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Sorry, You’re Not Allowed to Hate Rum

November 18, 2014

one-does-not-simply-hate-rum

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, crystalline sugar 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 microorganism 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:

Cockspur 12

For the Scotch drinker:

Clement 10

For the Tequila drinker:

St. George California Agricole

For the vodka drinker:

Caliche

Do you have a favorite rum you use to convert professed rum haters? If so, please share it with us below.

Cheers,
Josh

12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2014 5:39 pm

    ” 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.” I’ve always said a good scotch is a good scotch is a good scotch. Rum is the variety that brings spice to the spirit world.

  2. Tannon permalink
    November 18, 2014 8:26 pm

    For tequila drinkers I think La Favorite blanc would be great, it is just amazing in a daquiri. For bourbon or cognac drinkers I think anything in the plantation or el Dorado lines would get their attention. Finally any of the Ed Hamilton cask strength St Lucian Rums should appeal to a scotch drinker. Their dry, character filled flavor profile would confound anyone who thinks rum is a flavorless spring break tipple.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 18, 2014 9:13 pm

      Great suggestions, Tannon! Cheers

  3. krjstoff permalink
    November 19, 2014 4:13 am

    I used a combination of Bristol Classic Port Mourant 1990 and Velier Caroni 1996 Cask Strengt to convince a maltster-friend of mine, that rum was way more than Zacapa and Millonario.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 19, 2014 7:44 am

      Well done–that is some serious juice! Millonario on the other hand should be classified as a liqueur–the cap in the “15” gets very sticky after a few pours.

  4. November 20, 2014 6:24 am

    Needless to say we both have an interest in “rum” – whatever “rum” is, and therein lies the problem. If only rum were a pure and unadulterated spirit – free of unlabelled additives – would this essay have real merit.

    Rum is without a doubt, the most secretly altered and modified spirit I know of. It is common to add glycerol, sugar, artificial and natural flavors, and even wine, yet none of these appear on the label. Compare to bourbon and Scotch whiskey which by law, are completely free of these faux flavors. The real diversity in rums emanates from the unending ways it is tweaked by the flavor engineers. It is not a pure spirit.

    A few more notes: all of the other factors you note – fermentations, yeasts, pot and column stills, cooperage/barrels, aging, et al – and the many variations and permutations of same, can be equally applied to advantage other spirits as well. These factors cannot – per se – distinguish rum. The sad truth is that most rum is made using high production techniques and the “diversity” we experience has little to do with the thin product itself, but with the unlabelled additives and false flavoring, fancy bottle, made-up stories and monkey marketing.

    The biggest myth – fortunately rarely cited – is that of a “terroir” that sugar cane does not have, and especially lacking the common, low grade molasses from which, by far, most rum is made. “Rum” has become a bulk business, made from bulk molasses, much from Brazil, et al. Terroir? Hardly. Promoters merely buy some altered bulk, create a bottle and story and voila! Diversity?

    Even once reliable brands are being cheapened. MGXO blend is not what it once was. Same for the El Dorados which are now heavily laced with flavor altering sugar. Plantation rums, ibid. Zacapa, Zaya? Same. Diplomatico? Sugared. Ron Matusalem, secretly altered with vanilla flavoring and prune extract. And so it goes.

    The one named example: Appleton- is a valid exception, but a handful of exceptions do not make for very much real (not flavored) diversity. We are left with a few labels like those made by Seales, Barbancourt, and a diminishing number of independent bottling by the likes of Berry, Cadenhead, et al, base on some very old stocks that are unlikely to be replaced.

    And even these few either VERY expensive and hard to obtain (the independents). The Big Three – Bacardi, Diageo and Fortune have taken over 90% of the rum shelves, and 100% of the prime, eye level displays. That takeover has occurred in just a few years. The Big Three’s power over the distribution and display, is sickening.

    In truth, there is diversity but it’s not in rum, but rather for Scotch. For example the well-known Serge (of Whiskyfun) has now reviewed over 10,000 different issues (compared to just 300 rums, most of which are unavailable). Now that’s diversity.

    If this horrible trend is to be stopped, we all need to speak out and make clear that any diversity we perceived is artificial and manufactured. We need to stop buying altered product and instead, to support the few remaining quality producers by identifying them and buying them.

    Three to start with: Appleton Extra, Seales 10 and Barbancourt Five Star.

  5. November 22, 2014 12:18 pm

    For the Scotch drinker: many Indian “scotches” are sugar cane based. Even their Johnny Walker bootlegs (more “JW” is sold in India than the distillery makes for the world)

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 22, 2014 11:23 pm

      Great insight, Fred–thanks!

  6. Andy permalink
    February 6, 2015 2:31 pm

    I like rum, but agree with Jimbo. All those choices are available to whiskey distillers. Also, yeast isn’t a bacteria.

  7. March 9, 2015 11:10 pm

    Fabulous article! I have a whole new level of respect for rum. I’ll drink to that. 😉

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      March 10, 2015 6:01 pm

      Thanks, Alanna! Cheers 🙂

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