The Joy of Rum

the joy of rum

For years rum has been considered an ugly stepchild of sorts to more sophisticated spirits such as gin and whisky. Most know rum as coming in two forms: dark, which was coveted by pirates and as grog aboard warships, and light, which is most often mixed with coke by young people who aren’t considered cultured enough to appreciate a decent drink.

The Origins of Rum

Rum is one of those popular alcoholic drinks with origins dating as far back as the ancient times. The Malay people used to call it Brum back before it used to undergo the distillation process while it was still in the plantation phase. Regardless of its ultimate use, however, rum’s history is most commonly thought to have started in the Caribbean during the 17th century. Slaves in this area where used to cultivate sugar cane, then discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol. Eventually, this alcohol was distilled into a more concentrated form to remove impurities and produced the first rums.

Most historians agree that the first rum was produced on the island of Barbados, but by 1620, its production had spread to Brazil. Further, analysis of a tin bottle found on a Swedish warship which sank in 1628 was found to have traces of rum inside of it

Rum’s popularity eventually caught on in North America during the Colonial era. The resulting unquenchable thirst for the spirit called for the establishment of the first rum distillery in the colonies on what is now called Staten Island. Three years later, Boston had its own distillery, thanks largely to the preponderance of technical, cooperage, and metalworking skills, as well as the abundant supply of labour. Regardless of the reasons, however, estimates are that in the years prior to the American Revolution, every man, woman, and child in the colonies drank more than three gallons of rum each year

Production of Rum

Step 1. Harvesting

The main ingredient in the creation of Rum is sugar cane. The sugar cane is harvested and promptly crushed in a mill. The sugar cane is crushed so that the juices are extracted and stored, these juices can be utilized differently in the process of creating the alcohol. Some of the ways are

  • Sugar cane juice is immediately fermented and later distilled by the brewer. This method has been adopted in areas of the West Indies like Guadalupe and Martinique. Alcohol that is made this way will closely resemble its sugar cane extract. This is a very affordable method of creating rum because it’s very direct and the sugar cane doesn’t undergo extra levels of distillation.
  • This method involves the cooking of the juices so that it can turn into a syrup. This syrup has other uses other than creation of alcohol, for example it’s used as a sweetener in combination with other products. The syrup can then be fermented and distilled. There are some distillers who ferment the syrup for periods of up to a year.
  • The juices are converted into molasses that are then used in the making of the rum, this is the most common method of making the alcohol they need.
Step 2. Fermentation

How long the fermentation process takes varies from distiller to distiller. Some will use the natural fermentation process. This method of fermentation involves using the yeast that is in the air to ferment the syrup, this is a great way of cost cutting in the production of rum. The disadvantage of this method is that the rum won’t have a distinct taste, every time the alcohol is made the taste will vary. The other method is controlled fermentation. The fermentation process is done under tight laboratory controlled conditions. With this method, the rum will always taste the same because conditions of making it is extremely similar. Doing this is very expensive and most companies try and combine the two methods when they are making the alcohol.

Step 3. Distilling

Once the syrup is done fermenting it becomes ready for the distillation process. The fermented syrup is sealed and heated to temperatures of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. This is done so that the alcohol can evaporate from the syrup and later be collected after it has re-condensed. This raw product form the spirit that is rum. Other distillers may choose to distil the alcohol a couple of more times to remove any impurities. This process should be done in a controlled manner because any missteps can affect the outcome of the final product. The still apparatus in the distillers can either be a continuous still or a pot still. It’s not uncommon to see a rum bottle state which still apparatus was used in making it. The rum can be bottled and sold as is or it can be aged in a cellar. Most Rum is blended with other rum in the distilling factory to give it its look and taste.

Variations of Rum

Interestingly, the rum produced in Boston turned out to be of a lighter variety than those produced outside of the colonies. It was closer to whiskey than rum, but partly due to the influence of outside sources this lighter variety soon became the preferred brew. This is not to say that variations of rum from outside of the colonies were ignored because, for example, George Washington insisted on the availability of a barrel of Barbados rum be available at his inauguration in 1789.

The variations of rum that exist today is thanks, at least in large part, to the differences of standards that are used by countries and makers. These differences include the proof of the spirit, length of aging, as well as nomenclature.

Within the Caribbean region alone, the types of rum produced reflects the unique style of those makers, and generally categorized by the language which is spoken:

English-speaking islands are known for the rums that have a distinctively molasses taste. French-speaking islands are known for the rums that retain much of the sugar cane flavour. Spanish-speaking islands and countries are known to produce a rum that has a smoother, honey-like taste.

Rum Grades

Rums are graded according to where they are produced, which coincidentally corresponds to their colours and flavours. Interestingly, there variations also happen to describe their colour and variety.
Dark Rums These are darker than gold rums. They run the colour gamut of red, black, and brown. These are made from molasses or caramelized sugar. They also have a longer aging period in charred barrels, which makes the flavour spicier.
Flavoured Rums  These rums are fruitier, with the flavours of orange, mango, lime and others. They are most often served in drinks that have a tropical theme.
Gold Rums These are also often called “amber” rums and are the product of aging in charred, white oak barrels. These have a stronger taste than light rum.
Light Rums Light rums have usually very little flavour besides the general sweet taste. Most light rums come from Puerto Rico. The mild flavour that characterizes these are popular in mixed drinks.
Overproof These rums have a considerably higher proof than others. Again, these are usually included in mixed drinks.
Premium Rums These are generally of the sipping variety and have more character and flavour than others.
Spiced RumsThese derive their flavours from spices which are added. Darker in colour than other rums, they are sometimes much darker than most some of the spices which are included are cinnamon, rosemary, and Pepper.

Rums of practically any variety are used for a number of different purposes, whether in drinks or food. Regardless, you should try them all for a totally different taste experience.

Photo source Kool Cats Photography

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