The Cabinet Designer Barman: 5 “Must know” things about Rum (Ron/Rhum)
Rum in English, Ron in Spanish or Rhum in French is an amazing yet misunderstood spirits category. As the category grows and more and more customers turn to the pirates tipple its probably time to pass on some “must know” facts about this eccentric spirit.
1. Gee I... didn’t know that...
Rum, unlike most dark spirits doesn’t have a specific region or geographic indicator (G.I. - get the pun). For example, Scottish whisky must be made in the country of Scotland or Cognac must be distilled in 79k hectares of the Cognac region. Rum is actually made in well over 70 countries with different techniques, equipment, barrels, raw materials, added ingredients and methods. Some of these countries have their own “G.I.” Regulations (Demerara/Guadeloupe) that denote how their rum is made in particular, but this has no relevance to rums made elsewhere.
Yes, Rum is made from sugar - No Rum is not sweet! Rum is actually made from different types of sugar; Cane, juice, molasses. Each different raw material brings different finishes and sweetness levels. To add to the confusion during the blending and bottling process sugars/caramels/spices are sometimes added too.
(Caramel is actually so strong small drops are added to whole barrels to give colour not taste - most caramel notes come from raw materials. You can add Caramel to any dark spirit, and it is in no means exclusive too the rum category).
3. Age is just a number!
Some bottles love to stick a number right in the middle of the label but unfortunately that number can be extremely misleading.
First thing to note is rum does not age the same as whisky. In Scotland a whisky will lose between 0.5-1% of a barrel in the first year due to aging (known as angel share) whereas a barrel of rum in the Caribbean will lose up to 7% in its first year. Basically, aging in the Caribbean is about 5 times faster than Scotland.
Second thing to note is that Rum label laws are not the same as whisky label laws. Aged whisky must declare the age of the Youngest Spirit in the bottle. Rum can declare the age of Any spirit in the bottle. (This is not a blanket rule as some regions like Cuba or Jamaica use the youngest age - now your starting to see why the category is so misunderstood)
Neither of these things are a bad thing however from a customer’s point of view a 10-year-old whiskey may actually be made up of 99% 25-year-old and only 1% is 10 years old. Compare that to a Rum with a 23 on the bottle that may have only a single drop of 23-year-old rum in it. Also, if rum ages 5 times faster a 23-year-old rum would be like a whisky well over 100 years old and probably just taste of barrel!
4. I want a Brazilian
Within the rum category there are specific areas or styles that have their own rules. The best way to describe this is to talk about Brazilian Rum or Cachaca (Ka-Shah-Sa).
All Cachaca is rum but not all Rum is Cachaca.
Cachaca is quite different to the majority of other rums. It must be made in a pot still (like Cognac) it must be made with sugar cane juice (like Agricole) and it must be made in Brazil (like scotch). All of these rules combine to make Cachaca a uniquely Brazilian spirit that is also a Rum.
This is not to say that using a copper pot still, is better than a steel column still, or that cane juice is the perfect starting point. My point is, pick a rum producing country and that country will have their own opinion on how best to make rum, be it Fiji, Cuba or even the UK.
(It’s worth noting that within the rum industry there is heated debate about Cachaca being considered rum as its actually older than most rum heritages - personally I consider is rum made with Brazilian style!)
5. It’s what you do with it that counts!
Rum is a massive category with a huge range of expressions, a diverse history in both techniques and region as well as an appeal to a massive customer base. That being the case it is really how you use the rum that matters.
Are you drinking it neat, do you want to taste the flavours of Barbados or Bermuda? Are you mixing a drink, do you need to compete with the bold sweetness of coke or the sharpness of orange juice? Are you making a cocktail and is that cocktail Tiki?
To be honest I could write an entire blog on just using white rum alone. So, I will leave it here but below are a few rums you should definitely try if you get a chance!
Saint James Viex Imperial
Matusalem Gran Reserva 15
Don Q Cristal