Photo by Diane Picchiottino on Unsplash of rum bottles in a New York bar

What is a Rum and how many types are there?

Table of Contents

The many types of rum
White, light, or clear rum
Gold or pale rum
Dark rum
Overproof rum
Rhum agricole
Flavoured or spiced rum
Black rum
Cachaça
Navy rum
Premium aged rum
Aguardiente
Vintage Rum
Queen's Share Rum
Different ways of enjoying rum

 

The many types of rum

A quick visit to any supermarket will soon make you realise that there are a variety of different types of rum on the market. In this blog post, we will introduce you to the most common rum types.

Let's start with a definition of a rum. Although it has not been specifically defined within the United Kingdom, the United States's definition of rum is that it is an alcoholic spirit, distilled from sugar cane or any of its by-products, including molasses, sugar cane juice or sugar cane syrup. The resulting distillate should be no less than 80 proof (40% ABV or Alcohol By Volume). However, strictly speaking, sugar from sugar beet is not the same as sugar from sugar cane, and therefore, the spirit made from sugar beet would not technically be considered a rum.

 

White, light, or clear rum

These rums are also known as silver rums and are generally the least complex of the various types, due to them often being bottled straight from the still. They can also be used as a basis for other types of rum, although some can be stored in barrels for up to several years and then filtered to remove the resulting colour. Due to their fresh flavour, they can make an excellent addition to cocktails, as their taste is not overpowering on the palate, with flavours such as dried fruit, honey or vanilla coming through when sipped neat. This type of rum often forms an essential component of cocktails such as mojitos, daiquiris, and piña coladas.

Bottles of Bicardi white rum lying down
Image 1: White rum (Photo by Alvis Taurēns on Unsplash)

 

Gold or pale rum

These rums are also known as Oro or Ambre rum and are aged in oak barrels, taking on an amber or golden colour as a result. Whilst there are no strict aging rules, these varieties are usually aged for longer than white rum and have a complexity to the taste, coming from the aging process. These rums vary between light and fragrant through to rich and intense and are often blended together. Depending on the length of time spent in the barrel, tastes of vanilla, almond, coconut, banana, and butterscotch can be found in this group of medium bodied, mellow rums.

 

Dark rum

Dark rum refers to a group of rums that are darker in colour than white rum. The dark, rich colour of these types of rum can be achieved by aging them in barrels for a considerable time, often resulting in an oak flavour. However, this colour may also be achieved by adding burnt sugar or caramel during the production process. As a result, a wide range of flavours accompany this group with the different variations being used to add colour and/or a smoky flavour to cocktails, such as the Mai Tai or Hurricane.

Bottle of Old Monk rum surrounded by baubles
Image 2: Dark rum (Photo by jaikishan patel on Unsplash)

 

Overproof rum

In general, most standard rums are between 80 to 100 proof (40% to 50% ABV) but there are others which have a higher concentration of alcohol, known as overproof rums. Generally speaking, the distillation process for rum produces a spirit between 160 and 190 proof. The resulting liquor is then diluted with water to reduce it to the 80 proof standard. However, overproof rums do not go through the dilution process and are bottled at the higher proof level. In the United States, rum over 155 proof is not permitted entry, and it is common for manufacturers to bottle at the 150 proof level. Overproof rums tend to be popular on the Caribbean Islands and are used in cooking recipes where the rum needs to be set alight. Classic rum punches are often made using overproof rum mixed with tropical fruit juices, to deliver a stronger taste. In Germany, the rumtopf recipe uses overproof rum to mature and preserve a selection of fruit, to create a fruit preserve, often served throughout the winter holidays.

 

Rhum agricole

This group comes in various colours and complexities, as the only defining characteristic is that the liquor is made from sugar cane juice. Although it is made principally in the French Caribbean Islands, especially Martinique and Guadeloupe, there are also versions made in Mauritius and Haiti. Due to the short season (1st April to 30th June) and the fact that sugar cane starts to degrade almost as soon as it is harvested, the juice needs to be fermented and distilled almost immediately. Within 24 hours, it is possible to lose up to 3% of the sucrose, so speed is of the essence. The sugar cane juice is double distilled to around 140 proof, which is lower than that produced by other sugar by-products. As a result, the spirit retains more of the flavour of the sugar cane juice. It is, therefore, common to taste a fresh, floral, almost grassy, flavour when drinking the spirit. The rhum can be rested for up to six months before being bottled as rhum blanc. Alternatively, the rhum can be matured in oak barrels for a number of years, resulting in a darker colour and a deeper flavour. At the three year mark, the rhum can be bottled and labelled as rhum vieux (old rum).

