A complete Guide to Rum

By Timo Torner / Last updated on March 20, 2023

Rum is one of the most diverse spirits. The liquor made from sugarcane comes in many different types and styles. Let's learn what Rum is all about.
Rum Guide

The base of Rum is always sugar cane. Some are made with sugar cane juice, others from molasses or syrup. But regardless of which one it is, you can always get a hint of that sweetness in the final product.

Rum can be white, golden, or dark in color. It can be unaged, aged for a short time, or aged for many years. Some are filtered, others are not. And that are just a few examples of the many aspects where Rum can vary.

Rum Fact Sheet

Spirit base: Sugarcane (molasses or juice)
ABV: 40% to 75.5%
Proof: 80 to 151
Calories per ounce: 64 to 122
Origin: Brazil & Caribbean
Color: transparent (unaged), light golden (aged), Dark (aged for a long time or added coloring)
Best served: neat (aged Rum) or in cocktails (all types)

What is Rum?

Rum is a spirit made from sugarcane juice or molasses. To produce Rum, these ingredients are first fermented and then distilled. Unaged white Rum is bottled straight after distillation. Other types like gold or dark Rum are aged in oak barrels.

The majority of Rum is produced in the Caribbean, though the roots of the popular sugarcane liquor most likely lie in Brazil.

The different Rum types

Usually, when talking about Rum, it is about liquor made from molasses. But not all Rums are based on molasses. Some are made from distilling fermented sugar cane juice. Rhum Agricole, for example. 

Different Rum types in glass

Rhum Agricole is a sub-type of Rum, popular in the French-speaking part of the Caribbean. The main islands producing Rhum are Martinique, Haiti, and Guadeloupe.

Besides, there are many other types and styles available. Here are some of the common types of Rum:

  • White Rum
  • Gold Rum
  • Dark Rum
  • Black Rum
  • (Premium) Aged Rum
  • Rhum Agricole
  • Cachaça
  • Navy Rum
  • Spiced Rum
  • Overproof Rum (151 Rum is actually part of this category)
  • Aguardiente

Check our detailed guide on those different Rum types for more details.

The taste of Rum

The taste of Rum depends on the type and the brand. An unaged molasses-based Rum is a light-bodied spirit with a crisp, fresh, and only slightly sweet taste.

Sugar cane molasses

Aged Rum, on the other hand, often has a heavier, sweeter, more full-bodied, and rich taste with oaky notes and hints of vanilla.

The taste of Rhum, again, is very different from the better-known white and dark Rum. It tastes much more vegetal and grassy with earthy notes.

Unaged Cachaça often tastes like a cross between an unaged white Rum and Rhum. It's sweet but has these typical funky and grassy notes of Rhum. 

The history of Rum

Brazil's national spirit, Cachaça, is said to be the predecessor of Rum. A short time after the Portuguese brought sugar cane to Brazil, slaves that harvested and processed sugar cane started making Cachaça.

There aren't many reliable sources, but most likely, in 1532, the first Cachaça was distilled in Brazil. This date also marks the very first time a spirit was distilled in Latin America.

From there, sugar cane and the distillation process traveled to other countries, including the Caribbean.

Experts and historians still don't fully agree on where Rum, as we know it today, was first distilled. But chances are that Barbados was the first Caribbean island in the mid-1600s.

About 50 years later, The first well-documented Rum production in Barbados took place in 1703. Mount Gay Rum, the company that produced this Rum, is still active today and a popular brand among Rum lovers.

How Rum is made

Although Rum varies significantly in aroma, taste, and production methods, they all have one thing in common: the sugar cane and a basic concept of production all Rums follow. 

sugar cane juice

1. Step: Ingredients

You need either sugar cane juice or molasses of some sort. 

2. Step: Fermentation

Producers add yeast and water to the sugar cane to initiate fermentation. This fermentation process breaks down the sugar into alcohol. 

This process can take anything between one day and three weeks. Ultimately, the duration depends on the yeast used and the style of the Rum. After this step, we have a low-ABV sugar cane spirit.

3. Step: Distillation

The mash resulting from the fermentation process is distilled to get a product of higher alcohol content. For this, the mixture is heated and condensed with either a column still or a pot still. The choice of still also affects the final taste of the spirit.

4. Step: Aging (optional)

The last step is aging. Not all types of Rum are aged, but many of them are. Unaged Rum or Cachaça tend to be quite crisp and harsh. 

Aging in wooden barrels softens those harsher notes, develops flavor, and adds the characteristic wooden aroma along with hints of vanilla. As a rule of thumb, one can say, the longer a Rum ages in a barrel, the more elaborate and soft the taste.

Factors that affect the quality of Rum

Even within one type of Rum, the flavors differ from product to product because so many aspects influence the final taste of a spirit.

When it comes to Rum, the following factors play a vital role in the final taste.

  • The origin of the sugar cane used for fermentation
  • The form of sugar cane: juice or molasses
  • The duration of the fermentation
  • The yeast used for fermentation
  • All materials and equipment that used during fermentation
  • The type of still: pot or column still
  • The time of aging
  • The barrels used for aging
  • The aging method: standard, multiple casks, or solera method
  • The water used for dilution before bottling
  • etc.

If you change just one of these things, it will have an effect on the taste and quality of the resulting product. 

How to drink Rum

The best way to drink a premium aged Rum is neat or on the rocks. This way, you can fully perceive the aroma and taste the different flavors in the spirit. 

Rum cocktail Ti' Punch

Other types, especially the unaged ones, are best enjoyed in cocktails. Cachaça, for example, is key to a perfect Caipirinha, Rhum is great in a Ti' Punch, and White Rum is the base for classics like the Daiquiri and Mojito. If you want to try spiced Rum, here are our top recipes for cocktails with spiced Rum.

To help you find the best Rum for your cocktails, you can find some inspiration here:

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