What is rum?
Rum has many faces. For some, it's the stuff daring pirates with eye patches and wooden legs fight over. Others might think of the warming straw rum on their last ski holiday. Or the stiff grog on the Frisian coast. The connoisseur knows: rum is much more. Hardly any other spirit - with the possible exception of malt whisky - has so much tradition to show for it. So much history and stories. And so much flavor depth and complexity. There is white rum, brown rum, barrel-aged and unaged rum. Today, rum is one of the most popular spirits in the world: it is enjoyed neat, forms the basis of numerous cocktails and long drinks, or is combined with hot tea to make a warming toddy. In the rum pot, rum preserves fruit and makes it even more delicious. Rum is also used in baking and is found in various sweets, such as rum balls.
This was first written around 1650 as "rumbullion" or "rumbustion". These mean something like "drink made from boiled sugar cane stalks" or noise, uproar or tumult. Rum has its roots in the Caribbean, on the sun-drenched islands around Jamaica. Here the schnapps has been distilled from the molasses of the sugar cane for centuries and here still beats the heart of rum production. Cuba, Barbados or Martinique are classic rum-producing countries. Although the sugar cane schnapps can now also come from Brazil, Panama, the South Pacific, India or Japan, for example. The alcohol content of the spirit is at least 37, 5% vol., while Overproof Rum contains at least 57.15% and up to 80% vol.. Just like whisky, rum has undergone a remarkable development over the years: the drink of ordinary people, day laborers and sailors is offered today in high-quality small batch and vintage bottlings.There is rum that matures in the solera process, in selected Bourbon or Pedro Ximinez Sher ry barrels. It can be bottled at high cask strength or, as an exquisite rarity, it can only be bottled at the age of 40. You can find all this and much more in our rum range at Home of Malts.
Try a fine selection of 5 different rums with the Tasting Selection Rum from all over the world.
Wegbeschreibung zur Aberlour Destillerie
The History of Rum
Sugar cane has been cultivated in South Asia, China and New Guinea for probably more than 2,000 years. From here, the plant made its way to Persia via trade routes and soon afterwards to the ancient Roman Empire. Sugar cane then became widespread in the Mediterranean regions and has since served as the basis for sugar production in Europe. The basis for the success story was the discovery and colonization of the American continent in the late 15th century: Due to the tropical climate, it was much better suited for sugar cane cultivation than the Mediterranean region.
Either the plant was first brought to the island of "Hispaniola", where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are today, or to Barbados. In the Caribbean, sugar cane was then grown on a large scale by the colonial states using slave labor to make sugar. Various by-products, including molasses, were produced during the production of sugar. In order to use this and thereby reduce their costs, the colonial rulers produced "sugar wine" from this by fermentation. This was diluted with water and given to the slaves to strengthen them. The plantation workers continued to develop the brew, thereby drawing the attention of the colonizers. Distillation of the sugar wine resulted in a raw, intensely tasting and strongly alcoholic drink - the first forerunner of rum. To this day, it is not clear exactly where rum was born. In addition to Barbados, it could also originally come from Brazil, since intensive plantation management was practiced in both countries at the time of its origin.
An image that I'm sure we all have in mind is that of the pirate who loves to drink rum and makes a living by raiding merchant ships. This image is now picked up by many brands in their names, logos or bottle designs such as Captain Morgan, Navy Island and The Kraken. In fact, this idea of rum-drinking sailors is not entirely unfounded, since seafaring has had a major impact on today's rum: rum produced in the Caribbean or Latin America was transferred to large wooden barrels to be transported to Europe. The sailors found that storage in wooden barrels had a positive effect on the spirit: the rather raw rum absorbed aromas from the wood, becoming softer, more aromatic and less spicy. Probably, rum could not have had such a worldwide success without the rather coincidental discovery of cask aging. In the 18th century, the spirit eventually became part of the rations of marines in the British Royal Navy. If pirates successfully attacked such a naval ship, the buccaneers probably also enjoyed Navy rum. The image of the pirate enjoying his rum on the high seas can certainly be traced back to such events.
How is rum made?
The basis for rum is always a mash made from water and sugar cane molasses, honey or juice or chopped sugar cane. To do this, the freshly harvested sugar canes are first cleaned and then pressed out so that the sugary liquid can escape. Mixed with water, a mash is created that, thanks to the added yeast, begins to ferment. Some rum manufacturers also add other ingredients such as leaves, rinds or pineapple juice to the mash to influence its taste. Depending on the producer, the fermentation process lasts from a few hours to several weeks, but usually one to ten days. This is usually stopped when the resulting sugar wine has reached an alcohol content of around four to five percent.
