrel, the faster your rum matures.
Aging and Blending
Aged rums are typically blended for complexity and balance. So, you’re actually meeting with a number of rums in any given pour. In the United States, the age statement on the bottle must refer to the youngest rum included.
While in the barrel, water and alcohol evaporate. That missing liquid is dubbed the “angel’s share” across all distilleries of any kind of spirit. What’s left in the barrel grows more and more concentrated in color, viscosity, and all those flavors we’ve already mentioned.
Color, Clarity, and Viscosity
In general, rum is golden. The longer it matures, the more amber it becomes. Some distilleries choose to burn sugars or add caramel coloring. It’s how they get color consistency among their offerings.
Your dark rums will get rich color and full-bodied flavor from additional molasses or caramel.
Color indicates maturity. Clarity indicates filtering processes that may be deemed sophisticated or even exceptional in the industry. Viscosity can be measured by how thin or thick the “legs” are in your glass. If you swirl your rum and note the drips on the side of your glass, you’re staring at the legs. Are they thin and quick? Or thick and slow?
Breaking Down More Types of Rum
So, yes. You have rhum agricole and traditional rum. But here’s a further breakdown.
White/Light Rum: light in body and age; filtered; clear
Gold/Amber Rum: aged in oak barrels; more complex than white; great for cocktails
Dark Rum/Aged Rum: aged longer; dark and more complex in flavor; perfect for sipping
Demerara Rum: made from Guyana cane; aged; dark, historic, rich flavor
Cachaça: made in Brazil; known as one of the sweetest rums; uses pure cane juice
Rhum Agricole: sugar cane juice instead of molasses; may be white, gold, or dark
Spiced Rum: distilled and flavored with spices; bolder than barrel-aging spice
Naval/Overproof: high-alcohol rum (can be found up to 160 proof)
What Affects Rum Quality?
There are several factors that can significantly affect the quality of your rum. These include:
- Quality of raw materials
- Fermenting of materials
- Method of fermentation
- Selected type of yeast
- Distilling processes
- Barrels chosen for aging
- How long spirit is aged
- Blending of various barrels
- Quality of water used to dilute final products
Bottles for Today’s Rum Lover (and Novices)
There’s something for everyone in the rum realm. Whether you want to sip neat, over an ice cube, or in a cocktail. It’s one of the most versatile spirits you’ll find. It’s also more affordable than many whiskeys.
Rums Under $25
As you’re starting out, give these a try:
Santa Teresa Gran Reserva (Venezuela)
This my “house rum”. It’s versatile; drink it neat, on the rocks, mixed with Coca Cola or in a cocktail (I like it in a Rum Old Fashioned). It’s light, it’s silky with warm notes of caramel, chocolate, and brown sugar with a lovely mellow smokey oak finish. If you want a quick rum fix or you have a large gathering and don’t want to get the expensive stuff out, this is the rum to get!
Blue Chair Bay White (Barbados)
We love this one for cocktails. (Keep reading for recipes!) You’ll be impressed by its smoothness, bearing both buttery and tropical notes. We don’t sip it neat, but it’s a game changer when mixing. You don’t have to have a spiced rum to bring this kind of paradise flavor! It’ll stand up in your home bar concoctions.
Plantation Original Dark (blend of rums from Barbados and Jamaica)
This one brings the heat, or at least, some warmth. You’ll feel sun-kissed inside and out. Breathe in pepper, cinnamon, and molasses. Then unwind with dried fruits like prunes and pineapples. Dry and spicy. It’s certainly an inexpensive sipper!
Plantation Barbados 5 years (Barbados)
Produced in Barbados, this release is first aged in Bourbon casks before making the journey across to France to finish the ageing process in Pierre Ferrand cognac casks. It offers notes of fresh tropical fruits with hints of dried coconut, aromas of vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s warm, inviting and fantastic value for money.
Diplomatico Planas (Venezuela)
We had to get a white rum in here for you. It’s surprisingly smooth, and it may be what you’re craving in a rum. Say hello to the tropics and all things coconut cream with this one. It’s fantastic in a cocktail, but we say sip it, boys and girls. Sip it, and be amazed.
Appleton Estate White (Jamaica)
This is medium-bodied. It’s packing more flavors than your typical white rum. We love it in a piña colada. Those make for excellent batch cocktails for parties. But this is a decent summer sipper, too.
