How is rum made?

Rum is one of the least classified spirits in the world, meaning there are very few rules on how it has to be made. This is quite different from the whisky industry, which is full of all kinds of caveats - such as the three years and one day maturation rule.

The core ingredient in rum is molasses, which is made by squeezing all of the juices out of sugar cane - the variety and region of which has a large bearing on the final flavour of the rum. The molasses are then fermented with water and yeast, and distilled in column or pot stills. They can then go through a process of maturation in oak casks, which gives rum it's deep caramel colour. Often these casks have previously held bourbon, due to the classification rule that dictates that bourbon must be aged in a fresh oak barrel. There's plenty of them to go around, and the bourbon bestows wonderful extra flavours on the liquid. However, white rum is either aged in steel tanks or simply cut with water and bottled as a distillate.

Where did rum originate?

The first recorded rum was made in the West Indies around 1650, known then as "rumbullion". The beginnings of rum at this time coincide with a dark aspect of world history, as it is tied to the Caribbean slave trade. Slaves were traded to the West Indies for molasses, and the molasses was made into rum. It was then, in turn, traded for more slaves. It was enslaved people living on sugarcane plantations who first used molasses to make alcohol, which was then distilled in time, to refine the fermented molasses into the drink we know as rum. The first large scale production of rum was in New England, USA, though as it grew in popularity, the drink was widely linked to Jamaica, Barbados, Demerara, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

It is said that when rum was transported by ship for sale around the world, they realised that the oak barrels used had given the liquid a darker colour - and that it tasted remarkably better!

What types of rum are there?

There are many different ways to organise rums into categories, with it generally determined to have 13 different types. Here's some of the most popular:

White Rum

These are clear in colour, with a milder flavour and lighter body than other rum. White rum is either bottled as a distillate or aged in stainless steel tanks for a year or two, before being filtered to remove any colour taken on through the process. They are often used for mixing in cocktails, as they don't overwhelm the other ingredients. Common brands include, Bacardi, Copalli, Buffalo Trace White Dog and Campagnie Des Indes Great White.

Gold Rum

The longer a rum is aged, the darker it becomes. Gold rums are medium-bodied and sweeter, and are aged between one and five years usually. They can be used in place of white rum, for a sweeter, more complex taste in cocktails, or can be sipped on the rocks. It's common for gold rum to be used in baking too, to add a toasty, woody, burned sugar flavour to desserts. Common brands include: Doorly's 5 Year Old Gold, North Point Pilot Rum, MacNair's Exploration Rum and Grand Kadoo Club.

Flavoured Rum

This is possibly the most popular type of rum on the market, with spiced rum often being a drinker's first introduction to the spirit. However, they come in a whole host of different flavours. Spiced rum came about around the time that the drink originated, as a way to make the potent drink more palatable by adding local herbs and spices. Just as a gin would be infused with botanicals, the liquid is macerated with the chosen spices to build complexity. Other incarnations utilise flavourings and colourings after the aging process. Common brands include: Sailor Jerry, The Kraken, Discarded Banana Peel Rum, and Dead Man's Fingers.

Dark Rum

Dark rum are those that have been aged for a long time in charred oak barrels, bestowing the liquid with a dark colour and deep, toasted sweetness. Some dark rums, have simply had lots of colouring added, or more molasses before maturation - so it's important to go for quality. You can expect flavours of Demerara sugar, treacle and vanilla. Common brands include: Mount Gay, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Pusser's and Flor De Cana.

Vintage Rum

Aged rums, also known as vintage, are those that have gathered a deep, complex character from an extended maturation process. Taking a note or two from whisky aging, vintage rum bears an age statement in the same style as whisky distilleries in Ireland and Scotland. These are becoming more popular, with many established rum brands experimenting with aged rum. They are ideal for sipping neat, just like whisky! Common brands include: That Boutique-y Rum Company, El Dorado, Quarterdeck, and Kill Devil.

What is the best selling rum?

Bacardi is a huge name in rum. In 2022, they sold 24.3 million nine litre cases of the stuff, making Bacardi the world's ninth best-selling spirit and best-selling rum on the planet.

Why is rum synonymous with pirates and sailors?

Rum is totally tied to pirates in the cultural lexicon - think Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. This is because, as much of the world's rum comes from the Caribbean, rum (along with sugar) was a major export from the colonies in the 17th and 18th century. As a result, many of the ships that the pirates looted had the spirit aboard, and therefore that's what they drank!

You may also have seen rum defined as 'overproof' or 'navy proof' before. This is because sailors were given a daily ration of rum to keep their spirits up aboard long journeys up until the 1970s, and this liquid had to be 54.5% abv by law - as dictated by the U.K. Admiralty Regulations. Therefore, any rum at this alcohol level is termed 'Navy Proof', and any over this, often bottled at cask strength, are named 'overproof'. A reason that they had for their daily dose of rum, is that water wasn't very safe to drink on board long voyages - but they probably enjoyed the taste as much as the rest of us!

What are classic rum cocktails?

On any cocktail menu, you will find at least a couple of rum cocktails. The liquid is so versatile and sweet, that it is a perfect mixer. The Mojito is a refreshing classic, with lime, soda water, mint and bitters. A Daiquiri combines rum and lime juice - served short, and in a variety of flavours. The Dark & Stormy is a spicy one, as ginger beer is mixed with dark rum. A Mai Tai is a Tiki staple, with orange curaçao, orgeat syrup and lime juice. Finally, the Pina Colada is a sunny dream, with pineapple juice, cream of coconut and lime juice. As you can see, tropical, zesty flavours go perfectly with rum.

See here to browse our entire range of rum.