For the average bar goers, ordering for a premium rum is definitely not something that’s commonplace. I mean, seriously, they probably do not know what a premium rum.
If they do, they don’t even care, all they want in that bar is a drink and that’s what they are going to get. A drink. Doesn’t matter what type it is, if it’s a bottom shelf drink, a middle shelf drink or a top shelf drink.
And to be quite frankly, every top drink expert had been an average bar goer at some point in their life. Mine too, well, except you were born into the art. A couple of years ago, I would never believe it if someone told me that I’ll have so much knowledge about rums.
I definitely would have laughed it off.
Getting yourself to a bar can be a little bit challenging if it’s the first time, especially if you were invited by a group of old friends from high school.
You get extra tensed, you don’t want to sound nor look green. If this is your current situation or you are in a similar thing like or perhaps you’re a rum lover and you just want to get to know everything (well, not everything everything) there is about this drink, then you are reading the right article. And it’s got you covered.
So let’s start from the basic question, what?
What Is Rum?
Simple. A drink. An alcoholic drink. An alcoholic beverage. A liquor. A distilled spirit. Those terms could work well as answers to the question but not the answer you should give.
Distilled spirit is close enough to the answer. But it isn’t the only type of spirit available in the market, and its one distinguishing feature from other types of spirits is the plant it is made from. Trust me, you can’t guess the plant it is, unless you already read the next sentence.
A rum is a spirit that has been distilled from fermented sugar cane juice, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or any other sugar cane byproducts. However, the sugar cane juice and the sugar cane molasses are the commonest and most preferred raw material for the making of rum, the best rums.
The primary raw material being used, the sugar cane, is a member of the Grass family and though it originated from Papua New Guinea, it’s practically grown in all tropical climes. The juice of this plant is actually sweet, almost as sweet as the juice from orange and to extract its juice, mechanical mills are used to press the hard stalk which holds the juice.
The sugar cane juice or sugar cane molasses acting as raw materials are then fermented, distilled, aged, blended, and then bottled. We’ll have more on that soon enough.
Just how much alcohol do rum contain?
Quite a lot. Rums are bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume, enough to get you tipsy if you overdo it on your first try.
Using either juice or molasses, the end result is called rum but not in Brazil. Rum is used when molasses are used but if the raw material being used is sugar cane juice, then it is called caçhaca. However, in the US, caçhaca are labeled and referred to as rum.
There are a lot of regional variations of this drink. The Caribbeans are the major producer of rum so a good number of the rums around are from the Caribbeans.
Spain, for example, are well known for their light colored rums. These light sweet tasting rums are unaged rums with a cleaner and crisper taste. Colombia, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela amongst others also make light rums.
The English version of rums on the other hand favor the production of dark rums with an overwhelming molasses flavor, thus this rum taste more like molasses and they are usually aged in oak barrels.
The Jamaican rum is a bit like this too, and one of these called Rude Rum is classed among the list of strongest drinks in the world.
There is also the French rums which are referred to as rhum agricole, meaning agricultural rums. If you want a rum that taste just like sugar cane itself, then these French rums are slowly whispering your name.
And if you are the type who thinks cheap drinks are not classy enough, then worry not, the rhum agricole is more expensive than the molasses based rums. Way more expensive than your brain is calculating right now.
There are other regional variation, there’s the Liberia rum of 43% alcohol by volume, there’s the German Rum-Verschnitt, a substitute for dark rum.
Basically, there are 2 types of rum. Light rum and dark rum. Interestingly, there can be about 7 types of rum. Light, gold, dark, spiced, premium, overproof and flavored rum. These are the terms that are used to describe rums. To be more specific when ordering, you can mention a brand like the Bacardi superior or Appleton estate rums.
- Light rum: This is like the basic rum. Nothing extra has been added to this rum. It is also referred to as silver or white rum. These rums are transparent in color and sometimes, if aged, they’re filtered to get rid of the color. If you’re hoping to sip this type of rum, I’d say don’t.
