Known as the spirit of choice for pirates, and sitting at the heart of many popular, tropical cocktails, rum is one of the most versatile spirits in the world. Every country and every distillery produces its own, unique style of rum, making a little bit of something for everyone, and today rum is gaining a well-deserved reputation for being a complex, artisanal spirit to be enjoyed in its own right.
The production of rum is inexorably linked to the sugar trade during colonial times. The by-products of sugar production – molasses, sugar-cane juice and sugar-cane honey – when fermented, can be distilled into rum.
These raw materials can create very different spirits, but the devil is in the details. Everything from the strain of yeast, the fermentation time, the type of still and the type of cask, if any, will affect the character of the spirit.
There are three types of stills used to make rum, each producing a very different style of spirit.
Traditional Pot Still
Some distilleries use traditional copper pot stills, which allow the spirit to retain more flavour giving it a heavy character. Click here to see traditional pot still rums.
Traditional Column Still
These stills are made up of two columns and run continuously, creating fruity spirits with a smoother, lighter character than traditional pot still rums. Click here to see traditional column still rums.
Many distilleries have both a traditional pot still and traditional column still, combining the spirit from each to create a classic style: Traditional Blended rum. Click here to see traditional blended rums.
Modernist Column Still
Similar to traditional column stills, modern-multi-column stills run continuously and can produce high-strength spirits. Unlike traditional column stills, multi-column stills have further columns that remove more flavour compounds, leaving the lightest, cleanest flavours in the rum. Click here to see modernist rums.
Learn more about how rum is made here.
Styles Within Styles
The different styles of rum, produced in different stills are the foundation for regional styles of rum. Created through a combination of stills or differnet raw materials, these rums are best described by their distinctive flavours, and rums from certain countries often fall into specific flavour camps. For example, Jamaica's Hampden Estate distillery creates tropical and fruity rums, distilled using a traditional pot still, while Martinique is know for its rhum agricole, made using freshly-pressed sugar-cane juice which helps to give a herbaceous and grassy flavour.
The history of rum is at its heart a history of world trade. Big companies bought multiple casks of different rums from the same distillery and, further down the line, blended them to produce their own product. As part of our drive to help you discover rum by production style, we have created two distinct categories of blended rum:
A blend of rums from multiple distilleries which contains at least some Modernist rum. Click here to see blended modernist rums.
A blend of rums from multiple distilleries which only contains traditional pot still and traditional column still rums. Click here to see blended traditional rums.
Light and uncomplicated rums tend to be made using modern-multi-coloumn stills, and focus on easy-drinking, smooth, clean flavours.
Herbaceous and grassy rums are often made using sugar-cane juice and distilled in a combination of traditional pot and column stills.
Tropical and fruity rums are often made using traditional pot stills, creating a funky, high-ester character. Usually slightly heavier spirits, a lot of rums in this flavour camp hail from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.
Fruity and spicy rums are more-often-than-not a blend of traditional pot and column stills, and gain a spicy character from time spent aging in oak barrels.
Dry and spicy rums are often made in modern multi-column stills and achieve their flavour through long interactions with oak casks.
Rich and treacly rums often gain their rich, sweet flavour through the addition of sugar, as well as barrel-aging.
How to Drink Rum?
One of the most popular spirits for cocktail making, rum can be drunk in many different ways, and different flavours are better in different situations.
When making cocktails, often the best rums to use are those with a light, clean flavour – e.g. Angostura – which show off the flavour of the spirit without overpowering the cocktail. However, if you're not a cocktail fan then there are lots of options – from the funky-and-fruity to the smoothest sipping rums, such as those from Hampden Estate or Veritas.