Traditional Spanish rum (Ron)

Traditional Spanish rum ("ron") takes its name from the time of colonisation, when Spain extended its possessions in Latin America and the Caribbean... Read more

Traditional Spanish rum ("ron") takes its name from the time of colonisation, when Spain extended its possessions in Latin America and the Caribbean... Read more

Traditional Spanish rum ("ron") takes its name from the time of colonisation, when Spain was expanding its holdings in Latin America and the Caribbean. The style of rum produced today in these countries has shared influences from Spain's colonial past.

This is a generalisation, as there are many exceptions to the rule, but it can be said that a majority of Hispanic-sounding rums have a fairly similar style and approach.

The history of traditional Spanish rum

The first distillations of sugar cane certainly took place in the Canary Islands. But the most concrete traces date back to the 16th century in South America. Cane was introduced there very quickly, as was distillation, but the latter was very primitive and of very poor quality.

It took some time for cane brandy to become established in South America and in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. The first reason for this is that the Spanish had little interest in cane and sugar, as they had long focused on gold first.

Secondly, many traditional local drinks already existed. They were consumed in large quantities by the local population. Thus, some Indians could add a little 'aguardiente de caña' to their 'chicha' or 'pulque', but this remained marginal. The colonists, on the other hand, preferred to import spirits and liqueurs from the Mother Country.

The distillation of sugar cane was also little developed because labour was rather scarce. The Spanish crown forbade the employment of Indians in sugar factories, preferring to reserve them for the search for precious metals. In addition, the Spanish made much less use of slavery than their Portuguese or French neighbours.

Rum was frowned upon

The only real rums consumed locally were imported rums. Their consumption was furthermore discouraged by the royal and religious authorities. The reasons were hygiene, public order, but also competition with spirits from the old continent. For a long time this led to repressive measures against small distilleries in the whole South American continent.

However, here and there, a few small productions remained. They were of several types and their name varied according to the country. The Mexican 'chinguirito' was known, cheap and a little more qualitative than the average. The Venezuelan aguardiente also seemed to do well.

Until the end of the 18th century, the Spanish really concentrated on their continental colonies, clearly losing interest in the Antilles. There was a small amount of rum production in Cuba, after the mills were modernised in the early 17th century, but these improvements simply kept the sugar industry alive.

The situation was much the same in Puerto Rico. The difference was that more rum was produced there than sugar (by importing molasses from Cuba). Next came the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola (which became Santo Domingo after being sold by France in 1697). Its production was ridiculous compared to that of its neighbour Santo Domingo (later Haiti).

The Cuban rum boom

After a brief English occupation in 1762, Cuba was transformed. The island was covered with sugar mills and distilleries. Unfortunately the quality of their rums remained decidedly poor.

The end of Santo Domingo and the arrival of free trade in Spanish ports at the end of the 18th century completely reshuffled the deck. The value of developing the sugar trade became apparent, and production increased dramatically. With all this sugar naturally came a lot of molasses, and therefore more and more rum. The production of aguardiente was thus largely legalised, and of course taxed at the same time.

Cuba was the world's leading sugar producer in the 19th century. The island's rum makers were also the first to adopt the distillation column. This was to change everything in the world of rum. In the early days, the quality did not really improve. Cuba had difficulty selling its rum and continued to export molasses on a massive scale.

An invention then came along that turned everything upside down: carbon filtration. By combining this method with column distillation, Facundo Bacardi invented light rum. It was immediately a huge success, especially in the United States. This style helped build the cocktail culture and reached its peak during prohibition. The true Spanish tradition was born.

Rum continues to grow

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, consumption remained very local. It was also in the middle of the 19th century, with the arrival of the column, that there was an improvement, notably thanks to the Don Q distillery.

In Santo Domingo, people continued to drink clairin until 1844, the year of independence, when the Dominican Republic was proclaimed. Cuban refugees came to build up a small sugar industry, which was equipped with a few distilleries.

The independence of the Latin American countries came and went during the 19th century. New producers arrived, such as Argentina. Other countries like Venezuela modernised their equipment. But the quality was not always there, because there were not enough outlets. The elites still preferred brandies and other mutated wines.

The word "ron" appeared for the first time in 1811. Both terms (aguardiente and ron) were kept, with a clear distinction made between them according to the quality or refinement of the drink. In the decades that followed, rum became much more widespread on the continent. But imports were still the most popular. Distillers began to imitate the work of their Caribbean counterparts, particularly in Cuba, which led to a marked improvement.

From the beginning of the 20th century to the present day

In the 20th century, Mexico produced more and more rum, with small distilleries on the verge of clandestinity. But medium-sized official distilleries also appeared, as well as large factories with very high output. The country produced rum from pure cane juice, raw sugar, molasses, and even Bacardi, which built one of its units there.

Rum is made everywhere except in Chile, where the cane does not grow. Cane plantations, sugar mills and distilleries flourish from Central America to Argentina, via Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The Dominican Republic has been making steady progress since the Second World War. In addition to its "cleren" (which is forbidden by the authorities), it continues to produce a Cuban-inspired rum while constantly increasing its sugar production. This is where the famous brands Brugal and Barcelo, among others, were born.

The end of the 20th century also saw an explosion of distilleries and brands from Central America. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama saw the emergence of many successful brands of pure Spanish tradition, both locally and for export.

Spanish style rum

Traditional Spanish rum is a light molasses rum, distilled in multi-column units and often sweetened.

One of the keys to this tradition is a heritage of Cuban style: aguardiente. After learning to make the lightest, most uncluttered rums possible, Cubans felt the need to make them taste a little more like rum again. So they turned to the old methods, with more traditional equipment, to reproduce fuller-bodied and more aromatic aguardientes. It is these aguardientes that they blend with their light rums to create a balanced blend.

There is also a method that many producers of this tradition use: the solera. This method of ageing is inspired by the Andalusian bodegas where sherry wine is matured. It consists of stacking barrels, with the oldest spirits at the bottom and the youngest at the top. When rum is drawn from the bottom tier for bottling, the top tier is added, and so on. In this way, rums of different ages are blended throughout the ageing process, with the older rums "educating" the younger ones.

A very smooth style of rum

Sweetening is also part of the Latin tradition. The Cubans sweeten their rums slightly to smooth out the edges, but some distilleries make their very smooth and sweet side a trademark. So some Latin rums are really very smooth and syrupy, which makes them very flattering and easy to drink.

Sweetening is also a way of accompanying another fundamental characteristic of traditional Spanish rums: lightness. Most of these rums have a very low proportion of aromatic congeners. They were originally designed for use in cocktails, so their aromas should not carry too much weight in a blend. In order to become a tasting rum, they need a little help from sugar, which becomes a flavour enhancer.

To discover the Spanish style

There is a wide variety of traditional Spanish rums. To discover their origins, Cuban rums are a must. La Progresiva is a very good example of this light but tasty and very low-sugar style.

In Venezuela, both dry and very sweet rums can be made. You can get to know Santa Teresa, or Diplomatico.

If you want to know what an aguardiente looks like, check out this rum from Panama bottled by Old Brothers.

The list is very long, as you will see, but we can also advise you to discover the balance of a Malteco 15 year old (Panama) or a Coloma 8 year old (Colombia). Finally, to enjoy a light old rum, you can turn to the great classic Flor de Caña 12 years (Nicaragua). Read less

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