Rum, the drink of pirates, drink from the Caribbean and other countries where sugar cane is grown, is a drink that is distilled from either sugar cane or molasses. When it is produced it is a clear liquid with a slightly sweet taste. So is there anything else to it other than that? What's with the name? Why has one brand become so interchangeable with the drink?
The word first. It is thought that the short form 'rum' comes from the 17th century English slang word 'rumbullion'. It first appeared written in 1651 and relates to riotous good times. Even in 1651 Rum was a party drink!
Rum is made in distilleries all over the world, but most famously in the Caribbean, home to the world's best rums.
As a distilled drink all rum is produced as a clear liquid that is very high in alcohol [c.72%abv]. It then gets diluted to reach the 35-40%abv we are used to. Why do they water it down? Taxation purposes. Above 40%abv the tax on drinks is really too prohibitive to produce. So all rum produced begins life as a clear liquid which then gets transformed into the drinks we recognise.
In Cuba in 1862 one Fernando Bacardi started creating rum in Santiago. His rum is now the biggest selling branded spirit in the world. This type of rum is classed as Light or White rum, originally from Cuba but now made all over the world. They are mainly used for mixing with soft drinks or with other spirits to create some famous cocktails such as Long Island Iced Tea, where it meets gin, vodka, tequila, lime juice and cola.
There are three other types of Rum which you may have heard of some but maybe not all.
Drinkers in the UK are probably aware of Navy Rum, sometime also known as Jamaica rum. This is a dark and heavy drink. It was the type of rum that sailors were given as daily allowance when on board the ships. Fans of EastEnders will often see Patrick enjoying a dark rum in the Queen Vic. The other two styles are know as Demerera rum and French rum [rhum agricole]
Once the sugar cane, or molasses, have been added to water and then brewed to produce a liquid to distil, and rum is created, unless it is a clear rum, which is bottled, it will spend some time in a barrel. These barrels have been used before to create other spirits. Remember pirates were rum drinkers so had a concept of recycling relevant to their time. Not only have these barrels been used to store whiskeys and bourbons they will have been burned on the inside to help create darker rums. The darker the rum the longer it was in the barrel and the darker the barrel was burned.
The rum known as Guyana rum or Demerera rum is made from molasses. Molasses are the sticky residue liquid left after cane sugar has been extracted. The will have a golden colour and are strong and fruity in flavour. They can be aged for up to 15 years and are an excellent rum to drink. Probably not for mixing with cola though. They have a taste of burned toffee, spices and orange peel.
There is also the style of rum known as French rum. As it is French, made in the French Caribbean countries it will follow French wine regulations and will, if good be awarded an AOC description on the label. It tends to be made from fermenting sugar cane juice. Martinique, Grenada and Haiti create their rums this way.
Saint James Rum from Martinique, if you can ever find a bottle , is well worth treating yourself to. Treat it like a fine Brandy. It doesn't send much away from the island but........
The modern trends for coloured and spiced rums are created in stainless steel vats not barrels and are created by the additions of colorants and flavours.
As rumbullion enters its 4th century as the drink of a riotously good party, remember to enjoy it responsibly and party like a pirate.