Rums Under $50
If you’re look for something with more punch, give these a try:
El Dorado 12 (Guyana)
Voted in The New York Times Top 10 Rums and quite rightfully so. It’s elegant, it’s balanced and it’s on the right side of sweet with notes of toffee, raisins, sultanas, banana and brown sugar. It’s the bottle you will keep going back to and it’s made the perfect gift on many an occasion!
Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)
Next on my rum recommendations is Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, considered to be one of the best rums to come out of Venezuela. Crafted from sugarcane honey, it’s rich, velvety and sweet with notes of chocolate, toffee, vanilla orange peel and an oak backdrop. Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva is a firm favorite amongst many and never disappoints.
Flor De Caña 18-Year-Old (Nicaragua)
We’ve recommended it before, and we’re doing it again. This “Sugarcane Flower” is packed with banana and caramel. It’s full-bodied, and you’re going to enjoy every sip. A great value!
Brugal 1888 Ron Gran Reserva (Dominican Republic)
It’s one of the kings of smoothness. It’s dry, which is rare when it comes to rum. You’ll get notes of chocolate and vanilla swirl with plenty of dried fruit. This offering brings something unique, and we say, “Add it to your home bar today!”
Read more about the best rums for your money here!
Looking to Splurge More?
Try these for your next special occasion!
Foursquare Zinfandel Cask Blend (Barbados)
Anything that the Foursquare Distillery touches turns to Rum gold and with Richard Seale behind the production, it is no surprise. The Foursquare range is for the purists. This release is first aged in bourbon casks and then in ex-Zinfandel wine casks. The result, flavors of red berries, a touch of cinnamon and light notes of vanilla and caramel. If you see a bottle of Foursquare Criterion, grab it straight away, but the Zinfandel is a great alternative!
Rhum J.M. X.O. (Martinique)
You could have guessed that we’d pick this one: it’s aged in re-charred bourbon barrels. It’s fruity on the palate, and we say it’s something akin to a sweet, spiced cupcake as well. It’s agricole, so it’s based on cane juice instead of molasses. Aged a minimum of six years, it’s aromatic, complex, and top-notch. It’s sitting in our number one spot for a reason, peeps.
Bellevue Guadeloupe 17 YO (Scotland)
Our resident rum expert Giulio suggests Bellevue 17 YO. He notes that this French Guadeloupe rum is pretty difficult to find. He says it’s certainly worth a taste if you know where to search or perhaps have a good friend in the area. Can you handle sweet caramelized fruit, smoke, the sea air, and a warm nutty finish? We believe in you.
A relatively new Rum on the market and gaining popularity across USA. They have 2 multi award winning releases, the 8 and 12 year. On the palate it’s a blend of tropical fruits and caramel with more mature notes of pipe tobacco and oak. The 8 year will appeal to a sweeter palate and the 12 year to those who like cleaner and slightly more complex and defined flavors. And like ‘Prestige Decanters’, for every bottle of Parce purchased, a tree is planted to support biodiversity conservation.
Zacapa Centenario XO (Guatemala)
Giulio recommends Zacapa Centenario XO. This particular rum is a stunner from Guatemala, boasting an aftertaste of vanilla, caramel, and dry fruits. If you’re looking to enjoy a rich flavor with a good cigar, you’ve met your match.
Voted Top 10 Sipping Rums and Top 10 Spirit of the Year, Zacapa XO is presented in a stunning bottle and screams premium. Frowned upon by Rum purists for the additional sugars but loved by the masses, this is the Rum that the non rum lovers will keep coming back for. Its amber nectar will coat your palate with orange peel, dark chocolate, brown sugar, toffee, oak and a sherry sweetness. It’s not a multi award winner for no reason.
Appleton 21 (Jamaica)
This brings that taste of the islands and Jamaica in particular. But it’s on overload. And it’s balanced beyond belief! Lightly sweet with both nutty and tropical notes. You’ll feel that zing of orange zest. You’ll also meet with tobacco and oak. Taste it again and again, and keep discovering new elements.
Tip: Not a splurge, but Appleton 12 is also a sure bet.
Get into your tiki bar mode! Rum is for every season, sure. But most of us lean into it when we think of those summertime treasures. Give us daiquiris, pina coladas, and rum punches, please!
Rum is great for cocktails because it brings the sweetness as you balance other flavors. Remember, in cocktails you’re after these elements: alcohol, sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, temperature, and texture. Rum cocktails are no exception.
Rum Cocktail Classics
We’re not talking about those sugary bombs served on cruise ships. Here’s a recipe for the OG daiquiri from Imbibe. Rum, fresh lime, and sugar – all shaken and poured over ice. For us, it’s unbeatable.
