People often say they don’t like rum, which I find colossally stupid.
If you say you don’t like vodka, that’s one thing—some are far better than others of course, but they all have the same basic flavor profile. Not so with rum, and that’s why it’s dumb to say you don’t like it. You may dislike a particular rum, but the fact is, there’s a rum for every palate.
Whenever I get into a discussion about the merits of rum, you’ll hear me say “rum is the most diverse spirit category on the planet”. I say that because it’s true. And it’s true because rum is made all over the world in a variety of different styles from a variety of different ingredients. It simply doesn’t lend itself to homogeneity.
For starters, the only real requirement for rum to be rum is that it be made from a sugar cane derivative. That means you can have rum made from sugar cane juice, sugar cane syrup, or a variety of different molasses grades. Oh, and let’s not forget that there are a ton of different sugar cane varieties whose flavors and sugar contents vary widely, differentiating the final product even further.
So with all of those potential ingredients, we now add in a few more key variables. Number one? Yeast. The humble bacteria is what turns that sugar into booze, so it’s probably pretty important, right? You bet it is. The type of yeast and length of fermentation is about as critical as the kind of sugar you choose.
At the extreme ends of the yeast scale, you have 1) Bacardi, who uses their proprietary yeast strain to ferment a high-alcohol brew as quickly as possible, and 2) Appleton, who uses a slow-acting yeast strain and some other goodies from the dunder pit to ferment to a lower alcohol level over a week or two. If you’ve ever made beer, you know that yeast choice has a monumentally huge impact on the taste of your brew, right? Well, the same goes for fermented sugar juice.
So now that we have our fermented sugar juice, it’s all the same from here, which is probably why you hate all rum, right? Nope.
Next up is distillation, and here we have another ton of variables that can lead to wildly different products. For example you could A) use a column still in continuous mode and make high proof, light tasting rum or B) use a pot still in batch mode to make a lower proof, highly flavorful rum. Of course, rum makers often use a blend of the two (and many other methods not mentioned here) to create their own signature style.
So now that we’ve gone through the still, we have a distillate that is crystal clear, and has a unique flavor profile (that you will undoubtedly hate) resulting from the chosen sugar type, the yeast, and the distillation method. Now what?
Many rums are filtered at this stage to smooth out the edges. Some are bottled and sold at this point without any aging. Others are laid down in a barrel to age, and then filtered again to remove the color added from the oak barrel. Others spend many years in the barrel before being bottled, with the tropical heat speeding the aging process along. But time isn’t the only factor in aging. The type of barrel makes a huge impact, and here again we have more variables.
Beyond American and French oak, we have still more choices relating to a barrel’s provenance. Most rums are in fact aged in used Bourbon barrels (that whole thing about 2 years in new American oak makes for a lot of barrels) while others are aged in ex-Cognac casks or Sherry butts, or a combination of the three. The barrel-finishing has a huge impact on a rum’s taste, but you wouldn’t care about that because you hate rum.
Finally, we come to blending and bottling, where the blender expertly combines different barrels that complement each other and aligns with their vision for the product that you will of course, hate. Or will you?
If you’ve read this far, you should be convinced at the very least, that there are many different ways to make rum, and that those different production methods yield substantially different flavor profiles. And following that logic, we can safely assume that there is a style that will suit your discerning taste buds, n’est ce pas?
Now that you’re ready to explore the magical world of rum, here are a few recommendations based on other spirits you may already enjoy.
For the Bourbon drinker:
For the Scotch drinker:
For the Tequila drinker:
For the vodka drinker:
Do you have a favorite rum you use to convert professed rum haters? If so, please share it with us below.
Today I’m proud to share with you the latest in my series on bitter liqueurs or amari. Amaro 104 includes another nine, which takes the total number of amari evaluated here to thirty-three! These nine include the Vittone line which is new to the States, as well as an amaro made in Oregon and several others from Italy. So if bitter is you thing (heck, even if it’s not) click here and learn all about them!