At its core, nearly all rums are made with similar processes and ingredients (for the most part).
After the sugarcane is properly fermented and distilled, the liquid can be aged, blended and bottled to each distiller’s liking, which is where we get all the varieties of rum!
14 popular varieties of rum
We’re starting the list with white rum because not only is it one of the more popular varieties out there, but it’s also where most other kinds of rum start their lives.
Fermented sugarcane is clear after being distilled, and it’s only during the aging process that the liquid gets any color. White rum — also known as light or clear rum — is that earliest stage of rum and will have a milder flavor than most others. This kind of rum can be aged up to a few years, but it will eventually be filtered again to remove any coloring.
Because it takes the least amount of time to make, white rum is typically cheaper than darker rums but will have a lower alcohol level than rums that are aged for longer.
Also known as pale rum or amber rum, gold rum is a type of rum that has been allowed to age in barrels for enough time to take on extra flavors and color.
Depending on the kind of barrels used, a few years’ worth of aging can give the rum subtle flavors of vanilla, chocolate, citrus or coconut along with a mellow coloring. These rums may not be as powerful as dark rums or as versatile as white rums, but they are often popular choices for use in desserts, cooking or just enjoying as-is!
Dark rum isn’t really a certain kind of rum, per se; rather, it just refers to rums that are dark in color. These include black rum, navy rum, premium aged rum and any other kind of rum that ranges in color from amber to pitch-black — just not white rum or gold rum!
Black rums are the darkest of all the rums, and it’s because they are made from fermented molasses rather than sugarcane juice. The molasses gives the rum a richer, bolder flavor as well as a darker color, and many black rum barrels are charred or burned to give the liquor extra flavor.
Though darker and richer than gold and white rums, black rums aren’t necessarily always aged for longer periods of time. Some black rums can be aged for as little as two years and still achieve a great, bold flavor!
Navy rum was popularized by the Royal British Navy back in the mid-17th century, where the fleets were known to provide daily rations of thick, dark rum to their sailors. The tradition started after the British fleets began regularly traveling to the Caribbean and started picking up rum made in Jamaica. The rum kept better aboard ship than wine or brandy, so the sugary liquor became the sailors’ drink of choice.
Legend has it that Admiral Edward Vernon began the practice of diluting the rum with water and lime to prevent scurvy in the voyage-weary sailors back in 1740, and since he was always seen wearing an old grogram coat, his nickname (and the nickname of his drink) became known as “grog.” Hence, rum grog!
Spiced & flavored rum
Spiced rums and flavored rums are exactly what they sound like — rum infused with fruits, nuts, roots, leaves or seeds of edible plants.
Warm spices and flavors like cinnamon, allspice, ginger, clove and cassia are popular additions to gold and dark rums, while coconut, citrus, mint and berries are popular for white rums!
In some cases, a rum is labeled as “flavored” if its alcohol by volume (A.B.V.) content is below 40%, which is the level required by United States law in order for a rum to be called a rum.
Premium aged rum
This is where rum starts to get really fancy!
Premium aged rums are aged for much, much longer than most other rums, with many being aged for at least 20 years! The longer aging process gives the rum a more natural dark color and rich flavor, and the chemical reactions between wooden barrels and the potency of the liquor gives the drink a smoother finish than most.
All of these actors contribute to the higher price tag on these rums, but there’s also the loss to consider. Storing alcohol in wooden barrels for long periods can result in evaporation, which can decrease the physical amount of rum present in the barrels. Therefore, each drop costs more when it comes out than it did when it went in!
Overproof rum is the strong stuff.
As in, almost-95%-ABV-level-strong!
Whereas most rums are diluted with water after aging to get the spirit to an acceptable level (most rums in the U.S. are in the 40% to 50% A.B.V. range) overproof rum has no such dilution. These rums are as powerful as they come and are often used to flambé foods when cooking!
English style rum
English style rum encompasses many other rums, but to be considered an English style it must be made using molasses and traditional pot-still distillation techniques, which were some of the first techniques used in the Caribbean. These rums were first popularized in places like Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Guyana and remain one of the most successful types of rum out there!
Spanish style rum (ron)
Spanish-style rum, known as ron, came hot on the heels of English style rum and was made popular in places like Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Rather than using the traditional pot-still distillation method, Spanish style rum is made using the column distilling method and a charcoal filtering process — this creates a lighter and smoother spirit that’s still rich in flavor from the aging process!
French style rum (rhum)
Of all the three colonial styles of rum-making, French style rum — or rhum — is the most strictly regulated.
Popularized in places like Guadeloupe, Reunion Island, Martinique and other French colonies in the Caribbean, rhum is made by fermenting sugar cane juice for five days and distilling it in column stills. These rums are typically a little sweeter than most and have distinct floral and botanical notes that make them perfect for sipping.
Though technically a type of French style rum, rhum agricole is different and specific enough to have its own category.
Rhum agricole is made by fermenting and distilling pure cane juice to about 70% A.B.V. — it’s a lower level than most, but the low alcohol level allows the rhum to retain some of the natural flavors from the sugar cane juice.
Cachaça is in this list because although it’s not often seen as a rum, it is a cane sugar spirit made with similar processes as rum.
Popular in Brazil, cachaça is made by fermenting small batches of sugar cane juice in copper pots before bottling them. There’s little to no aging involved in the process, although many makers of cachaça will allow the spirit to mature in wooden barrels for a short period to soften the finish and inherit any flavors from the wood.
Aguardiente is a simple Colombian sugar cane spirit that’s not aged at all and is most often flavored with anise. Different parts of Colombia make their aguardiente differently and it can’t be produced outside their region, so the spirit is highly localized and a favorite for many locals.
Who would have thought that rum could be so varied within a relatively small geographical area? However you like your rum — dark, light, gold or premium — now you know a little more about how your favorite drink went from a stalk of sugarcane to the smooth sips you enjoy!
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