Rum: What Is It And How Is It Made?
Rum might call to mind that one time when you had way too many Daiquiris or Pina Coladas when you were on a beach for spring break. It’s true that rum has a bit of a reputation as a party drink that leads to some not-so-fun hangovers, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The problem is that people are unaware of the more refined, polished, and smooth drinks that rum can make. And they aren’t all fruity and sugary either. In fact, there are tons of rum cocktails that don’t use fruit at all and rely on darker rum variations for more complex flavors.
Rum has an interesting history, even though it was created much later than most other spirits. Rum didn’t hit the scene until the 1600s, hundreds of years after vodka and thousands of years after tequila. Wine, gin, and whiskey. While rum may have been late to the party, it definitely competes with other spirits. It’s now an extremely popular choice for drinking, and it is used in various cocktails around the world.
While we do love a good frozen and fruity rum drink, we want people to know that rum isn’t just used for boozing by the beach or pool (although there’s nothing wrong with that). In fact, it was originally consumed without any mixer at all. People would just pour a glass of their favorite rum and drink it straight. Rum-lovers and aficionados still do this in order to savor and appreciate all the flavors and tastes you can get from rum. Whatever way you like to drink it, everything tastes better when you know the history and background of it.
Let’s discuss what rum is, how it’s made, and some cocktail recipes to help you fall in love with it. By knowing what rum is and what goes into the process of making it, you will gain a deeper appreciation for it. And even more importantly, you will learn how to make some amazing cocktails.
What Is Rum?
Rum, like all other spirits, is a distilled drink. While tequila uses blue agave plants and vodka uses potatoes or grain, rum is made from the byproducts of sugarcane. It can be made from various forms of sugarcane, including pure sugar, molasses, or syrup.
Which form is used for rum depends on the brand and their specific distillation process. The good thing is, when making rum, it doesn’t matter which sugarcane product you use because they all give rum the same flavoring. Rum is, by far, the sweetest hard liquor out there, and it’s known for tasting similar to toasted sugar.
Rum can be aged for short periods of time, but it is commonly aged anywhere from three to ten years. It is most comparable to tequila because of the aging process, as they are both aged in different types of wooden casks, most commonly made of oak.
The aging process gives each type of rum its color, which can range from clear to almost black. The specific types of rum are gold, white, dark, black, spiced, and flavored rum. Interestingly, the climate of the location in which the rum is made also plays a role in how long it will be aged for. Hotter climates, such as the Caribbean, will age their rum for shorter periods of time. Colder climates, such as New England, will age their rum for longer periods of time.
Rum’s origins go back to the Caribbean in the 1600s, when the first mention of rum was recorded in history. It did not make its way to the United States until the 1700s, when it was first produced in New England.
At this time, rum was, unfortunately, a huge part of the slave trade due to the fact that slaves were traded for the sugarcane used in its production. Eventually, rum was given to soldiers and sailors as part of their rations—often called someone’s daily tot. Rum consumption quickly took off and became an everyday drink for everyday people.
When it was first created, rum was served straight up in a glass with nothing else. Now, rum is a versatile liquor that is used for shots, mixed drinks, and on the rocks.
If there’s one thing we absolutely want to get across about rum, it’s that there’s more to it than meets the eye!
What Kinds of Rum Are There?
There are seven main kinds of rum. As with tequila, the colors of rum are indicative of how long they’ve been aged. The darker the rum, the longer it has been aged. That said, in some instances, colorings and flavorings are added to the rum to change the color, so in these cases, the color is not related to how long it was aged. As long as you pay attention to where you’re purchasing rum from, you can avoid running into any issues with this.
People prefer different types of rum for different recipes. For example, white or silver rum is most commonly used in mixed drinks, especially tropical or fruity ones. Gold rum and aged rum are used in some cocktails, but they can also be served neat. Certain recipes might even include a mixture of white and gold rum to add a bit of extra flavor. Dark rum is almost never used in cocktail recipes because its flavor is rich and perfect for sipping on its own.
White and silver rums are the same thing. People also refer to them simply as light rum. Light rum is filtered several times to remove any impurities and most of the flavor besides the sweetness from the sugar. It has no color because it is not aged, so after it is filtered and distilled, it’s ready to be bottled instead of aged in barrels.