After the fermentation, the distillation takes place. The purpose of this is to increase the alcohol content of the product to around 70%, sometimes even up to 95%. Basically, the distillation process takes place in one of two different stills, in the pot still or in the column still.
The pot still distillation method can look back on centuries of tradition. It probably spread to Europe from the Arabic region in the 6th century. The pot still process is best known for the Single Malt Scotch Whisky, which by law must be distilled in a pot still. Distillation in a pot still is expensive and complicated and requires know-how. The distillation in the copper stills is discontinuous. This means that the distillation process is stopped after each run. The pot still is then emptied and then refilled. The distillate from the pot still is said to have a high level of complexity and aromatic depth.
Continuous distillation has been on the rise since the mid-19th century. The column stills or patent stills are more modern and work more efficiently. In this system, several columns are connected to each other, which means that the distillation process does not have to be interrupted in the meantime. Typically, rum from column stills is comparatively light. Marriages of rums from both distillation methods are also common today.
The highly alcoholic distillate is then mixed with water to achieve the desired drinking strength. This results in white, clear rum.
In contrast to white rum, rum with a brown color is stored in wooden barrels or casks, in which it continues to mature. Maturation usually lasts between half a year and several decades. During this time, the rum takes on a darker color. Maturation in wooden barrels also has a positive effect on the taste of the rum. This makes the rum milder and also takes on delicious aromas such as vanilla, nutty notes and fruit tones from the wooden barrel. It also loses unwanted aromas there over time.
What types of rum are there?
There are numerous different types of rum, of which we would like to introduce you to the most important and widespread ones here.
This young, white and clear rum is typically distilled in column stills and is then usually not stored in oak barrels. A relatively short maturation can take place in stainless steel tanks, which gives it a better taste.
If white rum is stored in oak barrels, it absorbs aromas from the wood. To ensure that it remains clear, it is filtered before bottling. Overall, white rum usually tastes a little more neutral than darker rums and is therefore usually used to mix cocktails or long drinks.
Clairin - insider tip from Haiti
Clairin is a special case of white rum. Haiti's insider tip is already becoming a hit in expert circles. Clairin could be described as the Haitian version of a rhum agricole. Among connoisseurs, it is one of the most exciting spirits in the world. Clairin is an integral part of the everyday life of its residents in Haiti. The locals not only use it as a stimulant, it is also used in voodoo rituals. Clairin is made similarly to Rhum Agricole but with unique characteristics. Because in Haiti there are still many natural sugar cane fields today. These mostly single-variety fields have hardly been altered by human influence. As a result, the taste of the plants is significantly influenced by the soil conditions and the local microclimate. Clairin is therefore a kind of “terroir” rum. The term is otherwise more common in the wine sector, but is also used in the whisky industry. The sugar cane from the mostly family-owned fields is harvested by hand and mostly pressed on site. The mash ferments with wild yeasts in open tanks. The wild yeast gives the Clairin an even more unique local character. Distillation is mostly done on small, directly fired pot stills.
Brown rum is also originally clear, or "white". Brown rum is usually characterized by aging in oak barrels. During the aging process in oak casks, the rum absorbs color and aromas from the wood. Most of these barrels were previously used to mature other spirits, such as bourbon whiskey. The most common types of casks are ex-bourbon casks. But not only the pre-filling with bourbon is possible. Casks that previously held sherry or fresh oak casks can also be used. The aromas from the wood and the pre-fill are transferred to the rum over time. While rum tends to darken as a result of longer maturation, a dark brown rum is not necessarily matured for a particularly long time: it is permissible to color rums with caramel, which gives them a darker colour.
Most rums can be sorted into this category. In rum distilleries there are barrels with very different storage times. In order to achieve a consistent, harmonious taste, these are mixed together ("married") by the Master Blender. This is how the distillery achieves that its rums have the typical taste. The starting rums do not necessarily have to come from a single distillery. If this is beneficial to the end result, sometimes even blends of rums from different countries are created.
This complicated and traditional process for the production of rum originally comes from the production of sherry. Different rum casks are stored on top of each other. The youngest distillates are at the top and the oldest rums at the bottom. The rum is bottled from the bottom cask, which is not completely emptied. This ensures that the quality is consistently high and the rum tastes particularly balanced. The age stated on the rum bottle indicates the aging period of the oldest rum from the Solera system.
