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What is Rum Made From and How it is Made

What is rum made from? The answer is quite simple. Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses or from sugarcane juice by fermentation and further distillation. Initially, it is a transparent drink, which is often aged in oak barrels, after which it acquires a rich golden hue.

Rum is produced all over the world, but the vast majority of “good” specimens come from the Caribbean and Latin America.

Unfortunately, the definition of rum is as precarious as the morale of a sea pirate. In fact, any alcoholic beverage made from cane molasses or cane juice, and distilled anywhere in the world can be classified as rum.

The most famous and popular rum today is Bacardi, more than 20 million cases of this alcohol are sold annually in 170 countries of the world. 

Today, “the death of the devil” (another name for rum) treats colds and flu, and at the beginning of the 20th century, rum was often used as a remedy for baldness, indigestion, scurvy and other ailments.

How is Rum Made?

While the answer to “what is rum made from” is easy, there is no single way to make rum. It all depends on the methods and traditions that are considered in the production process. Despite this, there is a general definite system for making this drink. Each manufacturer makes its own adjustments, but the steps remain the same.

  1. Harvest Sugarcane – the lower part of the sugar cane stalks, which contains the largest amount of sugars, is chopped into pieces using special heavy knives called machete.Cuba Sugar Cane Harvesting
  2. Extract Molasses or Sugarcane juice – the cane pieces are subjected to pressing to release juice. The juice is purified by carefully filtering the impurities. Alternatively, the sugarcane juice is boiled down to a syrup. The sugar crystals are extracted and the remaining thick black liquid is called molasses.molasses
  3. Fermentation – in agricultural method of producing rum, the juice is sent for fermentation to stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. In industrial method of producing rum, yeast and water are added to molasses to start the fermentation process. The final color of the rum depends on the type of yeast used. Rum producers mainly use ordinary pure yeast cultures adapted for cane juice fermentation. But some of the most famous producers use special types of yeast that provide a given speed and stability of fermentation, as well as impart a certain taste to the resulting mash. Producers of white rum prefer high-performance yeast active fermentation. For the production of amber or dark rum, it is more characteristic to use slow yeast fermentation, which leads to the formation of more esters in the fermentation process, which leads to the richer taste of rum.
  4. Distillation – the mash obtained as a result of fermentation is sent for distillation. As with many aspects of rum production, there is no standard method for distilling mash. Distillation is carried out in two main ways. First is distillation in Alembic still, a distillation apparatus used in cognac production. Such rum is called heavy rum. Second is distillation in a stream that leads to a light rum.Copper Alembic still used to distill fermented mash during rum production
  5. Aging – As a result of distillation, rum alcohol is obtained, which serves as the basis for rum. In order to obtain rum of certain grades, various batches of the obtained alcohol are mixed to give a homogeneous composition. Thereafter the rum is sent for aging.Stacks of oak barrels used to age rum
  6. Dilution – After aging, the rum is diluted with water until the desired alcoholic strength is obtained. The strength of the rum varies widely from 37% to 75%. If necessary, it is blended again after which the finished rum is sent for bottling.Bottling rum

Rum is not always stored in barrels and wood, sometimes in stainless steel containers. It is also worth noting that rum is prepared much faster in warm climatic conditions. For this reason, the main supplier of the drink in question are the Latin American states.

You may also be interested in learning about what gin is made from.

History of Rum

From Asia to Caribbean and South America

Sugarcane is native to Asia. It was first brought to Europe by pilgrims of the first crusade (1096-1270). Cane sugar was a rare and expensive commodity at that time. 

Gradually, it began to acquire economic importance. In the 14th century, Venice developed the first sugarcane processing methods. Envious of this success, the Portuguese and Spaniards created plantations and processing plants in their colonies such as Madeira, the Canary Islands, and later on the Azores. Lisbon quickly became a major center for sugar production.

The discovery of America has increased the geography of sugarcane cultivation thanks to Portuguese shipping. The Caribbean quickly became a sugarcane growing center.

Christopher Columbus brought the first sugarcane shoots to the West Indies somewhere at the end of the 15th century. It was first planted on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Santo Domingo).

