Rum, Rhum, Ron. What’s in a name, that we which we call Rum, by any other name would taste as sweet. Surprisingly enough, there is more behind that three-letter word than you may know. The Tax and Trade Bureau, the government body responsible for regulating and taxing spirit production, defines rum as a “spirit distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane by-products at less than 95% alcohol by volume, having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume.” As you can see, the definition is quite broad and allows the distiller to choose from a wide selection of ingredients to craft his or her perfect interpretation of this classic spirit.
At the broadest level, there are two distinct categories in which all rums fall, Rhum Agricole and Industrial (Traditional) Rum. Rhum Agricole is produced with freshly squeezed cane juice that is typically fermented without adding any water. The fermentation process must begin within 24 hours of pressing the cane to avoid natural fermentation by wild yeasts. This constraint reserves the production of this type of rum for those distillers that have direct access to both fresh sugar cane and a large press or mill. Because of the ever-improving efficiencies of the sugar mills within the United States, Rhum Agricole is mostly produced on Caribbean Islands, where the local sugar cane is grown for the purpose of producing Rhum. A prime example of this type of Rhum is Barbancourt distilled in Haiti.
On the other end of the spectrum is Industrial Rum. Don’t get scared off by the term industrial, as this type of rum is most familiar to you. Industrial, or traditional, rum begins with fermenting any of the by products related to converting sugarcane into sugar. Historically, traditional rum was made primarily out of molasses, but distillers today are also using brown sugar, raw cane sugar (turbinado), panella, or even white table sugar to produce their rums. Craft distillers have been leaning towards using granulated sugars as it is cheaper to transport, readily available, easier to obtain, extremely consistent and by far easier to process into rum; however, old school rum makers prefer molasses as the base for their rum. Bacardi is the largest rum producer in the world and they use different types of molasses sourced from around the world.
There is so much more to discover about the different rums available on the market. Next time you are at the store trying to decide which rum to purchase, take a closer look at the label and you start to understand more about the product than you may think.