This is pure rum that has not been brought to drinking strength with water. The addition of alcohol, coloring and flavorings is also not permitted. Since it has not been diluted, it usually has an alcohol content of around 70 percent, sometimes even more. It is suitable for tasting the genuine product of a distillery and can serve as a base for mixed drinks.
Over proof rum
If rum is only slightly mixed with distilled water after maturation, overproof rum is created. This has an alcohol content of at least 57.15 percent by volume. Due to the high alcohol content, this rum is very aromatic, but can also be too intense for newcomers. However, it is well suited for a fire tongs punch or strong cocktails in which the rum aroma should be in the foreground. The term "proof" is an old indication of the alcohol content, which is now only used in the USA and Great Britain. However, the countries use different conversion factors. 100 British Degrees Proof correspond to 57.15% vol. while 100 American Proofs correspond to 50% vol. The proof specification goes back to the English word for proof or sample. To check their daily rum ration for dilution, British sailors spiked the rum with gunpowder. The rum only burned with gunpowder at an alcohol strength of over 57% and thus passed the test. This gave rise to the term proof or overproof.
Single cask rum
This type of rum is particularly exclusive and can usually be found in the high-priced segment. While most rums are created by combining different casks, single casks come from a single cask.
In order to create a convincing result, attention is paid to the excellent quality of the starting ingredients and the barrel. Maturation must also be very targeted, as this strongly influences the resulting taste. Due to the great effort involved in producing single casks, these are usually strictly limited editions, often of just a few hundred bottles. A numbering and an unusual design of the bottle is also typical, which means that single cask rums are in great demand among collectors.
A rum variant popular with connoisseurs is the Rhum Agricole. Rhum Agricole comes from the French overseas departments such as Martinique, Guadelupe or La Réunion. Rhum Agricole is distilled exclusively from sugar cane juice. This sets Rhum Agricole apart from most other rums, which are typically made from cane molasses. This is where Rhum Agricole got its name, which means something like “rum from agricultural production”.
This type of rum has been around since the introduction of a new EU-wide food regulation in 2019. The protected designation is intended to guarantee that the rum was authentic and produced under certain quality standards. The sugar cane must come from the same country where the rum is distilled. Coloring with dyes or subsequent sweetening with sugar is also not permitted.
Spiced and flavored rums
After storage, the manufacturers add sugar and various spices such as vanilla, cloves, ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg to spiced rum.
Flavored rum, on the other hand, is usually a white rum to which essences, aromas or extracts from tropical fruits such as banana, mango, pineapple or coconut have been added immediately after distillation.
However, these are only considered spiced or flavored rums if they contain at least 37.5 percent alcohol by volume. If this requirement is not met, it is a rum-based spirit.
What rum styles are there?
Rum can be divided into three different categories, which differ from each other in their production and variety of aromas. The classification takes place - according to the colonial powers that were active in the respective regions - in the English, Spanish and French style. The first two fall into the category "Industrial Rum" and "Rum Traditional". The latter is also called "Rhum Agricole" (French for "agricultural rum") and is produced in much smaller quantities.
The name of a rum often already provides information about its origin or production method: "Rum" can stand for the English style, "Ron" refers to spirits from former Spanish colonies and "Rhum" for those from former French colonies.
English rum style
As a rule, sugar cane molasses is the basis for rum in the traditional English style. Typical for this type of rum is a long fermentation, the distillation in the pot still process and a relatively long storage in oak barrels. The result is usually a spicy, strong rum with a full-bodied taste and a large variety of aromas.
You can find examples of the English style in rums from Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Mauritius and Trinidad & Tobago.
Classic rum cocktails
A summery, sour and fresh cocktail classic based on white rum.
Add 6 cl white rum, 3 cl lime juice and 1.5 cl cane sugar syrup to a shaker with a few ice cubes. Shake the mixture vigorously and strain the cocktail into a cocktail glass. You can garnish the daiquiri with a lime zest.
2. Dark & Stormy
A strong, spicy cocktail with a sharp note of ginger and fresh lime.
First, pour 15 cl of ginger beer into a highball glass. Then shake 6 cl dark rum with 3 cl freshly squeezed lime juice in a shaker with four or five ice cubes. Carefully strain the rum and lime juice mixture from the cocktail shaker into the highball glass. The darker mixture should contrast in color with the lighter ginger beer. Garnish the cocktail with a lime zest or wedge of lime.