This is the most popular type of rum that’s used in cocktails, thanks to the pure flavor from the extensive filtration process. It’s not used to accent other flavors like other types of aged rum are. Instead, the smooth taste is meant to blend in with the other ingredients and add a little kick to the drink. Because there are no flavorings in light rum, it is typically not served neat (although we’re not going to stop you!).
Best White/Silver Rum Brands
Bacardi is pretty much the standard for light rum. It is one of the most popular brands in the world and has been consistently favored since its founding in 1862. While they make a variety of rums, their light rum is, by far, their most iconic and well-loved variety.
When people order a rum and Coke at the bar, you can pretty much bet they are getting Bacardi in the drink. Unlike some light rums, which leave a harsh taste in your mouth, Bacardi goes down smooth and clean.
Gold rums can also be referred to as amber rums, thanks to the range in color. If you were to put gold rum on a spectrum, it would be between light rums and dark rums in terms of flavor and color. They have more flavor and color than light rums but less flavor and color than dark rums. Gold rum is aged in white oak barrels for a minimum of one year.
Best Gold Rum Brands
This gold rum will have you feeling like you are on vacation. It is made in Jamaica and has tons of flavor infused into it. This is one of the best gold rums you can buy because it is packed with spices and Caribbean flavor. It has delicious fruit notes that include apricot and peach, which are rounded out with a touch of molasses.
Appleton Estate works in some cocktails, but it has enough flavor where it can be easily sipped and enjoyed on its own.
Dark rums are aged longer than gold rum. Regular dark rum is just aged in oak barrels without the charring. Dark rums are often used for cooking if a recipe calls for rum, but their deep, complex flavor means that they’re perfect for slowly sipping, too. They are made with caramelized sugar or molasses, which is what gives it that heavy and full flavor.
This category also includes black rum, which is the darkest and most heavily flavored. The aging process for black rum still occurs in barrels that are heavily charred, which adds to both the flavoring and coloration of the rum.
Best Dark Rum Brands
Not only is this a dark rum, but it is also a spiced rum. It’s made in the Caribbean, and it is 94 proof. To put this in perspective, most rums that are 70 to 80 proof—wow. This particular black rum is well-flavored with coffee, caramel, and toffee notes.
It’s perfect for sipping or adding to cream or coffee-based cocktails, but would not commonly be found in any other types of cocktails.
This is a French rum that is made from sugarcane juice. This style of rum originated in the French Caribbean, particularly in Haiti, Martinique, and the Guadeloupe Islands. It uses freshly squeezed sugarcane juice instead of molasses or syrup. The spelling ‘rhum’ helps to distinguish it from other varieties of rum that use molasses.
Best Rhum Agricole Brands
St. George is one of the only American brands that make Rhum Agricole. It uses sugarcane that is grown in California. They do their distillation in copper pot stills, which differs from other rhums that typically use the column still method. It is bottled immediately after distillation and is therefore unaged.
Spiced rums are different from flavored rums because they aren’t infused with flavors. They are also not fruity. Spiced rum gets its flavors through the addition of spices and caramel. It is typically darker in color, as gold rums are the base for most spiced rums. Some of the common spices used are cinnamon, star anise, rosemary, pepper, cloves, and cardamom.
Best Spiced Rum Brands
We know that you know about this famous brand. For years, people have been recreating the captain’s pose while drinking this rum.
This spiced rum is packed with flavor that comes from a secret blend of Caribbean spices, accompanied by delicious notes of caramel and vanilla. When it comes to cocktails, Captain Morgan works great with Coke or mixed into an iced tea to add a bit of spice to your midday drink of choice.
When you get a tiki cocktail on vacation, it most likely contains a flavored rum. Flavored rums are simply rums that have been infused with flavors, particularly fruit ones. The flavor infusion process occurs after fermentation and distillation are complete. You can find almost any fruit flavor rum, such as coconut, banana, mango, lime, orange, or anything tropical. Just be aware that flavored rums are way more sugary than regular rum—hence those notorious vacation hangovers.
Best Flavored Rum Brands
This is probably the most well-known flavored rum out there. This has such a sweet and delicious coconut-infused flavor that you can drink it straight if you want. Malibu goes well with pretty much any combination of fruity rum drinks and adds the perfect flavor boost. Be sure to try it in a piña colada or daiquiri; it really takes it up a notch!
