Rum is undoubtedly the spirit that offers the greatest variety of aromatic expressions and flavours... Read more
Rum is without doubt the spirit that offers the greatest variety of aromatic expressions and flavours. Rum can be found on every continent, and each region has developed its own know-how over time, as a result of different encounters and influences... Read more
Rum is undoubtedly the spirit that offers the greatest variety of aromatic expressions and flavours. Rum can be found on every continent, and each region has developed its own know-how over time, as a result of different encounters and influences.
Rum can have different names depending on where it is distilled. It is called Clairin in Haiti, Grogue in Cape Verde. It is called Cachaça in Brazil, or aguardiente de caña in some Latin American countries. In all cases, it is a sugarcane brandy, whose raw material can take several forms.
Pure cane juice, cane juice syrup (evaporated cane juice), molasses (non-crystallisable residue from sugar production) can be fermented and then distilled. Or even, although more rarely, whole sugar (panela, muscovado etc).
The making of rum
The process of making rum is quite simple in principle. But an infinite number of details can influence its style. This is what makes it so remarkably diverse.
Initially, a sweet liquid must be produced that can be fermented. Pure cane juice is ready to use, so to speak. Molasses, on the other hand, is very thick and viscous. It must therefore be diluted with large quantities of water.
From this 'must', a 'wine' is then produced for distillation. To do this, the sugars are converted into alcohol during fermentation. Yeasts do this work by absorbing the sugar and then releasing alcohol and CO2. In doing so, they also create new aromas, which will be found later, after distillation. This is why the fermentation phase is very important. In addition to the production of alcohol, it sets the aromatic profile of the future rum.
When fermentation is complete and the cane wine is ready, it usually contains between 5 and 10% alcohol. The next phase is distillation. This stage is a separation and concentration process. The objective is to separate the water from the preparation as much as possible. The aim is to obtain a liquid that is more concentrated in alcohol and aromatic elements. From an 8% cane wine, we will thus move on to a white rum containing 50, 70 or even 90% alcohol, depending on the methods used.
White rum, amber rum, aged rum
When it comes out of the still, the rum is always translucent. It also contains no sugar. Before being bottled, it is left to rest in a vat in order to balance and harmonise. It is also during this period that the reduction is carried out. This consists of diluting the rum to bring down its alcohol content. This dilution must be done as slowly as possible so as not to shock the product. Some rums can be offered brut de distillation, i.e. without reduction, at a very high degree.
Most of the time, another part of the freshly distilled rum is left to age. It is only at the end of this stage that the rum is coloured by contact with wood. It is placed in barrels of different sizes, depending on the type of rum to be obtained. The young rums matured in wood are rested in large vats called foudres, for periods of less than 2 years in most cases. Old rums mature for at least 3 years in smaller casks. These offer increased exchanges with the wood (usually oak).
As with white rums, the alcohol content is reduced before bottling. But you can also find raw rums from the barrel, which have not been altered in any way, whether in terms of alcohol volume, colour or aroma.
An infinite number of styles
From the cultivation of the cane to the bottling, each stage of the production process can have variations that greatly influence the rum. The variety of cane and the location of the plot have an impact, as well as the method of cultivation (more and more cane is grown organically, for example).
Fermentation, a crucial stage, can also give very variable results. The type of yeast (wild, industrial...), the duration of the fermentation (24 hours or several weeks), have a huge influence on the character of the spirit.
Distillation can be done in batches (in a traditional still) or continuously (distillation column). In small-scale production, where only one pass is made in the still, the rum flows at around 50% alcohol. In modern installations with several distillation columns, alcohols of up to 95% are produced. The type of still, its material, its shape and its settings make it possible to obtain very different rums.
Aging is another way to take your rum in different directions. 90% of the world's production is aged in American oak barrels containing bourbon. But new barrels, barrels containing other alcohols, or barrels made of other types of wood can also be used.
The main families of rums
Rum is a spirit with a rich history. It has even played an important role in world history and geography. Its traditions are often inherited from a colonial past, which still influences its different styles today.
The three main traditions
Traditional French rum is a style born in the West Indies. It can be summarised as agricultural rum, distilled from pure cane juice. In the 19th century, molasses was distilled all over the world, including in Martinique and Guadeloupe. But the discovery of beet sugar turned the French market upside down, leaving the cane growers in the lurch. Instead of producing sugar, molasses and then rum, they decided to distil the juice from their cane directly. This style then spread to all the former French colonies, from Tahiti to Mauritius.
Traditional English rum is mostly associated with the former British possessions in the Caribbean. Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, but also Guyana on the mainland, all share a full-bodied, aromatic style. It is influenced by pot-still distillation (the stills used in Scotland for whisky). These rums were part of the Navy's blend, from which the sailors received a daily ration.
Traditional Spanish rum is mostly inherited from the Cuban style. The former Spanish colonies had lagged behind others in rum, as the occupants were busier looking for gold and other resources. But in the mid-19th century, Cuba developed a style that mesmerised American consumers, and which everyone else sought to emulate. It is a light, uncluttered style, intended more for cocktails. To create rums that were more intended for pure drinking, many brands used flavour enhancers such as sugar, which today defines the very smooth style of 'ron'.
Rum is a global product
There are many exceptions to this classification, but it is still a good way to find your way around. Some cane spirits have their own category. Cachaça, for example, is a rum made from pure cane juice and is produced only in Brazil. Clairin, on the other hand, is an extremely authentic product that comes from Haiti. Distilled from pure juice or syrup, it is fermented naturally and distilled in small, traditional stills.
Finally, there is another queen category, which delights the most gourmand and which has massively seduced the French, whether they are spirit lovers or not: the arranged rum. It is believed to have originated in the Indian Ocean, and was carried around the world by merchants and sailors. It is a rum in which fruits, spices, herbs, sugar etc. have been macerated, and is today the playground of many talented creators whose imagination has no limits. Read less