3. Planter's Punch (Trader Vic Version)
There are numerous different recipes for this classic, which differ in particular in their use of fruit juices and syrups. The classic version of Trader Vic is on the alcoholic and drier side.
Add 9 cl aged Jamaican rum, 1.5 cl grenadine, 1 cl simple syrup and 3 cl lime juice to a shaker with ice cubes. Shake the mixture, strain into a highball glass and top up with 2 to 3 cl of soda water.
Our rum recommendations
The French brand Plantation Rum belongs to the spirits producer Maison Ferrand and uses centuries-old techniques of the family company Ferrand for its rum and gin production.
Master blender Alexandre Gabriel is looking for exceptional drops from smaller distilleries in different countries for Plantation Rum. These exclusive rums are usually produced in small quantities. They first mature in the country of origin and are then shipped to France. There they receive a second maturation in ex-cognac casks from the Ferrand family, whereby the rums absorb further aromas and develop a special complexity.
Plantation's rums are great if you want to get to know a rum from a specific country and support small producers. Plantation Rum also stocks spirits from countries that don't export much rum, so you can make exciting discoveries here.
Ron Zacapa is a Guatemalan rum maker known for their premium spirits since 1976. The company distills its rum from virgin honey, a type of syrup made from fresh sugar cane juice. The distillation takes place in single column stills, the aging in the traditional solera process. The experienced master blender Lorena Vásquez ensures that the rums from different types of casks (including sherry, bourbon and cognac casks) are harmoniously married to one another. The result is a complex rum that typically combines spicy, fruity and sweet notes.
Ron Zacapa rums are ideal for immersing yourself in the world of Solera rums. The complex, well-balanced Sistema Solera 23 Gran Reserva is recommended as a starter. For this full-bodied, elegant rum, rums that have been matured for 6 to 23 years are married using the Solera process.
Trois Rivieres Rhum
The Trois Rivières sugar cane plantation on the Caribbean island of Martinique has existed since 1660, and the distillery of the same name since 1785, making it one of the oldest continuously operating rum distilleries in the world. The Rhum Agricole from Trois Rivières impresses with its strong taste with notes of vanilla, fruits, herbs and spices. In addition to pure enjoyment, this Rhum Agricole is predestined for mixing authentic Mai Tais, as they require an aged rum from Martinique. An example of this is the Trois Rivières VSOP, a 5-year-old Rhum Agricole.
Plantation Single Cask Collection 2022
The Single Cask Collection from Plantation Rum from France are truly exceptional spirits. The strictly limited rums come from a wide variety of countries, from Barbados to Fiji and Panama to Trinidad and Tobago. After the first maturation in ex-bourbon casks in the tropical climate, these were stored for a further time in ex-cognac casks in France. This was followed by a finish in selected casks, including selected wine and whiskey casks with a unique character. This elaborate triple aging is also something special for many experienced rum connoisseurs. In addition, the strictly limited rums of the Single Cask Collection are also interesting for collectors.
The Ron Centenario brand from Costa Rica was founded in the 1980s, but the distillery has been around since the 1960s. In addition to rums matured using the complex Solera process, Ron Centenario also has rums traditionally stored in oak barrels in its range. Some of these casks previously contained brandy, whiskey or other spirits. In general, Ron Centenario's rum is smooth, with notes of oak, ripe fruit and herbs. Ron Centenario also offers long-aged rums at reasonable prices, so the rums from this brand offer excellent value for money. These include the Ron Centenario 9 years Conmemorativo and the Ron Centenario 12 years Gran Legado.
Rum for whisky fans
The wide range of rums sometimes makes it difficult for newcomers to the world of cane spirits to find a rum that suits their taste directly. On the other hand, if you enjoy drinking whisky, it's easier to find a rum that you might like. The numerous different types of rum also offer you the opportunity to gradually make exciting discoveries.
Due to the typical flavor profile of whisky, most whisky fans prefer dry rums. The sweetish notes that many rums have are not always due to the raw materials molasses or sugar cane juice: Since consumers demanded sweeter rums, many producers have started sweetening their rums. However, sweetening is not permitted for whiskeys. Rums from Barbados and Jamaica are sweetened less frequently than those from South America.
Rhum Agricoles from Martinique, such as Trois Rivières or Clément, are also less sweet. For example, the Clément Rhum Vieux Agricole 10 years has notes of ripe fruit, roasted cocoa beans, cinnamon, tobacco and cigars.
Dictador rum from Colombia is also recommended for whisky fans. The Dictador 20 Years Icon Reserve is very spicy and dry. It is characterized by notes of toffee, oak, coffee and intense roasted aromas typical of many whiskies.
