Welcome to Rum 101.
We are Paladar and we will be your instructor for the semester. Our primer will cover how rum is made and explain the different categories that are available.
We promise to keep it simple. Mind-numbing phrases such as “polyphonic compounds” have been omitted. If that is your cup of tea, may we recommend rumuniversity.com? They dig deep and we like their work.
There are a lot of different rums out there ranging from crystal clear, light-bodied White Rums to aromatic, deeply hued Aged Rums. Our goal is to help you discover what you like. Please never hesitate to ask us for guidance.
How is it made?
It Begins with Sugarcane
Whiskey and vodka begin with grain. Tequila begins with the blue agave plant. And, rum begins with sugarcane – a tropical plant in the grass family. Harvesters process sugarcane into two products: plain ‘ole sugar and molasses. They extract the sugar first by boiling the sugarcane juice until sugar crystals form. What’s left behind is molasses – the foundation for most rum.
There are exceptions: Many French types of rum (rhum), for example, are made from 100% sugarcane juice instead of molasses, such as our Rhum Barbancourt.
Before the distillation process, the fermented liquid is about 7% alcohol. The goal of distillation is to separate out that alcohol. To do so, the mixture is boiled. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it evaporates first. The vapors are captured and then cooled down. After being cooled, the vapors return to liquid. Its alcohol content will now be about 80%.
There are two common types of distilling contraptions: the pot still and the column still. The pot still is the older of the two. It’s less efficient and tends to be used by small batch producers. The column still is much more common due to its operational efficiency and consistency.
Fermentation is the process of converting the sugars in the molasses to alcohol. Yeast (micro-organisms) is added to the molasses and it goes to town, feasting on the sugar. The result is carbon dioxide and, more importantly, alcohol. Different strains of yeast will impart different flavors on the rum. As a result, most distilleries are highly protective of their proprietary yeast strain.
After the distillation process, rum is moved to (usually) oak barrels that have (usually) been used previously for whiskey. Here, it ages. And, magical things happen. Over time, the rum will begin to soften and become mellow. Rum gathers its color from aging in wood. Many factors are at play here that will affect the flavor of the rum, such as the climate and the history of the oak barrel.
Blending is the art of mixing different rums of different types and ages together. Most rum produced in the world is blended after maturing in very large containers to ensure product consistency. Single barrel rums, such as our Cruzan Single Barrel, are not blended and come from a single barrel, as the name implies.
Kinds of Rum
White Rum (a.k.a. light, silver rum)
These are dry, clear and light-bodied rums. The majority of rum distillers have at least one of these spirits in their repertoire. White rums are typically blended and left unaged.
Gold Rum (a.k.a. oro, amber rum)
These rums are typically medium-bodied and slightly more flavorful than the white version as a result of being barrel aged. Most derive their golden color during aging, however, many contain a touch of caramel coloring to enhance their presentation.
Dark Rum (a.k.a. black rum)
These aromatic rums are most often distilled in pot stills and barrel aged for extended periods of time. Dark rums are invariably full-bodied, full-flavored with long, lingering finishes.
Aged Rum (a.k.a. anejo, rhum vieux)
Rums age extremely well in wood. The peak age being somewhere between 15 to 20 years, after which the rum begins to decline.
Flavored and Spiced Rum
As the names would imply, these rums are altered by the addition of natural fruit flavorings or a small bevy of spices. White rums are most often married with fruit flavoring such as orange, coconut, banana, pineapple, coffee, passion fruit, mango, peach, cacao, lemon, or lime. Spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, are often added to gold or aged rums.