"The Infinite Styles of Rum"

With regard to rum there is certain information starting from the conquest of the first colonies by the Europeans. Rum was originally the drink of slaves and sailors. Used as bait by pirates to get the boys of the English Navy drunk (for recruitment purposes!), it is still today linked to this past of adventures and turmoil.

Whether you call it rhum (for French rum), rum (English) or ron (Spanish), this sugar cane distillate remains the common denominator of the Caribbean islands and South American countries, each an expression of a culture and distinct traditions.



As of the mid-2000s, more than 100 countries grow sugar cane, with Brazil, India and China leading the way. The sugar cane produced then supplied about 75% of world sugar production (source ACER – Nov. 2005). Depending on the type of distillation and depending on the ageing, the rum shows a diversity of aromatic profiles that place it at the head of the spirits list.




The production of rum consists of 4 basic steps:

 1 Cane juice or molasses

In general, rums originating from the distillation of cane juice (vesou) are distinguished from those originating from molasses. Obtained from grinding sugar cane, cane juice alters rapidly. It must be quickly fermented, then distilled, to produce the so-called rhum agricole. Residue from the refinement of cane sugar, on the other hand, molasses is a thick and viscous syrup that can be used in the composition of many sweets and delicacies, but it is also used for the production of rum.

Sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) grows in the equatorial zone in the tropical region. It is found in Florida, in Texas, in Louisiana, in the Antilles, in Hawaii, in Central and South America, but also in Indonesia, in Thailand, in the Philippines, in China, in India, in the islands of the Indian Ocean , in Australia, as well as in Southern Spain. There are numerous varieties more or less resistant to disease and with different sugar contents. At the age of 11 months the cane is harvested before flowering, manually or mechanically. Once the base of the cane is reduced to fibers, hot water is added to extract the sugary juice. Two products are born from this pressing: the cane juice for the production of rum and the bagasse, composed of the fibrous residues of the cane and later used as fuel. In the case of molasses rum, the cane juice (vesou) is depleted of sugar for extraction and turns into molasses.

2 Cane wine and fermentation 

Under the action of the yeasts, the must (molasses diluted with water or vesou), is fermented and progressively transformed into alcohol, until a cane wine is produced which has an average alcohol content between 8% and 10%. A fundamental stage in the production of the aromas of the future rum, the fermentation of cane wine can take on different forms according to the region of the world in which it is carried out, to arrive at a very varied aromatic range. Fermentation can be spontaneous, batch controlled and continuously controlled.

3 Choosing the still

The type of alembic used has an enormous impact on the characteristics of any distillate. There are three types of stills:

  • Pot-Still alembic: the oldest and most traditional, produces a distillate rich in aromas and flavours
  • Single column alembic: compared to the pot still alembic it produces a less concentrated but more balanced distillate with excellent aging potential
  • Multicolumn alembic: It is an industrial alembic that produces a light, slightly flavourful distillate with a high alcohol content.

Depending on the desired style, one or more stills are used. For example, Jamaican rum concentrates are produced exclusively with pot-still stills. On the island of Barbados Richard Seale in his Foursquare Distillery uses a blend produced by pot-still and single column alembic to produce rums of exceptional elegance

4 Aging

Aging is essential for the production of quality rums.
First of all it is important to understand if a rum is aged in the tropics or in Europe.

The high tropical temperatures accelerate the aging process and the high percentage of evaporation, known as Angel Share, further reduces and concentrates the Rum. Aging in the Caribbean is estimated to be 2.5 times faster than in Europe, so a 10 year Caribbean Rum is similar to a 25 year European Rum.

Another variable is the type of barrel used: a Rum is never aged in new barrels, but at least second passage. The Ex-Bourbon cask is very common and neutral, but the refinements in casks that have contained Port, Sherry, Madeira, etc. are increasingly fashionable.
Aging, even partial, in non-neutral barrels tends to give the rum some particular nuances, for example the note of cherry that can be seen in Rums aged in ex-Porto barrels.




We have already mentioned how sugar cane and its cultivation is widespread in many and very distant parts of the globe, it goes without saying that each country has a different tradition of producing and interpreting rum.