In 1512, the Spaniards launched an aggressive campaign to develop sugar cane plantations in Cuba. By 1520, sugarcane spread throughout South America, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil.

Origins of Rum

The first mention of the drink dates back to 1657, when the clergyman Father Tertra wrote about the Antilles, inhabited by the French. In the book, he described a new drink called “Rum”.

Most historians agree that the first rum was made in Barbados. But there are also records that confirm that in the 1620s, rum was also produced in Brazil. Tin flasks labelled as “rum” were discovered on the sunken Swedish ship “Vasa” in 1628.sugarcane plantation slave workers

The first distillation of rum began in the 17th century. In the Caribbean, there were many sugarcane plantations on which thousands of slaves worked. Once treating molasses, the slaves realized that this sugarcane product could ferment and eventually turn into alcohol. Thus “Barbados water” was born, which was later called rum.

Rum, the Seafarer’s Drink

For a long period of time until the end of the 20th century, rum was an integral part of the travels of pirates and sailors alike. Like gold, it was regarded as a currency, helped to defeat diseases such as scurvy, strengthened the spirit of a dilapidated sailing team, and often was a drunk instead of water. 

In most cases, the water was unsafe for health due to its unhygienic storage conditions. Beer and wine also spoiled on ships. And other stronger drinks such as cognac or whiskey were not affordable. Therefore, rum for a long time remained an indispensable drink.British sailors receiving rum ration

In the 20th century, rum was promoted by the writer Ernest Hemingway, who praised its taste in his novels. He called Cuba his second home, where he often enjoyed his favorite cocktails based on rum, the Daiquiri and Mojito.Hemingway popularized pouring rum in a glass

To this day, rum production remains an integral part of the culture in countries with a hot and humid climate, so necessary for the cultivation of sugar cane – Cuba, Jamaica, the USA, Mexico, Brazil, etc.

How did Rum get its name?

The origin of the word rum is not exactly established, but there are several versions with some degree of certainty.

  • From the gypsy word rum, meaning “strong, powerful, strong.”
  • From the slang English term rum, meaning “strange, wonderful.”
  • From the 17th century English words rumbullion and rumbustion, meaning “rage, noise, fun.”
  • From the Dutch name for large glasses, Rummers.
  • The abbreviation of the Latin term Saccharum meaning “sugar”.
  • The abbreviation for the Latin word iterum meaning “repetition, once again.”
  • A modified French arome – “aroma”.

Types of Rum

Classification by method of production

  • Agricultural – sugarcane juice is fermented without artificial yeast to produce rum. Sugar is not extracted unlike the industrial method. It is an expensive production process.
  • Industrial – the industrial method provides 90% of rum all over the world. This waste-free production process creates rum out molasses, a by-product of sugarcane after sugar ha been extracted. This sugar is later sold in the form of refined sugar. The remaining molasses is first subjected to distillation and then fermentation. Distillation takes place continuously, because it is precisely this that leads to the fact that the taste is light and saturated. The product is a strong 80% drink, which is diluted with water. After that, the drink is left to mature in barrels.

Classification by color

  • White or light – it is filtered to the maximum clarification and has a rather sweet aftertaste, which eliminates the strength and depth of flavor. Due to its mild taste and aroma, it is well suited for mixing in various cocktails. Most Cuban rums belong to this category.
    white rum
  • Amber or gold – it is called so due to its golden hue. Golden rum tastes lighter than dark rum, but is stronger than light rum. Typically, this rum is aged in white oak barrels and is very popular when mixed with different drinks. This rum produced in Barbados, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Spiced rum is a type of golden rum that is infused with spices like anise, pepper, cinnamon and rosemary or a mixture thereof.

    golden rum
  • Black or dark – strong rum with pronounced taste that is made from caramel molasses and aged in charred barrels for a significant period of time. Thanks to this, the drink is deeply flavorful contrary to light rum. However, some dark rums such as the Kraken get the dark color due to addition of caramel. Dark rum can sometimes contain a little smoke and spices, which gives the drink a unique, incomparable taste. It is consumed in pure form, cocktails and in culinary dishes. But recently bartenders have started using it to give cocktails a darker shade. This includes rum produced in Jamaica and Martinique.
    dark rum