They are so not great when it comes to sipping so they’re mainly used in cocktails like your mojito. By the way, if you’ve not had this cocktail, then I don’t think you should be living in planet Earth. Besides, their milder flavor is one more reason why they should be and why they are used in mixed drinks.
- Gold rum: Gold or amber in color because it has been aged for a while. Just like light rums, they are more of a cocktail mixer than a sipper. The aging process leaves them more flavorful and with a stronger taste.
- Dark rum: They can be either black, red, dark brown. They are way darker, flavorful and tastier than gold rums and that’s because they’ve been aged for a very long time though they are also usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses. These rums are best for sipping (drinking straight) and cooking cos of their more distinctive flavor.
These rums can be aged for as long as 25 years or more, and the higher the number of years, the higher its price, for instance, the El Dorado 1988 was aged for 25 years, it costs nothing less than $524.03 and it’s not the most expensive rum out there.
Dark rums are the most sophisticated type there is with really vivid flavors, these high end rums are as good as premium whiskey or Brandy. Think otherwise? Then run a blind drinking taste.
- Spiced rum: Rosemary, star anise, pepper, cardamom and cinnamon are commonly preferred spice options. These spices can be added to gold rums, dark or light rums. Usually, when added to light rums, caramel us also added to produce a darker color. A good example is the Captain Morgan.
- Premium rum: Always. Always found at the top shelf. Never at the bottom shelf. A drink like the El Dorado would conveniently always find its place at the top shelf. More flavorful, obviously. Well produced and aged by top brands. Even Appleton estate rum would find its way here. Best consumed straight.
- Overproof rum: The standard measurement is about 40 or 45% alcohol by volume (about 80 proof). Overproof rums are rums with a greater alcohol percentage like 80%, that’ll be 160 proof. So if it’s over 45%, then it’s an overproof rum. These type are popularly used in mixed drinks and it include spirit like the Bacardi 151.
- Flavored rum: Often drunk neat or on the rocks or used to flavor tropical drinks. These drinks are a delight and it’s all because of the additional flavors that have been infused right after the distillation process.
Common flavors are vanilla, caramel, coconut, starfruit, banana, pineapple, orange or even mango. There are so many flavors available and they’ve a lower alcohol percentage – usually less than the standard.
Coconut flavored rums are slowly becoming a favorite type, they’re by far the most prevalent flavored rum drink and with so many brands of coconut rums now available, it is evident that they are here to stay.
Now, that we know what rum is. The next puzzling question will be what are the best rums?
The Best Rums – How to Identify Them
The best rums are those that were produced from high quality raw materials, well produced, well aged (not always). Thus, the quality of the method of preparation has a lot to do with the quality of the rum at the end of the day. So how is rum produced?
- Fermentation: The sugar cane juice or molasses are fermented first. The aim of the fermentation process is to convert the sucrose in the juice or molasses into glucose and fructose by the use of yeast. Depending on the type of yeast used, fermentation could take a day or 10 days or more.
- Distillation: The process concentrates the alcohol content in the fermented product. In the French islands, distillation is done at a relatively low distillation purity to produce heavier tasting spirits and that’s because they use sugar cane juice. Using molasses will require a high distillation purity to remove the high sulfur content contained in molasses.
- Aging: Once a while, this process is skipped, when it is, hot harsh tasting fresh or raw rums are produced. However, an aged rum has an elegant taste, not a harsh taste. Aging is done using oak barrels, the majority of these oak barrels are used barrels that once contained whiskey or bourbon.
Oak barrels are charred and cured before being used. The raw spirit is poured into oak barrels and left for years. The more the aging, the better the flavor and the higher the price, and ultimately it will climb to the very top shelf.
A good way to make them age faster is to remove the congeners that are usually present. Congeners are compounds derived during fermentation. Why should they be removed?
Because they are impurities.