This drink should be rum-centered. The rum is the star! Head over to Liquor.com for our favorite recipe. They understand that sweetness is not the point. This rum cocktail is representative of fresh fruit and sunshine. But also the stars over the deep, bitterly salty sea. The light and the dark matter here.
Whether you’re celebrating Juneteenth, the 4th, or simply taking it easy, pina coladas are simultaneously refreshing and indulgent. Cream, coconut, pineapple, and rum! It’s summertime in a glass. The Alcohol Professor teaches us how to make it the original way right here.
Bonus Rum Cocktails to Try
Downstairs Rum Cocktail
Dark and Stormy
|– 1.5 oz. Zacapa 23 Rum
– 3 oz. ginger beer
– limeMix. Add a little lime zest. Serve over ice, garnished with a lime wedge.
Bumbu Banana Daiquiri
|– 2 oz. Bumbu Rum
– 0.25 oz. Demerara sugar
– 0.5 oz. fresh lime juice
– 0.75 oz. banana pureeAdd all ingredients to a shaker with ice, and shake for 20 seconds. Strain into glass. Garnish with banana chips or a lime wedge.
Pina Colada Recipe
|– 2 oz. Appleton Estate White Rum
– 3 oz. pineapple juice
– 1 oz. cream of coconut
– 2 oz. coconut milk
– dash of lime juiceBlend all the ingredients. Add a scoop of ice, and blend until it’s smooth. Garnish with citrus wedges/twists and fresh mint.
Watermelon Cucumber Mojito
|– 1.5 oz. Blue Chair Bay White Rum
– 0.5 oz. Triple Sec
– 8 mint leaves
– 2 watermelon chunks
– 0.5 oz. fresh lime juice
– ¼ cucumberMuddle watermelon, cucumber, lime, and mint. Combine the rest in a shaker. Shake with ice for 15-20 seconds. Then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a watermelon wedge and a fresh sprig of mint.
Bonus Rum Cocktail Recipes
1775 Rum Punch
We mentioned this in our article for the USMC birthday! But we stand by it for any occasion, at any time!
|● 1.5 oz. Dark Rum
● 2 oz. Pineapple Juice
● 1 oz. Simple Syrup
● 0.5 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Mix all the ingredients, and pour them over ice. Then chill the cocktail before serving. Finish with a dash of Angostura Bitters and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Finally, garnish with wedges of pineapple and/or lime.
Warm Pumpkin Spice Rum Cocktail
Pumpkin spice makes everything nice. Especially your cocktail.
Okay, so back to physical heat. We like this warm cocktail from Honest Cooking. It seems just about perfect for October and November when pumpkin, cinnamon, and vanilla are in full swing. But the rum and coconut are making us think about warm summer sunshine down in the islands. So, there’s that memory to get us through the fall months, too. Sip away, sailor!
|● 2 c. Pumpkin spice coconut milk
● 1 c. Unsweetened coconut milk
● 4 Tbsp. Organic canned pumpkin
● ½ tsp. Pumpkin pie spice
● 1 tsp. Cinnamon
● 1.5 oz. Dark Rum
● 1.5 oz. Vanilla flavored vodka
(Check out the products by So Delicious if you have trouble finding all the ingredients.) In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the pumpkin spice milk, unsweetened coconut milk, pumpkin, and spices. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Add the rum and vodka, and simmer for another 1-2 minutes.
Serve hot. Garnish with vegan whipped topping and cinnamon sticks, if desired. Yields 3 servings.
|● 0.75 oz. Wray and Nephew Rum
● 0.5 oz. Green Chartreuse
● 0.5 oz. Velvet Falernum
● 0.25 oz. Simple Syrup
● 0.5 oz. Lime Juice
● Half of a Ripe Banana
Blend all ingredients on high with a large scoop of crushed ice. Pour into whatever glass you like. It’s boozy, cold, and utterly perfect for summer.
And the Winner Is… RUM!
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Our champion, rum!
We hope this has helped you get to know rum better. Know what will help you drink it better? Our Prestige decanters and glassware. Check them out, and add some unique, customized barware to your home bar, kitchen, study, outdoor grill area, and more. These also make superb gifts!
Whatever you do, don’t leave before you tell us about your favorite bottle of rum or rum cocktail in the comments below. We enjoy hearing from you, so leave us a note.
No matter the season, we hope you’ll find a place for rum in your life. It definitely deserves to be there.