Classification by strength of alcohol

  • 30-40% – Sweet, rich, used in its natural form and in cocktails.
  • Above 40% – the exposure level is from 5 years. It is used only in its pure form.
  • 75% – strong, with a high level of alcohol

Classification by producing countries

Not surprisingly, most famous countries that produce rum lie in the Caribbean. Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, etc are a few. Rum is also produced in the Philippines, India, Australia, France and Spain.

Each country has its own standards. For example, in Venezuela, rum is aged for two years, in the Dominican Republic for only a year, and in Mexico it is limited to 8 months. But in Colombia, real rum should have a strength of at least 50%, while in most countries the alcohol content is 40%.

The distillation method, which dictates only the production style, is also not regulated. Traditional pot still used in English-speaking countries: in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, St. Kitts, the Demerara region in Guyana and the British Leeward Islands. So rum from there has a pronounced taste and aroma. 

Continuous-cycle columns are used by the Hispanic diaspora: Cuba, Guatemala, Panama, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela. Here the rum is light and more neutral in taste.

Most Popular Rums in the World

different run brand bottles beside each otherDespite the fact that each person has his own point of view and his own taste preferences, we tried to compile the most complete and accurate rating of both expensive and cheap brands of rum, which can reflect the latest trends in the alcohol market.

  • Bacardi For at least the past seventy years, Bacardi has remained the most popular brand of rum in the world. This elite alcohol is named after its creator Don Facundo Bacardi, who at one time significantly improved the sharp and rude taste of the drink, using charcoal for filtration and applying the method of aging in oak barrels. This line contains the most types of rums such as gold, light, black, lemon and so on. All types of Bacardi rums have a rich reddish-golden color and a slightly tart flavor with hints of vanilla, dried fruit and wood oak.
  • Captain Morgan is known for its image on the label of the pirate called Captain Morgan, who is resting his foot on a barrel of rum. The most popular in the line of Captain Morgan is Spiced Gold. This rum, which is initially colorless, is colored to a wonderful shade of amber during its preparation process by adding caramel. Among the best varieties of this line, it is worth noting Spiced Gold and Black Label.
  • Havana Club is produced in Cuba. But for the past thirty years, for the right to release it, a real war has been waged between the world’s largest producers of alcohol. The Havana Club line is represented by rather extensive rum options that can satisfy any rum lover’s request. It gained its popularity due to its pleasant light amber shade and light, refined aroma, which is achieved by using select types of alcohol.
  • Old Monk – any tourist who has visited the India, when listing all the wonders that have ever seen or tried, certainly mentions the Old Monk rum. The Indian rum’s nose consists of shades of coffee with cream, berry jam, oriental spices and vanilla. The taste of alcohol is strong and rich. At the same time it has a soft texture that combines the flavor of oriental spices and sweet notes of caramel.
  • Zacapa is made in Guatemala and is considered a premium rum brand. It has gained worldwide popularity in just a few years. Today, any prestigious publication will certainly include one of the products of the Zacapa line in the top ten of the best inexpensive rums. And this is not surprising, since this brand stands out for its dense, perfectly balanced taste with a very long warming after-taste. In the aroma of this alcohol you will find pronounced notes of almond, toast, chocolate, vanilla, fruit and more.
  • Appleton Estate is the oldest and most famous Jamaican alcoholic beverage. Its history goes back to the distant year of 1749. The alcohol brand got its name in honor of the estate of Appleton Estate, on which this elite and expensive rum was made. The Appleton Estate line has won a large number of numerous awards at annual international competitions. The rum strikes with a floral aroma that smoothly develops into a unique ripe bouquet that harmoniously combines citrus zest, cocoa and notes of nuts. It significantly differs from the rest of the elite strong drinks with a deep, tangible taste with notes of roasted nuts, warm shades of cocoa and coffee, as well as nuances of oak and molasses.