Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Bill Allen
Rum – Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know!
Rum is a spirit made from either sugarcane juice, or a by product of sugar cane such as molasses.
Rum has been around for several hundred years and has a fascinating past.
Most rum comes from Latin American countries. It is also produced in the West Indies, the UK, Australia, Mexico and India, among other countries.
Unlike other spirits, rum has no defined production methods. Different regions have different ways of fermenting and distilling rum, and there are several different kinds of rum too. Rum can either be drunk neat, in cocktails, with ice or with mixers.
The History of Rum
Rum has had quite an interesting history, compared to many other drinks.
The first types of true rum were produced on Barbados sugar plantations by slaves, in around the 17th century. Precursors to this drink were sugar wine produced in Malaysia, India and China, so it’s impossible to decide where exactly the idea came from.
Rum’s association with the slave trade did not just end with its invention. The trade in rum underpinned the slave trade in some instances, and became a resource for bartering. Rum, slaves and sugar were stolen or bartered between Africa, Europe and North America.
From the Caribbean, rum spread to North America. It was used in some states as a form of currency. It also became important in early US elections, as candidates provided rum to the electorate as an inducement to vote for them, and as an opportunity to socialize with them and solicit votes. Rum also contributed to the American Revolution.
Rum became associated with the British Navy after the British takeover of Jamaica in 1655. Navy sailors were issued with a daily tot of rum between 1655 and 1970, when the practice was ended. Even today, sailors in the Royal Navy are issued with rum on special occasions.
Anyway, back in 1655, rum was often mixed with beer and water to produce ‘grog’. Although pirates are famously associated with grog, they actually preferred to drink ‘bumbo’, which was a mixture of rum, water, sugar and sometimes citrus juice. This tasted considerably better than grog.
Rum was also important to the history of Australia. The run-up to the Rum Rebellion began when William Bligh, better known as the former captain of the Bounty, was appointed Governor of New South Wales. Unfortunately, Bligh’s leadership skills had not improved since his crew mutinied, and he quickly alienated many of the people he governed because of injustices he meted out, as well as generally poor diplomatic skills.
New South Wales had a reputation for laxity and drunkenness, partly because of the lack of comfort and security experienced by settlers. Bligh clamped down on the use of rum in bartering and its dispensation to men in the New South Wales Corps. This resulted in a coup, and Bligh was overthrown.
Legend: Piracy and Rum
Rum is often associated as the preferred libation of pirates in the West Indies. However the iconic song we associate with the knaves was composed by author Robert Louis Stevenson, who was Scottish and never himself traveled to the Caribbean.
His book Treasure Island, published in (1883) contained the ditty “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” was written too late to ever have been sung by pirates.
However, being that rum production was prolific in the Caribbean, and that pirates enjoyed pillaging the bounty of the islands, and loved a drop or two; imagination doesn’t leap too far to associate pirates and rum.
There are several different kinds of rum – their flavor and color is usually determined by their origin.
Light rum – also called silver rum or white rum, light rum tastes of very little. It’s a popular base for cocktails, particularly fruit cocktails. This type of rum is common in Spanish-speaking territories and the US, and much of it comes from Puerto Rico.
Gold rum – this rum has been aged, usually in bourbon barrels, but is not as heavy as other types of rum. It is halfway between light rum and dark rum, and can be drunk straight or as a mixer.
Dark rum – this is the heaviest type of rum, and often has caramel notes. It is usually drunk on its own or with water. This type of rum usually comes from English-speaking islands like Jamaica, or central American countries – and dark rum was traditionally the choice of the Royal Navy, too.
Spiced rum – these types of rum are usually, although not always, based on gold rum. To the rum, spices and sometimes caramel are added to give a distinctive flavor. Common ingredients are cinnamon, aniseed and rosemary.
Flavored rums – These are generally light rums to which a tropical fruit flavor has been added, including citrus fruit, coconut, mango or banana. They can either be drunk straight or used as a specialist cocktail ingredient.
