In one of my last masterclasses for waiters and bartenders I asked a simple question: “How do you categorize Rum?” Some of them responded, “White and Dark”, others “Agricole and Traditional”, but almost everyone used the country of origin, categorizing Rum in 3 big groups “Spanish Style, English Style and French Style”. These last typologies tell us that all the Rums made in ex-Spanish, ex-French or ex-English colonies are following the same production techniques and they have the same “style” and profile. This categorization says that all Rums made in ex-Spanish territories are made from molasses, are fermenting a short amount of time, are distilled in Column Stills, aged using the Solera system and they all are sweet. They say that all Rums made in ex French territories are made from sugarcane juice and those made in ex English colonies are long-fermenting molasses and distilling in pot stills.
The reality of the Rum world makes this categorization absurd and useless. There are Rums made in Venezuela (ex-Spanish colony) that are using pot stills (Dusa distillery) or its profiles are categorically dry (Santa Teresa). There are distilleries in ex-French colonies that are producing not only from sugarcane juice but also molasses (Le Galion) or both, juice and molasses, at the same time (Savanna or Damoiseau). Each distillery is producing uniquely. Each product has its own “style” and that is why it doesn’t make any sense to follow such a simplified guide for the infinite universe of Rum.
But which guide remains? How can we understand what is inside the Rum bottle before we buy it or even after we tasted its profile? Through the next lines I will give you the method I created to follow and analyze all Rum profiles after so many years of travelling and tasting. I called it “The 7 questions about Rum” and it is nothing else than following all the production processes step by step. If you haven’t read my previous articles I suggest you stop here and have a look at the links below so you can follow this method easily.
1st Question: “Which raw material was used to produce this Rum?”
- Possible answers: “Sugarcane juice, Sugarcane honey, Molasses”
- What is this question answering? If the Rum was made from sugarcane juice and is not industrial, we will expect to find what we call “primary aromas” (fresh, green and herbal aromas). If the Rum was made from Honey A (syrup), B (molasses) or C (molasses) type, then we will not perceive those primary aromas or the sugarcane typology. In the case of Traditional Rums (Sugarcane honey/molasses fermentation) the profile will recall licorice and toasted brown sugar.
2nd Question: “How long was fermentation?”
- Possible answers: “>24 hours (Usually it is an industrial fermentation), 24-36 hours (short fermentation, which can be enough for sugarcane juice rums but it is not enough for traditional Rums), 36-72 hours (medium fermentation), 72< (long fermentations)
- What is this question answering? The longer the fermentation is, the higher quantity of secondary aromas will appear and the Rum profile will be “heavier” and more aromatic. Of course this question needs to be understood with the 3rd question. It is not only about how long the rum was fermented, it also depends on how the aroma extraction was through distillation.
3rd Question: “Which type of distillation was used?”
- Possible answers: “Discontinuous distillation (pot still), traditional continuous (column still) or industrial multi-column continuous (neutral alcohol producers)
- What is this question answering? A discontinuous distillation will always give a wider range of the secondary aromas extracted due to the fact that the molecules are volatilizing one attached to another (they all come up at the same time being “dirty” one with the other). If the pot still is not combined with column plates, the Rum profile will usually be more “oily” and “creamy”. Column stills will always be more “precise” but the Rum profiles will be lighter (less secondary aromas extraction) versus pot still rums. Industrial multi-column is just producing neutral alcohol, no aromas at all. This question combined with the second one will give us an idea about how “heavy” or “light” the rum is in terms of secondary aromas.
4th Question: “Is this Rum aged or not?
- Possible answers: “Yes, No”.
- What is this question answering? Rum can be aged or not regardless of its color. You can find gold or dark rums that never touched a barrel or you can drink aged rums that are white due to an active carbon filtration after ageing.
5th Question: “Which barrel type was used for ageing?
- Possible answers: “New, used”. In the case of used barrels we should ask about the specific product that was inside before.
- What is this question answering? About the tertiary aromas concentration, aroma range and of course eventual finishes.
6th Question: “Which ageing system was used?”
- Possible answers: “Single Cask, Vintage Pallet or Solera”
- What is this question answering? About the meaning of the number on the label. We already talked about the world of ageing in a previous article.
7th Question: “Are there any additives?” In the case of there being any then we need to ask “What exactly?, How much? and Which is the Rum profile those additives were used?
- Possible answers: “Sugarcane syrup, invert sugar, sweet wines, color rectifiers or chemicals such as industrial vanillin or glycerol”
- What is this question answering? In the case of using additives I said we need to understand the following 3 questions. About the “what”, obviously it is not the same using sugarcane syrup as chemicals. About “how much”, finally the European Union put some sugar content limits up to 20 gr/ L. All products over this measure will not be considered Rums and they will not be allowed to declare this title on the label. However, things are not so simple. Using 20 grams in a multi-column industrial Rum means that the consumer only can taste and feel those additives. Using the same amount of sugar in a medium or long fermentation Rum, distilled through a pot still or traditional column still makes this addition a “well-rounding” technique where the original Rum profile is not disappearing.
Using this method means asking lots of questions to the producers and sales people but it’s worth it. The consumers know more and more about Rum every day and the specialized shops or e-commerce are forced to be well informed about all production details. I really hope this can help you find the right Rum for you!
After a long trip together through some of the hidden Rum secrets, we arrived at the last of my articles. It was an absolute pleasure sharing my passion for Rum and I hope to see you soon in one of my masterclasses around the world. Long live the Rum!
- Read Chapter 1 in this series: The Three Rum Revolutions And The Beginnings Of Rum
- Read Chapter 2 in this series: Rum: The Sugarcane Journey
- Read Chapter 3 in this series: Rum: Fermentation Craziness
- Read Chapter 4 in this series: Rum: The Distillation Puzzle
- Read Chapter 5 in this series: About Ageing Rum PART 1: “Why More Is Not Always Better”
- Read Chapter 6 in this series: About Ageing Rum PART 2: “The Mystique Of Wood”
- Read Chapter 7 in this series: About Ageing Rum PART 3: “The Ageing Systems”