How Is Rum Made?
The rum-making process is pretty similar to the process used to make tequila and vodka. However, vodka is not aged in barrels like tequila and rum are. With vodka, the distillation process is key, whereas, with tequila and rum, the real flavor comes from the aging process (or lack thereof). There are four main steps in making rum, including harvesting sugarcane, fermentation, distillation, and aging.
These are the same steps and processes that have been followed for hundreds of years, but there is no specific set of standards that must be followed. The difference is that now there is big machinery that helps make this process easier, while before, things were all done by hand.
Another major factor to note is that different types of rums are produced in different areas. For example, some rums are specific to Jamaica, and others can be found in Barbados. It all depends on the process of each company and the climate of that country or area.
Harvesting is the first step in rum production. Sugarcane is typically cut about once a year in the Caribbean, and workers most often use machetes to chop the sugarcane. Sometimes, sugarcane fields are burnt down to remove bugs and debris, but believe it or not, the sugarcane itself will be left standing thanks to its high water content. In order to make the most of the crop, though, it must be harvested within 24 hours after this.
The fermentation process is extremely important because that’s how the alcohol is actually made. Yeast is added to either molasses or sugarcane juice, whichever is used as the base ingredient.
Some companies use wild yeast, while others use specific strains of yeast in order to assure quality and consistent taste. This is because the fermentation process releases chemical compounds called phenols and esters which give the rum its flavor. These compounds are meant to detoxify chemicals, and some researchers believe that humans evolved to prefer certain flavors of alcohol because they show that there is less toxicity in the liquid. Each strain of distiller’s yeast is unique, but phenols are typically spicier, while esters are fruitier. The yeast that you use has a huge effect on the final flavor profile, aroma, and taste of the rum.
Distillation is the process of purifying the rum. It works to remove any unwanted flavors or elements and also ensures the rum is suitable for consumption. Basically, this process effectively purifies them.
Distillation can be done using pot stills or column stills, which are two different methods. You don’t want to distill rum more than once or twice because it will remove key flavor notes, which contrasts with certain vodka brands, which boast their multiple-step distillation processes that lead to the purest possible product.
Pot Still Vs Column Still Production
These are the two methods of distillation. Pot stills are typically made from copper and operate on a batch basis. When completed, spirits will have an alcohol volume of 60 to 80 percent. Column stills are vertical tubes that work continuously. It uses opposing temperatures and alcohol vapor to distill the rum. It allows the rum to reach an alcohol-by-volume of up to 96%.
Aging is how rum gets its flavor and color. All aging is done in wooden barrels, most commonly oak ones, which infuse flavor into the drink. These barrels are often reused from whiskey or bourbon production, which contributes to the complexity of the flavor.
Aging is an essential part of the rum-making process. Without it, rum would have hardly any flavor
Light rums, including white and silver varieties, are not aged at all. Gold rum is aged for about one year, and dark rum is aged anywhere from three to ten years. Spiced rums are typically gold rums, and flavored rums usually use light rums. The aging for these types is the same for the base rum that is used.
Popular Rum Cocktails
Now that you know what rum is and how it’s made, it’s time you learn about the best part: rum cocktails! Cocktails made with rum are traditionally known for being fruity and tropical. After all, fruity rum punch was first made in the 17th century, making it one of the oldest cocktail recipes in the world. Most commonly, rum drinks use pineapple, coconut, and other fruits for flavoring and mixers.
However, if you don’t like fruit, there are plenty of recipes that use dark or aged rum for fruit-less cocktails— remember, rum is a versatile liquor that can be used in more than just tiki drinks.
The mojito is the best recipe you can have on hand and ready to go for parties. It’s really an easy drink to memorize and to make, but it looks and tastes unique enough to make people think you are a professional mixologist. Seriously, if you make the mojito right, they won’t believe they’re at a house party. These are the five ingredients you’ll need:
- White rum
- Fresh lime juice
- Superfine sugar
- Mint leaves
- Club soda or seltzer (your choice)
First, muddle the limes and sugar together. Then, add the mint leaves to the mixture and press them down into the glass. Add one scoop of ice, the rum, and top it all off with the club soda or seltzer. Either will work fine, so it’s really just your preference. Lastly, throw in the lime you squeezed, and a few extra mint leaves for garnish.