Rum production methods
There are many variations in rum production, but these are the main steps:
Yeast is added to the sugar and water mixture to begin the process of turning the sugar to alcohol. In many places, molasses provide the sugar content, but French-speaking areas tend to use sugar cane and water.
Rum is then distilled, to make it more alcoholic. Some producers use pot stills, similar to those used in whiskies. But most rum is distilled in column stills. The shape of the still is believed to have an effect on the flavor.
Some rum is drunk straight away – in fact, the lowest grade rums are effectively cane spirits with flavorings added, and can give the drinker a horrendous hangover. However, in most countries, rum has to be aged for at least a year before it is called rum.
The length of aging and the type of barrel the rum is stored in has an effect on the flavor as well as the rum. Like all spirits, some of the rum evaporates during the aging process – what’s lost is called the ‘angel’s share’. The amount of rum at the end of several years’ worth of aging is therefore much less than if the producers had bottled it as soon as they were able, which drives up the price of older rum.
Finally, rum is blended. Light rums may have color removed during this process, while dark rums may be altered to appear darker and heavier. This process is particularly important for large-scale producers, as it ensures that all their rum tastes and appears the same.
You can drink your rum straight, mix it with ice or have it with coke or any other soda drink mixer. However, rum is also a very popular component of cocktails.
If you’re having a party, then try some of the following ideas to kick things off. Remember rum-based cocktails can be pretty potent, so don’t drink too much:
To drink rum like a sailor, make bumbo or grog. Grog was traditionally made with rum, beer and water, and sounds absolutely disgusting! Modern grog varieties are generally made from one or more kinds of rum and fruit juice, which should be much more palatable than the drink that men in the Royal Navy were issued with.
Bumbo is made with rum, lemon juice, pieces of lime and ice, and a little ground cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s a very refreshing cocktail, and not too alcoholic (well, depending on how much rum you put in it!). Remember to talk like a pirate when you drink it. Arrrrr!
Long Island Ice Tea is a classic cocktail. For one, you need half a shot each of rum, gin, tequila and vodka. Pour the spirits over ice and top up with cola. Long Islands are the perfect way to kick start your night, but don’t drink too many as they are extremely alcoholic.
Try a rum and cranberry. It’s a refreshing drink and works perfectly in hotter climates. Healthier than coke or other soda mixers, rum and cranberry is best served in a rocks glass with ice.
Rum has long been a favorite element to add to many dishes, whether it be through flavoring cookies and cakes, soaking in candied fruits, giving sweet sauces to meats and bbq dishes, adding a flavor to chocolates, ice cream and jams; rum has had a prominent presence in many kinds of plates.
Because of its sweetness, rum most often appears in desserts from chocolate rum fondue to rum flavored fruit cake or daiquiri ice cream.
This drink also finds its way into main dishes like garlic and rum roasted pork, rum battered seafood, or sweet and spicy rum bbq sauce; there are countless ways to use rum when cooking.
Famous rum combinations and cocktails
Rum Punch (famous drink in the Caribbean, with several kinds of alcohol), Dacquiri (lime juice, rum and simple syrup), Mojito (rum, mint, lime, sugar, soda water, etc.), Hot Buttered Rum, Pina Colada, Hurricanes, Cable Car, Dark and Stormy, Jean Harlow, Capirinha, etc.
For the Connoisseur
Some examples of delicious rums include: El Dorado’s Special Reserve 15 Year old Rum, $40 a bottle and tasting of raisin and caramel.
For higher-end samples, Goslings Old Rum is an honey and oaky flavored drink priced at $75 a bottle.
Mount Gay 1703 Cask Select Rum (aged about 30 years) savors of banana, toffee, and oaky flavors, selling for $95.
Most Expensive Rum
The most expensive rum for sale currently is the Legacy by Angostura, which is priced at $25,000 per bottle. However, in a recent auction, an ancient rum case dated back to 1780 from Barbados, was sold for the highest price on record at: $128,000.