An Introduction To Rum Famously, it was the spirit of choice for pirates. But in modern times, rum is at the heart of many popular cocktails and gaining a well-deserved reputation as a complex artisanal spirit to be enjoyed in its own right. With every country and each distillery producing its own unique style of rum, finding your perfect bottle is a voyage of discovery that starts with our selection below. Whether you prefer icons like Bacardi, Diplomático, Foursquare, Plantation, El Dorado and Kraken – or favour the artisan rule breakers – you’ll find every shade of rum right here.
The History Of Rum
Originating in the West Indies and first documented in the mid-1600s (when it was called ‘kill devil’), rum production is inexorably linked to the sugar trade during colonial times. The revelation came when it was discovered that the fermented by-products of sugar production – molasses, sugar-cane juice and sugar-cane honey – could be distilled into rum.
The exact nature of these raw materials can create very different types of rum, and the devil is in the detail. Everything from the strain of yeast and fermentation time, to the type of still and the variety of cask – if any – will affect the character of the rum in your glass. From white rum to dark rum – via spiced rum and rum cocktails – this is one spirit with no rules.
The Distillation Of Rum
Part of the beauty of rum is the scope for makers to put their stamp on the production process – starting with the all-important choice of still. Essentially, there are three still types used to make rum, each producing a very different style of spirit. Some rum distilleries use traditional copper pot stills, which allow the rum to retain more flavour and give it a heavy character. You’ll find a great selection of pot still rum brands here.
Meanwhile, a traditional column still is comprised of two columns and runs continuously, creating fruity rum with a smoother, lighter character than traditional pot still rum. Click here for our selection of traditional column still rum brands.
Of course, when it comes to rum, rules are there to be broken. Many rum distilleries employ both a traditional pot still and a traditional column still, combining the spirit from each to create a classic style known as traditional blended rum. You’ll find our range of traditional blended rum right here.
Modernist multi-column stills are similar to traditional column stills, running continuously and producing high-strength spirits. Unlike traditional column stills, however, this type of rum still has further columns that remove more flavour compounds, leaving the lightest, cleanest flavours in the rum. You can discover our selection of modernist rum here.
Find out more about how rum is made – from raw materials to maturation – here.
Styles Of Rum
Travel the rum-producing regions and you’ll find a patchwork of styles so distinct that each one is almost a spirit in its own right. Created with a unique combination of stills, raw materials and local quirks, each rum style is best described by its distinctive flavours, and the rum from different countries often falls into specific flavour camps. For example, Jamaica's Hampden Estate distillery creates tropical and fruity rum, distilled using a traditional pot still, while Martinique is know for its rhum agricole, made using freshly pressed sugar-cane juice which helps give its rum a herbaceous and grassy flavour.
The history of rum is at its heart a history of world trade, with big companies typically buying multiple casks of different rum from the same distillery and then, further down the line, blending them to create their own product. The result was known as blended rum, and the concept continues to this day.
As you would expect, blended rum covers plenty of ground, but fundamentally this rum type falls into two distinct categories. A blended modernist rum is a blend of rums from multiple distilleries which contains at least some modernist rum (you’ll find some great examples here). A blended traditional rum, meanwhile, also hails from multiple distilleries but contains only rum produced using time-honoured pot stills and column stills. Click here for our best blended traditional rum brands.
Flavours Of Rum
Whatever your palette desires, a great rum can deliver. Light and uncomplicated rum tends to be made using modern multi-column stills, and places the focus on easy-drinking, smooth, clean flavours.
Herbaceous and grassy rum is often made using sugar-cane juice and distilled in a combination of traditional pot and column stills.
Tropical and fruity rum is typically made using traditional pot stills, creating a funky, high-ester character. Usually slightly heavier, a lot of rum in this flavour camp hails from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.
Fruity and spiced rum is generally a blend of traditional pot and column stills, and gains a spicy character from time spent aging in oak barrels.
Dry and spicy rum is often made in modern multi-column stills and achieves its flavour through long interactions with oak casks.
Rich and treacly rum typically gains its rich, sweet flavour through the addition of sugar, as well as barrel-aging.
How to Drink Rum
For purists, rum demands little more than a tumbler and a balmy summer’s evening. To this end, there are plenty of stellar options, from the funky and fruitier rum styles to the smoothest sipping rum, such as the bottles from Hampden Estate or Veritas. Investigate flagship brands like Bacardi rum, Diplomático rum, Plantation XO rum, El Dorado rum and Kraken rum – then go beyond, letting your palate guide you.
But rum is whatever you make of it. The simple pleasures of a Bacardi rum and coke or a Kraken rum coffee are well-documented, but as one of the world’s most popular spirits for cocktail-making, rum’s rainbow of flavours excels alongside virtually all other ingredients. When making rum cocktails, the best rum to use is often one with a light, clean flavour – like Angostura – which shows off the spirit’s flavour without overpowering the cocktail.
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