Words by: Simon Difford
The spectrum of rum ranges from light, vodka-like extra-light white rums through to characterful cognac-like aged rums with Navy, Dunder and such like in between. This already huge diversity of style and flavours is further bolstered by flavoured rums, including: spiced, vanilla and orange. The following defines the key categories:
Aged rums are rums that have benefited from the effects of aging in wooden (usually oak) casks - most commonly previously been used to age bourbon but also cognac, sherry, port or wine. Rums may also be transferred to different casks for their final period of aging. In common to other aged spirits this process is known as 'finishing'.
This is a fairly meaningless term other than to describe the colour of a rum. Young rums may be coloured with caramel and flavoured with different techniques (oak chips, steamed barrels etc.). Few regulations apply to the use of this term.
Rums of all categories may be flavoured with spices such as vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon or flavour essences such as vanilla, coconut, banana and raspberry. However, most 'spiced rums' are continuously distilled light rums flavoured with spices including ginger, cinnamon, clove and vanilla.
As the name would suggest, 'golden rums' are amber-coloured due to a period of maturation in wood and/or often the addition of caramel. They tend to be light- or medium-bodied in character and are produced in most rum-making regions by a number of producers.
Sadly, like in the world of tequila, the term golden applied to a rum my mean little more than it has had caramel added to give it a golden colour. Unless a rums label declares it to be aged, a golden colour is no indication of ageing.
The French Caribbean island of Martinique has nine distilleries distilling fermented fresh pressed sugar cane juice rather than the more usual molasses to produce what the French term 'rhum agricole'. Martinique is by far the best known protagonist of this style of rum.
Martinique rhum (French spelling) received its Appellation d'Origine Contrôllée (A.O.C.) designation in 1996 so production is strictly regulated by the French government. The rules allow the use of twelve different types of sugar cane but blue cane has the highest sugar content so considered premium.
Rhum agricole cannot be distilled to a higher strength than 75% abv so maintains much of the sugar cane character. If the distillate is to be bottled as 'blanc rhum' (white rum) it must be rested for at least three months before bottling, usually in stainless steel vats but often in old oak barrels, which due to their age contribute little flavour or colour to the rum.
Distillate destined to become 'ambre rhum' (amber rum) must be aged in oak barrels (usually previously used for American whiskey) for at least 18 months. 'Vieux Rhum' (old rum) must be aged a minimum of three years, also indicated by the initials 'VS' while 'VSOP' denotes four years and 'XO' six years. Rhums labelled 'hors d'age' must be aged for at least seven years. The A.O.C. also permits Rhums from exceptional years to be labelled with their vintage date.
Although the term 'naval rum' has no legal or precise meaning, it suggests a distinctive style - dark, strong, heavy and tannic. Naval rum is usually a blend of rums from different countries (usually the countries on the routine routes of the Royal Navy).
For more than 300 years the British Navy issued a daily 'tot' of Pusser's rum, with a double issue before battle. In 1740, on the orders of Admiral Vernon, the standard daily issue of half a pint of neat, high-proof rum to be downed in one was replaced with two servings of a quarter of a pint, diluted 4:1 with water.
The Admiral was nicknamed 'Old Grogram' because of a heavy waterproof grogram cloak he wore - and so the mixture he insisted on in an attempt to combat drunkenness became known as 'grog'. Lime juice was often added to the grog in an attempt to prevent scurvy, so British sailors became known as 'limeys'. This tradition, which started in Jamaica in 1665, was finally broken on 31st July 1970, a day now known as 'Black Tot Day' - although the 'tot' by then was only two ounces.
Rums from any category, with the possible exception of aged rums may be bottled with little or no dilution. Any rum bottled at more than 50% alcohol by volume (100°proof) may be termed overproof. The term 'barrel proof' would more usually be used for high strength aged rums.
'White, blanco, dry and platino are all terms used for rums with have no or little aging. Some examples may be aged for as much as three years but the aging affect is softened and much or all of the colour imparted by aging removed by charcoal filtration. These rums may by made from cane juice or molasses but the one thing they all have in common is that the spirit is the main contributor of flavour with any wood influence being secondary.