We all know someone who’s had a bad experience with a daiquiri (maybe even you). The sugar in the daiquiri makes them so sweet and easy to suck down, one after another. Before you know it, you’ve had a few too many, which leads to a major hangover.
There are different versions of the daiquiri—the frozen one and the one served over ice. If you want something a bit more refined (and way less sugary), go for the one served over ice. Here’s what you’ll need:
- White rum
- Superfine sugar
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
You will also need a shaker for this recipe. Add the fresh lime juice to the shaker and stir the sugar into that. Once the sugar is dissolved, you then add in the rum. Finally, add a scoop of ice and shake well, then strain into a glass. Less sugar, less chance of a hangover. It’s a win-win.
The Piña Colada
Who doesn’t love a good Piña Colada? They are frozen, creamy, tropical, and delicious. Plus, for those who can’t decide if they like white rum or dark rum more, you don’t have to choose. This recipe uses both for an extra kick and a strong rum taste. A Piña Colada is the classic rum drink that combines the flavors of pineapple and coconut. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Frozen pineapple
- Pineapple juice
- White rum
- Dark rum
- Coconut cream
Not only is the Pina Colada tasty, but it’s also super easy to make. Take all of the listed ingredients and add them into a blender along with a scoop of ice. Now blend, blend, blend until you get the creamiest, dreamiest consistency. Pour into two glasses and top it off with a slice of pineapple for garnish.
Hot Buttered Rum
Remember when we said that not all rum drinks are fruity? Hot Buttered Rum is perfect for those who prefer something more spicy and flavorful. Plus, it’s great to make in the cold weather when you don’t really want an ice-cold drink. You will need quite a few ingredients and a bit of time, but it’s worth it. These are the ingredients you need to make this warm and spicy drink:
- Light brown sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, salt
- Dark or aged rum
To make this drink, you’ll need a mixing bowl. Add the butter, salt, sugar, and all the spices to a bowl and mix until combined. Then, take a mug and add your rum along with two tablespoons of the spiced butter mixture. Pour hot water on top of everything, and mix until it’s all combined. Take a cinnamon stick and dip it in the drink for extra flavor and garnish.
Dark ‘N Stormy
Just like the Hot Buttered Rum, the Dark ‘N Stormy isn’t fruity at all. Sure, there’s lime juice in it, but that just helps to tie everything together and adds a little extra zing.
This is one of those great cocktails you can easily whip up when you are preparing for a last-minute guest. Or, just make it for yourself when you’re in the mood for a good, strong cocktail. You only need three ingredients, which we’d guess you might already have on hand. Here’s what you need and how you make it:
- Dark rum
- Ginger beer (NOT ginger ale)
- Fresh lime juice
Start out by filling a tall glass with ice and add the rum to the glass. Follow this by adding ginger beer and lime juice. Mix everything with a long spoon, and finally, add a lime wedge as a garnish.
Find the Rum for You With Saucey
We think it’s safe to say you need a (rum) drink after learning all this information. After all, what good is it to learn about rum if you can’t make a killer cocktail as well? They say that practice makes perfect, and what better way to master the art of the rum cocktail than trying out different rums and recipes? Choose a cocktail from our list above, or do some research and find one that sounds amazing to you. Once you decide what you want to make, you are going to need some supplies.
The best place to get your cocktail and alcohol supplies is from Saucey. We have hundreds of rums to choose from, including the most popular brands and a few lesser-known brands as well. We have all types of rum, so you’ll always be able to find what you’re looking for. If there’s a rum you need for your recipe, we probably have it. Head to our rum section to see everything for yourself.
One of the greatest things about Saucey is that we will deliver everything right to your door, making things super quick and easy for you. Order for delivery as soon as possible, or schedule a time that is more convenient.
Once your order arrives, all you have to do is show your ID at the door, and then you’re good to go! Now that you have all the ingredients you need, it’s time to start mixing things up. Get in the kitchen or behind the bar and get to work. Make sure you have glasses, shakers, mixing spoons, and ice ready as well.
Don’t be afraid to play around with recipes and add your own spin on things. If a recipe calls for one thing, you can always try something similar or different to see if it works with the drink you’re making. Or, simply buy some rum and different mixers, play around, and make your very own recipe. Before you know it, you’ll be the next great mixologist and rum expert!