For the average bar-goer, ordering a premium rum is definitely not something that’s commonplace. Honestly, most people probably don’t know what a premium rum even is.
All they want in that bar is a drink, and that’s what they are going to get. A drink. It doesn’t matter what type it is or whether it’s a bottom, middle, or top shelf rum.
To be quite honest, every top drink expert has been an average bar goer at some point in their life. Me too, well, until I was born into the art. A couple of years ago, I would never have believed it if someone told me that I’d one day have so much knowledge about rum.
I definitely would have laughed it off.
Going out to a bar can be a little bit challenging if it’s the first time in a while, especially if you were invited by a group of old friends from high school.
You get tense; you don’t want to sound or look inexperienced. If this is your current situation or if you are in a similar situation, like perhaps you’re a rum lover and you just want to get to know everything there is to know about this drink, then you are reading the right article. We’ve got you covered.
So let’s start with the basic question—what is rum anyway?
What Is Rum?
Simple. A drink. An alcoholic drink. An alcoholic beverage. A liquor. A distilled spirit. Those terms could all work well as answers to the question, but they’re not the answer you deserve.
A distilled spirit is close enough to the answer. But it isn’t the only type of spirit available on the market, and one distinguishing feature from other types of spirits is the plant it is made from. Trust me, you’ll never guess the plant this spirit comes from unless you already read the next sentence.
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 most common and most preferred raw material for the making of rum, high end rum.
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 climates. The juice of this plant is actually sweet, almost as sweet as the juice from oranges. 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 which act as raw materials are then fermented, distilled, aged, blended, and bottled.
Just how much alcohol does rum contain?
Quite a lot. Rum is 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 usually called rum, except for in Brazil. Rum is the name when molasses is used, but if the raw material being used is sugar cane juice, then it is called caçhaca. However, in the US, caçhaca is labeled and referred to as rum.
There are a lot of regional variations of this drink. The Caribbean is a major producer of rum, so a good amount of the world’s rum is from the Caribbean.
Spain is well known for its light-colored rum. These variations of light, sweet tasting rum consist of rum which hasn’t aged, with a cleaner and crisper taste. Colombia, Puerto Rico, Panama, and Venezuela—amongst others—also make light rums.
The English version of rum, on the other hand, favors the production of dark rum with an overwhelming molasses flavor. Thus, this rum tastes more like molasses and it’s usually aged in oak barrels.
Jamaican rum is a bit like this too, and one of this variety, called Rude Rum, is classed among the list of the strongest drinks in the world.
There is also French rum which is referred to as rhum agricole, meaning agricultural rum. If you want a rum that tastes just like sugar cane itself, then French rum is 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 molasses-based rum. Trust me, it’s way more expensive than your brain is calculating right now.
There are other regional variations, such as Liberia rum of 43% alcohol by volume, or German Rum-Verschnitt, a substitute for dark rum.
Basically, there are 2 types of rum. Light rum and dark rum. Altogether, 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 different types of rum. To be more specific when ordering, you can mention a brand like Bacardi superior or Appleton estate rum.
- Light rum: This is like 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 the beloved mojito. By the way, if you’ve not had this cocktail, then I don’t think you should be living on planet Earth. Besides, the milder flavor of light rum is one more reason why it should be and is used in mixed drinks.
- Gold rum: This is gold or amber in color because it has been aged for a while. Just like light rum, it is more of a cocktail-mixer than a sipper. The aging process leaves it more flavorful, with a stronger taste.
- Dark rum: This can be either black, red, or dark brown. It’s way darker, more flavorful, and tastier than gold rum, and that’s because it has been aged for a very long time, though it is also usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses. This type of rum is best for sipping (drinking straight) and cooking because of its 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 the price. For instance, the El Dorado 1988 was aged for 25 years, and it costs nothing less than $524.03, making it not even the most expensive rum out there.
Dark rums are the most sophisticated type there is. With really vivid flavors, this high end rum is 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, dark, or light rum. Usually, when added to light rum, caramel is also added to produce a darker color. A good example is Captain Morgan.
- Premium rum: Always found at the top shelf. Never at the bottom shelf. A drink like El Dorado would conveniently always find its place at the top shelf. More flavorful, obviously. Well produced and aged by top brands. 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 rum is rum with a greater alcohol percentage, like 80%, or 160 proof. So if it’s over 45%, then it’s an overproof rum. This type is popularly used in mixed drinks and it includes spirits like Bacardi 151.
- Flavored rum: Often drunk neat or on the rocks, while also 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 got 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 rum now available, it is evident that they are here to stay.
Now that we know what rum is, the next puzzle will be to find what the best rums are.
The Best Rum – How to Identify It
The best rums are those that were produced from high quality raw materials, well-produced, and well-aged (though not always). At the end of the day, the quality of the method of preparation has a lot to do with the quality of the rum. So how is rum produced?
- Fermentation: The sugar cane juice or molasses is 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 in a while this process is skipped. When it is, harsh-tasting fresh or raw rums are produced. However, aged rums have 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 longer the aging, the better the flavor and the higher the price. Ultimately these will climb to the very top shelf.
A good way to make rum 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.
Caribbean rum, for example, ages 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 aged rum is generally and preferably consumed straight. No need using it to make cocktails.
- Blending and bottling: Perhaps, the simplest process. Blending is actually the process of mixing the spirit. It is 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 can 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 it is!
Unarguably, dark is the best type there is when you want something to sip. Mostly the smoothest rum is found right here among the best dark rums. Dark rum is simply the best type to sip, and frankly, incorporating this drink into cocktails is more or less a waste of money.
With a little ice, the rich flavor of this high-end drink can be detected. Burnt sugar or 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 types of dark rum:
- Brugal 1888. Definitely one of the smoothest rum varieties available on 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 Havana Club, and I can’t possibly list all of them. But these should get you started…and in case I didn’t mention, 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 just 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, mojitos, and any other cocktail you can think of. Do the right thing and 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 and also has a fruity taste.
- Brugal Especial Extra Dry.
- Mount Gay Silver Rum.
- Banks 5 island rum. Ideal in most cocktails.
- El Dorado 3 Year.
- Denizen Rum. If you’re hoping to sip a light rum, this should be on 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 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 rum, serving it on the rocks is okay. On the rocks means with ice. You can order light rum on ice too but as a cocktail, since most are not ideal for sipping.
Neat? That simply means you want your drink without ice or a mixer.
Straight up? You want your drink chilled, but 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 it’s only meant for Martinis, not rum. You don’t want a dirty rum, you want a dirty Martini.
If rum was a course in college, this would be the introductory class. There’s so much more to this drink, but this is enough to get you started, particularly in regards to top shelf rum. Oh, and remember—drink responsibly.