Words by Simon Difford
To fully appreciate the nuances of a rum it helps to understand what each element of its origin and production contribute…
The fruitiness detected in many rums comes from the cane and also from the yeast during fermentation.
Esters (high in pot still rums) give rums fruity, floral, pear drop and honeyed notes while fusel oils contribute buttery, oily notes.
Cellulose from the cask in which a rum was aged increases its sweetness while tannins from the cask produce woody notes and impart a golden colour.
Flavonoids in the wood produce vanilla, coffee and cocoa flavours. Charring or toasting the barrels aids this flavour extraction and adds toasted almond notes.
Beware of added sugar! Sugar will not only add to a rums perceived sweetness, but will amplify flavours and add to mouthfeel. The addition of sugar to rum is commonplace, particularly to well-aged rums to counter bitter oak tannins.
Rums that have been aged for long periods show a greenish tint around the meniscus with the glass. This is best seen by holding the glass slightly tipped and against a white surface. A useful way of evaluating the body of a rum is to swill the glass of rum around and then observe the 'legs' or 'tears' left on the glass. Light-bodied rums produce narrow tears that move quickly, while full-bodied rums through wide tears that move slowly.