The Caribbean produces three broad colonial-influenced rums: Hispanic, British, and French. An influence that is found in the names given to the rums and which allows us to assign three typicalities. The Rons produced in Cuba, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela, therefore of Hispanic tradition, are elaborated from molasses and distilled in column stills, offering a very sweet character and sweet, with refinements in barrels that previously contained Hispanic wines or Port.

Rums from Jamaica, the islands of Grenada, Barbados, Saint Kitts, Trinidad or the Demerara area in Guyana, i.e. of British origin, have kept their traditional method of distillation in copper pot stills. Stronger and more typified, these rums are mainly made from molasses. Among the most evocative families is Navy Rum, distributed daily to sailors for more than three centuries.

France is the only country to have provided its overseas territories with a legal framework regulating the production and appellations of rum: the French Antilles, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Marie-Galante are recognized as much for their agricultural rums or rums “z'habitant” elaborated starting from the fermentation and distillation of pure sugar cane juice fresh than for their traditional rums, contrary to Réunion which, in addition to producing them both, also produces Grand Arôme rums in an evident British style.



But how can rums be divided?

due to the lack of rigorous legislation, the aging of rum and the appellations that distinguish it differ from one producer to another. 

Among traditional rums, the following broad categories of rum are distinguished according to their manufacturing process:

  • 1 rum farmers: Obtained from the distillation of fresh sugar cane juice and produced mainly in the French Antilles, agricultural rum, also called z'abitant rum, developed starting from the second half of the 19th century, following the lowering of the price of sugar .  
  • The molasses rums: Elaborated starting from what is left over from the production of cane sugar after the concentration of the juice by heating and the elimination of impurities (the molasses in fact) this rum can take the denomination of "industrial rum" if it is obtained by direct fermentation or “rum Grand Arôme” (TNA > 500g/HAP) if the fermentation takes place in the presence of “vinasse” (residual liquids from the distillation of rum) and if it is produced in certain geographical areas (Martinique, Jamaica, Réunion).
  • I rum old: To qualify for the appellation rum vieux (ancient rum), they must age at least 3 years in oak barrels.
  • White rums: Whether they are vesou or molasses, they are an excellent base for preparing cocktails. Many have an alcohol content of over 40° and were able to remain in steel vats or large barrels for several weeks in order to round off their aromas. There are also white rums which, coming from countries (Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua) where in order to be called rum they must have aged at least 3 years in barrels (in Nicaragua 4), they are decolorized by filtration with activated carbon, resulting of white rums but with amber rum aromas.
  • I ambrè rum: They have generally rested for 18 months in oak barrels, mostly ex-Bourbon, but their color can also be influenced by the presence of caramel or syrups.
  • I dark rum: Entering directly into the category of tasting rums. These rums are the result of an aging of 2 or more years in oak barrels: for rums aged in the place of production, the climatic conditions are such that 4 years in oak barrels are sufficient to obtain an old rum, with an aromatic profile complex. Some rum bottlers offer vintage bottlings with aging in more or less "exotic" original barrels. This practice, largely inherited from the whiskey industry, gives no guarantee of the quality of the rum, to the extent that the notion of vintage does not exist. As for refinement, its value directly depends on the expertise of the Master Distiller.
  • The spiced rums: They result from the maceration of spices (ginger, cinnamon, ...) and flavorings in a white rum, thus offering a succession of aromas and flavors for all tastes. Of all the spirits, rum is certainly the one that offers the widest range of tasting possibilities. If white rums are often requested in the preparation of cocktails, some nonetheless offer such an aromatic richness that they lend themselves easily to the game of tasting. Very fragrant rums can go very well with the aromas of a fruit juice. However, the higher the impurity rate (TNA), the more aromatic the rum is and therefore the more it deserves to be tasted rather than consumed in cocktails.


In this category the white agricultural rhums deserve attention. Certain Jamaican white rums, although made from molasses but distilled in a still, are equally remarkable. Dark rums are more inviting to pure tasting in a cognac ballon glass. Therefore, for both rum and whiskey, the saying "the dress doesn't make the monk" applies and an amber color is not synonymous with quality. In the absence of serious legislation, this category is (unfortunately) subject to numerous abuses, the label being sometimes even misleading in order to make an informed choice. French rums are among those that fare best, thanks to tighter and more effective regulation.

For a classification that protects deserving productions and above all the public, we refer you to the reading of the "GARGANO CLASSIFICATION".