Named after Reverend Stiggins in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, whose favourite drink was Mrs Weller’s pineapple rum. Stiggins' Fancy was created by Alexandre Gabriel, cellar master Plantation and David Wondrich, author of the book Imbibe!, originally as a thank you to CAPs at Tales 2015. Dried pineapple, grilled peaches, overripe banana, Tizer and demerara sugar with clove, cinnamon and black pepper spice.
Launched in October 2015, Matugga Spiced Rum is triple pot-distilled from fermented (for 7 days) East African sugar-cane molasses and aged in uncharred English oak casks to produce a golden rum which is then combined with a blend of African black tea, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and cardamom. Pungent and estery. Freshly sawn old oak, blackened fruitcake, raisins and sultanas with cinnamon, clove, vanilla and black pepper.
Butterfly Cane Spiced is a “spirit drink” based on Trinidadian rum infused with a mix of spices and vanilla. The label is UV inked to catch the light in nightclubs. Pungent vanilla and buttery leather with mild cinnamon and red peppercorn spice.
Billed as being the first “aged red spiced rum spirit drink” (not strictly speaking a rum), Carta Fuego is aged for a minimum of a year in charred oak barrels, then blended and filtered through charcoal, before being mixed with natural flavours and spices. Caramel, butterscotch and vanilla with chocolate, cinnamon, smoked paprika, nutmeg and honey.
“Inspired by traditional bush teas of the Caribbean”, Bushtea Spiced Rum is made and bottled in Cambridgeshire, England using molasses imported from the Caribbean which are fermented for seven days before being distilled in a 200 litre copper pot still. Fruity estery rum spirit, candied ginger, ripe peach, overripe banana, vanilla, oak and orange zest.
Made by continuous distillation, this Columbian rum is aged for over eight years in ex-bourbon casks before being infused with Columbian orange peel. Tangerine with tobacco leaf, faint mocha coffee, vanilla and overripe banana.
Made with a blend of Caribbean rum flavoured with spices, sugar, vanilla and Persian limes, this is a premium strength ‘limited edition’ (exactly how limited is not stated) of Old J Spiced Rum. Cracked black pepper spirity spice, vanilla pods, lime cordial and butterscotch with toffee, almonds, pistachio, cinnamon and nutmeg.
This rum is marketed with a sailor's yarn about a feared 17th century pirate called DeSilver who is said to have drawn his strength and vitality from a secret blend of spices infused in Caribbean rum. Appropriately this is a ‘spiced rum’ and perhaps the first crystal clear ‘white’ spiced rum. Gingerbread, lemon zest, white chocolate, peppermint, vanilla and pine forest with white pepper and faint clove spice.
O'Hara's is a spiced rum based on 3 year and 5 year old Guyanan rum with 5 year old Trinidadian rum. This blend of rums is flavoured with vanilla, lime, cinnamon, cloves and spices. Caramel, vanilla, orange zest, peach skin, dried apricot and marzipan-like almond with clove and cinnamon spice.
Launched in 2013, as the name suggests this rum is barrel infused with St. Lucian Criollo cacao beans at the distillery in St. Lucia. The rum itself is a blend of pot and column distilled molasses rums aged 3 to 6 years in ex-bourbon barrels. The beans are infused is the blend of rums for 3-4 weeks. Dark chocolate and freshly ground coffee beans with freshly scorched oak and light vanilla.
Based on column still rum from Barbados and Trinidad with pot still rums from Jamaica, Guyana and St Lucia aged for up to five years in American oak ex-bourbon barrels and infused with spice and tropical fruits. Launched in October 2010. Star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove with orange zest, candied lime zest and caramel.
Made with rum imported from the Virgin Islands and then blended with spices by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky. Blackheart shout not to be confused with ‘Black Heart’ rum (two words). Treacle and delicate cinnamon spice with peaches, dried fruit and fruit cake.