The Caribbean rum for example age faster not only because of its tropical climate but also because it has few congeners. Good aging does a lot of good to a drink and that’s why well aged rums are generally and preferably consumed straight. No need using them to make cocktails.
- Blending and bottling: Perhaps, the simplest process. Blending is actually the process of mixing the spirit. Done so that the flavors are evenly blended. After the blending ordeal, the spirit is now ready to be bottled. And in a matter of time, it will be purchased by you.
That’s how the best rums are made. Flavored (coconut), spiced, light, dark, premium, gold or overproof.
Searching for the Best Dark Rum? Here they are!
Unarguably the best type there is when you want something to sip. Most of the smoothest rums are found right here among the best dark rums. Dark rums are simply the best type to sip and frankly, incorporating these drinks into cocktails is more or less a waste of money.
With a little ice, the rich full flavor of these high-end drinks can be detected. Burnt sugar, caramel can be added to dark rums along with spices and fruity flavors. For a smoother texture, some distilleries use virgin sugar cane honey as a substitute for molasses.
Below, is a short list of some of the best dark rum:
- Brugal 1888. Definitely one of the smoothest rum available in the market. Brugal 1888 is a top choice, this fine drink has been double-distilled and double-matured so you can imagine just how elegant it will taste.
- Diplomatico – best served with ice.
- Appleton Estate – coming all the way from Jamaica and from the master blender herself, Joy Spencer, this drink is a blend of rums aged at least for 21 years. One word for this drink. Epic!
- El Dorado 1988.
- Flor De Caña 18 year old.
- Santa Teresa 1796.
- Parce – this drink has a very subtle sweetness and spiciness, without ice, you’ll miss this subtle touch.
- The Real McCoy, a 12 year old rum from Barbados.
- Mount Gay Extra Old Rum, another rum that is made from a blend of rums.
- Ron Zacapa XO
There are other amazing brands like the Havana Club and I possibly can’t list all. But these should get you started, it is better to have these with ice.
How about the Best Light Rums?
Just because these types are better used in mixed drinks doesn’t mean that purchasing any brand is an option. Just as for dark and every other type, there’s always the best and these are what your money should be spent on.
Lights can be used for your rum and coke, daiquiris, mojito and any other cocktail you can think of but do well to pick the right light spirit for the right cocktail. Most of these cocktails can be brand specific. Here, are some of the best in this class:
- Flor De Caña Extra Dry 4 year. It has a dry and tasty flavor (although it isn’t sweet). This drink has a hint of vanilla flavor, also has a fruity taste.
- Brugal Especial Extra Dry.
- Mount Gay Silver Rum.
- Banks 5 island rum, super ideal in most cocktails.
- El Dorado 3 Year.
- Denizen Rum. If you’re hoping to sip a light rum, this should be in that list. Try it on the rocks and you’ll love it.
Some light rums aren’t aged at all. However, many are aged. Since aging darkens the color, the color is filtered out before being bottled to make the rum lighter and smoother. The list above is definitely not a complete list but, it’s a starting point.
The Best Way to Enjoy Rum
This is a short section on how you can drink, or order for rum. Knowing what to order is out of the way now, but how exactly do you order it. On the rocks or neat?
Since you won’t be mixing your dark rums, serving it on the rocks is just okay. On the rocks means with ice. You can order for light rums on the ice too but as a cocktail, most are not ideal for sipping.
Neat? That simply means you want your drink without ice or mixer.
Straight up? You want your drink chilled, no ice.
In a mixer? You want a mixer (usually non-alcoholic) added to your drink.
What’s the one term you shouldn’t use when ordering rums? Simple, dirty. This is one term that gets tossed around a lot in bars especially in the movies but they are only used for Martinis. Not rum. You don’t want a dirty rum, you want a dirty Martini.
If rum was a course in college, this will be the introductory class. There’s so much more to this but this is enough to get you started, particularly for the top shelf rum. Oh, and remember drink responsibly.