Rhum is a sub-style of rum, and the simple difference between the two is that rhum (agricole) is made from sugar cane juice, whereas rum is made from sugar cane honey or sugar by-products like molasses.
The two also differ considerably in taste. Rhum agricole tastes fresh, dry, grassy, and herbaceous. You can not find a similar flavor profile in any other type of rum. Traditional rum, made from molasses or sugar cane honey, is richer in flavor and sweeter, containing more flavors of the barrel in which it matured.
Here's an overview of the differences between rum and rhum. How they compare in taste, origin, ingredients, and how the production processes differ.
Illustration: Rum vs. Rhum Agricole
The Differences Between Rum and Rhum Agricole
The main difference between rum and rhum agricole is taste and ingredients, but the spirits also differ in origin, countries of production, and alcohol content. Our detailed comparison guides you through all the dissimilarities.
Most rum is made from molasses or sugar cane honey, but the base can also be cane sugar, cane syrup, or evaporated sugar. Rum made from molasses has a thick consistency, is dark in color, and has that typical "rummy" taste people associate with rum.
Sugar cane honey is more complex in flavor than molasses, but the final rum is typically quite close to molasses-based rums.
Rhum Agricole is made from fresh sugar cane juice, fermented before distillation. In this matter, you must harvest sugar cane at the peak of maturity, which limits production months to March to May. The juice is pressed immediately after and then fermented with organic yeast obtained from the sheath of the sugar cane stalk.
Rum most likely has its origins in Latin America. One assumes that the Brazilian sugar cane spirit Cachaça is the predecessor of rum as we know it today. The first time modern rum has been produced in the Caribbean was in the early 1700s in Barbados. Mount Gay is considered the oldest rum distillery in the world and began production in 1703.
Rhum agricole was born on Martinique in 1870. After sugar cane prices dropped worldwide and 57 % of the agricultural land in Martinique was sugar cane fields, the country searched for a way out of the dilemma. The solution was to produce a unique style of rum directly from sugar cane.
Traditional rum has a rich, almost syrupy (depending on type and aging) mouthfeel and often tastes sweet with notes of vanilla and spices. The production methods of rhum agricole conserve many of the natural aromas. That makes rhum taste very different with earthy, grassy, and vegetal flavors.
Benjamin Mélin-Jones, managing director of Rhum Clément, explained the difference in flavor as a result of different terroir on Martinique.
Where is it Produced?
You can produce rum anywhere in the world. However, the majority is produced in sugar-producing regions like the Caribbean, South America, North America, and the Philippines.
Rhum agricole primarily comes from French-speaking islands in the Caribbean like Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guyana. But you can also find distilleries in the Dominican Republic, Mauritius, and other places.
Agricultural rhums produced in Martinique are the only ones granted the AOC (Appelation d'origine contrôlée). Only products that are from Martinique and follow the strict guidelines of how sugar cane is grown, harvested, and processed can obtain this quality seal.
The most popular rum brands include industry leaders like Captain Morgan, Bacardi, Havana Club, Mount Gay, Zacapa, and many more. For rhum, the list is naturally much shorter, with Rhum Clément and Rhum Barbancourt leading the market.
The average alcohol content of traditional rum is 40%, rhum agricole on the other hand, is slightly more alcoholic as it typically contains between 42% and 45% of alcohol.
Rhum is a sub-category of rum, as both are made from sugar cane products. Plus, both are typically produced exclusively in sugar-producing countries.
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 as such. Some subtypes, such as rhum agricole, have much stricter rules.
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.
The best way to enjoy 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.
Rhum is a sub-category of rum, thus, both share a lot of similarities. However, taking a closer look, you can identify major differences in ingredients, taste, origin, history, and alcohol content.
It all comes down to making the most out of each style. Use the fresh, grassy, and vegetal notes of rhum lighter and drier interpretations of white rum cocktails. If you're looking for richer and sweeter flavors in a drink, a molasses-based rum is the better choice.