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Rum 101

All About Rum


Originally form the Carribean and associated with the slave trade, rum is now Rum Piratesmanufactured all over the world.

How Rum is Made

Processing of the caneThere are three main stages to the production of rum:

  1. Fermentation
  2. Distillation
  3. Unlike whisky, Rum is not always aged.

 Processing of the sugar cane

Rum is made from sugar cane which is harvested by hand and then crushed to release the sugar cane juice. The fibrous pulp left over is sometimes used as a fuel to generate power.

 There are three different ways in which the sugar cane juice can be processed, producing three different base products:

  1. It is fermented and distilled - the method used in the French West Indies, (Martinique and Guadaloupe. This method preserves the vegetal characteristics of the cane. It is identified on the label as Rhum Agricole.
  2. The sugar cane juice is reduced and concentrated to form a syrup which can then be fermented and distilled. This method allows Rum to be distilled all year round.
  3. The juice is [processed into sugar and molasses. The sugar is sold and the molasses can then be fermented and distilled. (This is the most commonly used method.) Molasses rum tends to be spicier than Rhum Agricole.


Different distilleries use different methods:

  1. Natural Fermentation: The suagrs are fermented I open vats and rely on the natural yeast present in the environment
  2. Controlled fermentation: Specific yeast cultures are used

Most distilleries actually use a combination of the two techniques


Rum Stills: Rum can be distilled using either a pot still or a continuous still. In practise most rum stills often combine elements of both. As with whisky stills, each still is unique and hand built.

The raw spirit is generally collected form the still at between 70% to 90% abv (Cahaca can be distilled between 38% - 48% abv). Unlike whisky and vodka which emerges as a clear spirit, freshly distilled rum can vary from clear to black in colour.

Some rums are infused with herbs and spices and even fruit


Rum can be aged in oak barrels or in some cases bottled immediately. It is important to understand that Rum does not need to age for as long as other spirits, like whisky and reaches maturity a lot faster. It will also go over the top faster if left too long. This more rapid aging is partly dur to the Carribean climate.

Aged Rums

Most distilleries use ex Bourbon barrels to age their rum, but ex whisky and cognac casks are also used. The rum then extracts more colour and vanilla flavours from the cask.

Rum generally goes into the cask for ageing at between 70% - 80% abv. Unlike whisky rum barrels are often topped up with rum of the same age or 1 year younger (Solera process).


As with whisky, most rum is blended with other batches of different ages from the same distillery before bottling and is diluted with water for a consistency normally between 40% - 50% abv

The Colour of Rum – some facts:

Overproof white rum is bottled immediately after distillation and comes from the still as a clear liquid.

Some white rums such as Banks, start out as dark rums and are filtered to remove the colour.

Gold rum may start out as white rum, it is matured on oak casks for just a few weeks where it acquires a light golden colour.

Gold rum may also come from the still with a natural golden colour

It is possible to find a white and golden rum from the same distillery, essentially the ame product, processed and aged identically, but one with the colour removed.

Dark rum often has caramel added to deepen the colour

Reading the label

  1. Age Statements

A whisky connoisseur will be able to tell you that the age statement on a Scotch label must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in that bottle. This is not necessarily the case with Rum

The American market vs the European Market: 

Under US legislation, age must be that of the youngest rum In the bottle whereas in Europe the age stated may be the oldest rum in the bottle. In other regions it may be an average of all the different ages of the rum in the bottle.

Other Age Terms

These are non-specific but are generally only applied to better quality rums.

Premium = Aged

Anejo = Old

Gran Anejo = Even older

 XO = Extremely Old. N.B. even an XO rum has no minimum age - it is all depenedent on the brand or distillery.

French Carribean

Rhum Vieux = aged a minimum of three years

Tres Vieux = much older than three years

Hors d’age = A blend of old rums

 Vintages on labels

Vintages are used – but check that the bottling date is also mentioned – otherwise “23” may just be part of the brand name and nothing to do with the age.

Alcohol content

Described a Abv or proof

Other Terms

Distiller – A good bottle of rum should mention the distiller or importer on the label

Bottler – Better quality rums are generally bottled at source

Rhum Agricole = rum ditilled in the French Carribean from cane juice

Rhum Traditionnel = rum distilled in the French Carribean from Molasses rather than cane juice

Other Terms that tell you absolutely nothing and are used mainly for marketing hype:


Gran Reserva


Estate Rum

Plantation Rum