What Is Rum

What is rum? What isn't rum? The wikipedia definition of rum is “Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane by-products such as molasses, or directly from sugar cane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels.” and this is pretty accurate. Due to a lack of international established standards almost anything alcoholic that has been in the vicinity of a sugar product gets called rum. Some regions and countries have strict standards for what is and what is not rum, unfortunately they all differ.

If it were up to me a product called rum should be distilled from a sugar cane product or by-product, like molasses, sugar cane juice or sugar cane honey. It should be aged for at least three years in oak barrels and all additives like colouring and sweeteners etc should be listed on the label. All age statements should of course list the youngest component of the rum, and it should be at least 40% alcohol by volume. I would also like to see specified on the label if the rums has been abused by chill filtration or similar. This is however very far from the current state of the rum business.

What about the mixing rums you might ask, they are all white mostly unaged rums. Yeah, what about it? If you buy a three year old white rum you will have a much nicer drink than if you mix it with cheap unaged rocket fuel. For the long term success of rum I think it is better to go towards a minimum requirement that ensures that all products sold as rum are of decent quality. It will be more expensive for the producers but it might be better for them in the long run. For me to talk about the long term success of a product that has been around since the 1650's is of course a bit rich…

Rum is produced all over the world even in places to cold to grow cane but the most producers are located in central and south America and the Caribbean Islands. Rum can be called Ron (Spanish) or Rhum (French) also depending on where it is made. Young rums are mostly made to be drink mixers while aged rum is better enjoyed as they are without any additions. The last few years there has been an increasing amount of super premium rums. They are normally aged for a very long time and sold in bottles made to impress at silly amounts of money. I have a feeling many of these super or ultra premium rums are mostly collectibles and not really meant for consumption.

Dividing rum into categories is a very popular thing to do, specially on the internet. There are numerous ways to do it and all have plenty of exceptions which means that they are in the end pretty meaningless. I make it simple for me and stick to sippers vs mixers but there is a noticeable difference between the molasses based rums and the cane juice based rums I have tried. Molasses based rums tends to be sweeter and cane juice rums tends to be a bit drier, more like a cognac. More “serious rum experts” divides rums into region from which it originates or the language spoken in that region. You will see a lot about English vs Spanish vs French style rums or Jamaica vs Cuban vs Barbados vs Guyana vs Martinique styles. Some people use the even more stupid system of dividing rum according to their colour. Considering how much colour is normally manipulated with carbon filtration alternatively adding of caramel colour or molasses this is borderline insanity. Most of these systems has some core of truth to them of course, otherwise people wouldn't have adopted them to begin with but on the other hand as mentioned earlier these systems all have exceptions. Rums that falls outside the frames of the categorizations. This is a can of worms I will not get further involved in even though I admit it might make for some nice discussions during a rum tasting session.

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