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Rum: The Basics

Rum is produced wherever sugar cane grows. Many coun­tries, such as the United States, South Africa, and even Russia, produce rum, but it is only the Caribbean Islands that produce rum in quantities sufficient for worldwide export. The islands in the Caribbean each produce a distinctive type of rum, the result of the base material used, the method of distillation, and the length of maturation. Generally, the islands where the Spanish language is spoken, such as Puerto Rico, produce light, dry-tasting rums. The English speaking Caribbean islands produce dark, heavy-tasting rums.

By definition, rum is any alcoholic distillate made from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugar cane by-products, distilled at less than 190 proof, that also possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to rum.

A Pinch of Sugar History

Sugar cane was brought to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus on his journey from the Azores Islands. The climate was perfect for growing sugar cane, and soon it was being grown on every Caribbean island. The Spanish colonists who followed Columbus brought with them the art of distilling and began distilling the juice of the sugar cane into an alcoholic beverage, which became known as rum. Most authors believe the word “rum” is derived from the old words rumbullion (rumpus) or rumbustion (uproar), certainly appropriate words when referring to the first rum drinkers.

Various Types of Rum

Rums can be broken down into various classifications. The light-bodied ones are dry and have only a very light molasses taste. They are available in two varieties: white, which is by far the most popular, and gold, which is a mixture of light and dark. The gold is sweeter and has a more pronounced molasses taste. The two favorite light rums come from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Another classification is heavy-bodied rums that are much darker and sweeter. They have a pungent bouquet and a heavy molasses taste. The dark rums differ because of slower fermentation and special maturation processes.

Well-known dark rums come from Jamaica, Demerara, Martinique, Trinidad, Bermuda and New England.