Rum vs Rhum - The differences of the two spirits

Rum vs Rhum - What is the Difference?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on September 19, 2022 

First published on July 28, 2022 

Rum and Rhum are both common ingredients in tropical tiki cocktails. But although they're pretty similar, both spirits have significant differences.

The term Rum and Rhum Agricole appear so similar that people often guess it's the same thing. But even though Rhum and Rum are closely related, there are a few differences between the two.

Rum is the generic term for a spirits category containing many different types and subtypes. In general, Rum must comply with only a few regulations to be considered Rum. Some subtypes like Rhum have much stricter rules.

Let's take a closer look at the differences between Rum and Rhum. How they compare in taste and how the production processes differ.

What is Rum?

Rum is a category of spirits that is made by fermenting sugar cane molasses or juice. There are plenty of different types of Rum, some aged, some unaged, and some even spiced. -Rhum Agricole is one of these subtypes.

Rum is often barrel-aged and is sold as white, gold, dark, and black Rum. It's part of many classic cocktail recipes like the Mojito or Daiquiri.

Mojito - famous Rum cocktail

To be classified as Rum, spirits only need to follow only a few regulations as there is no single standard that exists for what constitutes rum. Rum typically only follows local definitions regarding spirit proof, minimum time of aging, and naming standards.

What is Rhum?

Rhum is the short term for Rhum Agricole. The term agricole is French for agricultural. 

It's a style of Rum produced in the French-speaking part of the Caribbean, mainly in Martinique, Haiti, and Guadeloupe.

Most Rum is produced by fermenting molasses, a sticky, dark-colored byproduct of the sugar refining process. Rhum, however, is made quite differently.

The base for producing Rhum is fermented, fresh-pressed sugar cane juice. This juice is the one and only ingredient in Rhum. 

Fresh sugar cane juice - base for Rhum agricole

Depending on the time of aging, Rhum is available in white, golden, and dark varieties. 

In Martinique, Rhum aged for at least 3 years in wooden barrels usually is sold as Rhum Vieux Agricole. -This translates to old Rhum.

The different Origins: Rum vs Rhum

Rum most likely has its origins in Latin America. It's said that the Brazilian sugar cane spirit Cachaça is the predecessor of Rum as we know it today.

The first time Rum was produced in the Caribbean was back in the 17th century. It was in 1664 that the first distillery, known as Staten Island, opened.

Dark Rhum, Dark Rum, and cigar

The origin of Rhum starts a bit later. France had a few colonies in the Caribbean.

Until the 1800s, France used these colonies to produce an immense amount of sugar from sugar cane.

However, once they found a cheaper way to acquire sugar (sugar beets) they stopped the Caribbean sugar exports.

As a consequence, there was plenty of sugar cane available. Therefore, the colonies started fermenting sugar cane juice instead.

The main differences between Rum and Rhum

Rum is mostly made from sugar cane molasses. Molasses is a sweet and sticky byproduct of refining cane sugar.

The taste of molasses-based Rums is typically round and rich. Also, the color of these Rums tends to be darker than others.

Sugar cane molasses - base of Rum

Rhum, on the other hand, is made from fermented sugar can juice and is much lighter in taste and consistency. Using sugar cane juice, the taste of Rhum is much more vegetal, earthy, and grassy.

Rum and its subtype Rhum are both popular base spirits for Tiki cocktails. Depending on what you choose, the resulting cocktail will taste widely different.

That has to do with the different ways Rum and Rhum are made.

As I mentioned before, fermented, fresh-pressed sugar cane juice is the only ingredient allowed in Rhum. In contrast, Rum can contain additional flavorings like sugar, caramel, and spices.

Why is Martinique Rhum special?

The Rhum agricole from Martinique, like Rhum Clement for example, are the only Rhums with an Appellation d’Origine Controlee

That means this Rhum complies with all legal restrictions on cane varieties used, distillation process, aging, and area of production.

Therefore, Rhum Agricole from Martinique is considered top-shelf when it comes to Rhum. They are making the highest quality Rhum you can get.

Is Rhum only produced in French-speaking islands of the Caribbean?

The French-speaking islands in the Caribbean are still the home and main producer of classic Rhum. Most Rhum-producing distilleries are on one of the French-speaking islands.

Some Rhum distilleries are located in Mauritius, la Réunion, and the Dominican Republic. -So on non-French-speaking Caribbean islands or on French-speaking islands outside the Caribbean.

The best ways to drink Rum or Rhum

Rum and Rhum Agricole are part of many cocktail recipes. Often you can replace one for the other to get a slightly different flavor profile in your drink.

Ti' Punch - famous Rhum cocktail

Typically, Rum is used in classic cocktails like the Mojito, Daiquiri, and Cuba Libre. You can sub in Rhum Agricole for a lighter and more refreshing taste.

But the best way to drink Rhum is in a Ti' Punch. The Ti' Punch is a popular drink in Martinique and Guadeloupe. A simple mix of Rhum, sugar cane syrup, and a good squeeze of lime juice.

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