All rums that were allowed to mature in more heavily burnt out former whiskey casks are also interesting for whiskey drinkers. Although many rums are stored in ex-bourbon casks, this often gives them a rather sweet aroma profile. If you like drinking whisky, you should look out for rums that have been allowed to mature in single malt casks.
A good example of this is the limited Plantation Guyana 2007 Teeling Single Malt Cask Finish. As its name suggests, after double aging in bourbon and cognac casks, it was finished in a Teeling Single Malt Irish Whiskey cask.
Its taste is full-bodied and complex, with notes of cocoa, spices, berries, dried fruit, tobacco and a little smoke.
To get started in the world of rum, there are also tasting sets and samples. So you can try rums in a "small format" before you buy a "real" bottle.
4. Mai Tai
This cocktail has a delicious, complex taste thanks to its variety of ingredients with different flavors. Some mai tai recipes also include orange or pineapple juice, making the cocktail significantly sweeter than this version.
Pour 3 cl lime juice and a quarter of a lime into a shaker. Then add 3 cl each of Jamaican and Martinique aged rum, 0.75 cl white rhum agricole, 1.5 cl orange liqueur, 2.5 cl orgeat (almond liqueur) and a dash of angostura bitters with three to four ice cubes in a shaker. Shake the ingredients and strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice. Garnish the mai tai with an orange zest.
5. Bahama Mama
This tropical fruity cocktail was invented in the 1950s. With its two types of rum and different fruit juices, it provides a Caribbean taste experience, especially if you use freshly squeezed juice.
Put 3 cl white and brown rum, 6 cl orange juice, 8 cl pineapple juice and 2 cl lemon juice and coconut syrup each into a shaker and fill it up with ice cubes. Shake the shaker vigorously until the outside feels very cold. Then strain the cocktail through a bar strainer into a large cocktail glass. Finally, slowly add 1-2 cl of grenadine to the Bahama Mama and garnish with an orange or lemon slice or a pineapple wedge.
7. Pina Colada
If you like creamy, sweet cocktails, the Piña Colada might just be the drink for you. This tropical cocktail gained great popularity in the 1950s. In 1978, the piña colada was even named the national drink of Puerto Rico.
Add 6 cl white rum, 8 cl pineapple juice, 4 cl cream of coconut, 2 cl cream and, if you like, a squeeze of lemon juice in a blender. Now fill about half a glass of crushed ice into the blender and mix the mixture well for 20 to 30 seconds. Then you fill the Piña Colada in a large cocktail glass and garnish it with a pineapple slice and a cocktail cherry. If you prefer milder cocktails, only use 4 cl of rum instead of 6 cl.
The Mojito is a refreshing cocktail from the Cuban capital, Havana, whose history can be traced back at least to the early 20th century. This easy-to-mix cocktail took off from Cuba and is now being made in bars all over the world.
In contrast to most other cocktails, the Mojito is a "built in glass" cocktail that is prepared directly in the highball glass. Plenty of mint leaves, 2 teaspoons of white cane sugar or 2 cl of sugar syrup and 2.5 cl of freshly squeezed lime juice are first added to the glass. The mint is lightly pressed against the glass to release its aroma. Then crushed ice or ice cubes are placed in the glass. This is followed by 5cl of white rum from Cuba before the glass is topped up with soda and the mixture gently stirred.
Spanish rum style
Spanish-style rum is also made from molasses. In contrast to the English style, the distillation often takes place in column stills. Some of the subsequent maturation takes place in the traditional and complex Solera process, which has its origins in sherry production. Typically, rum produced in the Spanish style is round, sweet and lighter than the rather heavy English rum. However, the range of flavors is large and depends largely on the country of production of the rum in question.
French rum style
The base for French-style rum is not molasses, but sugar cane juice. This is pressed and processed from the freshly harvested sugar cane no later than 36 hours after harvest. The more modern column still system is often used for distillation. This manufacturing process usually gives Rhum Agricole a slightly lighter body than rums from the pot style process. It is characterized by its complex floral-fruity aromas and its strong, dry taste. Typical countries of origin for Rhum Agricole are Haiti, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Rhum from Martinique or La Réunion.
picture credits/ source of photos: Renegade Rum (Kirsch Import), Pampero Rum (Diageo), Navy Island Rum (Kirsch Import), Rhum J.M (Kirsch Import), Black Tot (Kirsch Import)