Bottle of Clement Canne Bleue with glass
Image 3: Rhum Agricole (Photo by Maxime Telesinski on Unsplash)

 

Flavoured or spiced rum

As the name suggests, this group of rums involves the addition of extra herbs and spices, to the mix. Common additions include cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg as well as vanilla, allspice and pepper. Additions such as seeds, dried fruit, roots, leaves, or bark from edible flora, are also not unusual. The wide variety of rums in this group is testament to its popularity and the diverse range of ingredients. Some of these rums originated as medicinal cures for a plethora of ailments. These rums can be sipped neat or form part of a cocktail, such as Dark & Stormy, as well as being used in recipes, such as rum cake.

 

Black rum

Generally, a black rum is one that has been left in oak barrels, longer than a gold rum. Often those barrels are significantly charred with some molasses left or placed within them. It is not unknown for burnt sugar or caramel colouring to be added to the finished product to further darken it. Black rum was first crafted by British settlers in the Caribbean in the 17th century and spread out across Europe and North America. This type of rum is reminiscent of an American whiskey/bourbon but sweeter. As a heavy bodied rum, black rum commonly tastes of dark chocolate, oak, tobacco, and leather.

Bottle of Kraken Black Rum with glass
Image 4: Black rum (Photo by Nighthawk Shoots on Unsplash)

 

Cachaça

This type of rum is the national spirit of Brazil, a key ingredient of the national cocktail (the Caipirinha) and has been produced since the 16th century. Like rhum agricole, it is made from fresh sugar cane juice but tastes a little gentler on the palate. Whilst much of the rum is bottled with little or no interaction with barrels, those rums that are barrelled have many taste nuances, due to the different types of local wood being used. However, there are variations that do not use wood, such as, in Minas Gerais (Brazil), the artisanal cachaça is made using natural yeast and copper pots, in small batches.

 

Navy rum

These rums are full bodied, dark rums that are associated with the British Royal Navy. The connection goes back as far as 1655 when Jamaica was captured by the Royal Navy, and the local rum was used to provide a daily ration to each sailor. In fact, it was found that while grape based spirits, such as wine or brandy, went off in the heat of the Tropics, rum managed to improve its flavour as it aged in the barrels on board the ships. Admiral Edward Vernon is credited, around 1740, with watering down the rum and adding lime, in order to prevent scurvy. The resulting mixture was nicknamed grog and later on, called tot. The custom of a daily tot per sailor continued until 31st July 1970.

Original Navy rum recipes used blends from all of the British Territories and in the 1800s, Alfred Lamb started making dark rum in cellars beneath the river Thames. Today's Navy rum has a caramel sweetness, subtle vanilla, and warm spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, running through it.

Bottle of Lamb's Navy Rum with glass
Image 5: Navy rum (Photo by Claire Webster [Swan Knight Distillery])

 

Premium aged rum

These rums have been aged in barrels for a number of years, resulting in a rich, smooth spirit. The lengthy aging process means that some of the rum evaporates off. It is common for these rums to be blended, to achieve a deep and distinctive flavour. The cost of storage and the loss of some rum through evaporation means that these mature rums are often the most expensive. Aged rums are often darker in colour and there may be a reddish tint from the cognac or sherry barrels. Dependent on the country, there are different standards regarding the age statements on the rum bottle. For example, in the United States, a bottle that states 21 years, means that the youngest rum in the blend must be 21 years old.

 

Aguardiente

The name "Aguardiente" can be translated to mean "burning water" or "fire water" and is a spirit created by fermenting and distilling fruit and sugar cane, thereby retaining many of the flavours from the vegetation used to create it. Aguardiente is popular across Latin America, where it is often flavoured using lime, peach, or orange. In Columbia, however,  the spirit is commonly flavoured with anise, with each region having its own variation.

Bottle of Amarillo Aguardiente with shot glass
Image 6: Aguardiente (Photo by Nicolás Pinilla on Unsplash)

 

Vintage rum

Vintage rums are bottled from specific vintage years of production and are, therefore, generally found on the French islands where the growing season is short. It has been known for a private label to purchase a large amount of rum from a particular year and age it until maturity. The master distiller must assess the sugar cane from each harvest and adjust the distilling process, in order to achieve consistency of flavour. These rums are often limited editions and are usually purchased by collectors. Vintage rums are labelled by the year they were distilled and the location of their origin.

 

Queen's Share Rum

Historically, it was produced in Jamaica and reserved for royalty, hence the name. The manufacturing process involves taking the low level alcohol from the final stage of the distillation process, saving it until there is sufficient volume for a full distillation. The resulting rum is then aged for four years and consequently, has a rich and complex taste. This type of rum is rare, due to the complexity and the time consuming process, required to produce it.

 

Different ways of enjoying rum

There are many different ways to enjoy rum, but it is often based on personal taste and individual palate. Our recommendation would be to try different combinations, mixers and flavours and see for yourself. If you find a new way of enjoying our golden spiced rum, then please get in touch via social media.

 

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