mere word conjures visions of drunken pirates singing; of fruity drinks in tall
glasses by the pool; of British sailors on the open seas. Above all, though,
rum conjures visions of the Caribbean, where the spirit was born.
the Caribbean in a way few things can. The many English, French and Spanish
countries and territories in the Caribbean make rum, each with their own unique
style and each claiming to be the best. Often, the mere name of the rum can
capture a culture.
Think Appleton Estate from Jamaica; Bacardi from Cuba; Ron
Zacapa Rum from Guatemala; Gosling’s Rum from Bermuda; Tortuga Rum from Cayman.
There are few Caribbean nations that don’t have signature rum.
wasn’t always the spirit of tropical cocktails and premium brands in crystal
glasses. Although the spirit made from sugarcane has had various incarnations
dating back thousands of years, rum was first distilled in the Caribbean in the
mid-17th century on sugarcane plantations. It is generally believed that
Barbados was the first Caribbean island to manufacture rum.
original form, rum was not known for having a smooth, sweet taste. Indeed, it
was quite the opposite. Common names for the spirit were demon water, pirate’s
drink and kill devil.
after the British took Jamaica in 1655, the British Royal Navy adopted rum for
its daily liquor ration, a practice that remained in place until 1970. Rum was
often served straight or with lime juice, but in a bid to minimise the effects
of the spirit on the sailors, the tradition of watering down rum began in the 18th
the staple spirit in colonial America and prior to the Revolutionary War, it
was estimated that the average consumption of rum for every man, woman and
child in the country was three imperial gallons – over 13 litres – annually. In
fact, George Washington is believed to have ordered a barrel of Barbadian rum
for his inauguration in 1789.
popularity in the United States declined over time, due in large part to the
growing prevalence of American whiskey. However, the Caribbean demand for rum
could not be sated.
Bacardi was established in Santiago de Cuba. Bacardi moved from Cuba in the
early 1960s after the Cuban Revolution, but it remained – and still remains –
the undisputed champion of rum sales, selling 200 million bottles in 100
countries these days, with sales topping $5 billion.
advancements in the rum-making process, the quality of rum has improved greatly
from the early fire water. Filtering, blending and aging in oak barrels has
mellowed the spirit, with many premium rums now drunk straight, like a brandy
or fine whiskey.
Most rum is
made from molasses, but some, like that made on French-speaking Caribbean
islands where it is called rhum, use pressed sugarcane juice.
of rum is often done in oak barrels that were used once to age bourbon. The
barrels are charred before being filled with rum, one way of giving rum its typical caramel flavour.
aging, rum loses approximately six per cent of its volume a year to evaporation
– often referred to as the ‘angel’s share’. This is another reason, in addition
to time and storage space, that aged rum are more expensive than young rums.
is made in many Caribbean countries, there is no unified methodology or
labelling requirements. Some countries allow rum makers to put the age of the
oldest rum in a blend on the label while others insist the age reflect the
youngest rum in the blend.
producers, such as Ron Zacapa in Guatemala, use a system called solera to
create a blend of ages that produces uniformity in flavours and, in theory,
step in making rum is blending. This involves mixing a variety of different
rums to create the perfect blend of flavour, consistency and colour.
spirit has been blended and bottled, only one thing remains. How do you like to
drink your rum?
turn of the 20th century, the Cuba Libre, which is basically rum and coke, was
invented in Cuba. To this day, it remains one of the world’s most popular
its inherent sweetness, rum mixes well with fruit juices. It is the base of
many tropical cocktails, such as rum punch, daiquiris, pina coladas, mai tais
and the mojito, as well as beverages designed to combat the cold, such as hot
buttered rum. These delicious drinks are a Caribbean custom.
last decade, premium and super premium rums have become increasingly
popular. These rums, usually aged from
seven to 30 years, display brandy-like characteristics and are consumed neat –
straight – in fine glassware rather than mixed.
rums are being produced in many Caribbean-basin countries, including Jamaica,
Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guyana, Barbados, Guatemala,
Nicaragua, Panama and more.
many good rums to choose from, rum tastings are becoming more popular. Rum
dinners, in which premium rums are paired with foods, are another example of
rum hitting the mainstream market.
heady beginnings, rum has enchanted the people of the Caribbean. Dark, light or
flavoured, there are no limits to its ability to delight the senses. Whether a
mojito in Havana, a dark and stormy in Bermuda, a rum and coke in Jamaica, or
fruit punch in Cayman, rum is the taste of the islands. You don’t need an
excuse to enjoy the Caribbean’s signature spirit.
A guide to rum
Light rum, also known as white rum, is often used as a base for
cocktails and has a mild, sweet taste.
Gold rums are medium-bodied rums that have been aged in wooden
barrels, from which they gain their colour. The taste is stronger than light
Dark rum is aged longer than gold rum, with a much stronger
flavour. Dark rums are aged in charred barrels, which give them their robust,
Spiced rum is gold rum with added spices, such as cinnamon and
pepper. The taste is stronger than gold rum, and good spiced rum will be darker
These sweet rums are infused with fruity flavours, such as
coconut, lime, mango and orange. Flavoured rum is used as a base for many
Premium rum is a sipping spirit that is
usually consumed straight, rather than with mixed drinks. These boutique rums
take their strong, smooth flavours from a lengthy aging process.