In this comprehensive rum 101 guide, you will learn what this delicious and popular spirit is made of, its history, its different varieties, and everything you need to know to understand this extremely popular spirit.
As one of the most popular spirits in the US, rum outsells nearly every other spirit year after year. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, there were over 25 million 9-liter cases of rum sold in 2020 alone. Compare that to the 10 million 9-liter cases of gin that were sold in the same year and it’s clear to see who comes out on top.
When stocking up your home bar, rum is an absolute necessity. It’s the perfect spirit to transport you to a faraway island, even on the coldest winter days. In this complete guide to rum, I’m diving into everything you need to know about this sugarcane-based spirit. Read to the end to see my top picks for rum brands for your home bar!
What is Rum?
Rum is a spirit made from sugar cane. It’s distilled from cane juice, sugar crystals, molasses, or a combination of all three. Unsurprisingly, rum is known to carry notes of toasted sugar. Most rum is bottled at 40 percent alcohol, although high volume rums can get up to 80 percent alcohol by volume.
Because rum is made from sugar, it is often sweet in flavor. However, the specific notes found in different types of rum can vary greatly depending on the brand. There are several types of rum, each of which is unique in color and flavor, depending on how the rum is distilled. Don’t worry, we’ll get into that shortly.
The History of Rum
To understand the history of rum, you must first understand the history of sugarcane. The sugarcane plant is known to have originated in Asia and was first traded in the 1400s when it was brought to Portugal. Shortly thereafter, Christopher Columbus brought the plant along on his voyage to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
From there, sugarcane exploded in popularity and was traded all over the Caribbean. It took a few hundred years, but in the 1650s the people of Barbados finally figured out how to make rum from sugarcane. The rest, as they say, was history.
To this day, the Caribbean is known as the true home of rum and is responsible for producing some of the world’s greatest rum brands. If you ever travel to Barbados or St. Croix, I highly recommend checking out one of the world-renowned rum distilleries.
How Rum is Made
The use of sugar cane in the distillation process sets rum apart from all other spirits. To put it in layman’s terms, rum is made by fermenting sugar cane or one of its byproducts —like molasses or sugar cane juice— with yeast, then distilling it. Once the rum has been distilled, it’s usually aged in wood casks. However, light or white rum is often aged in stainless steel tanks and filtered to achieve its light color and subtle taste.
The color of the rum is largely dependent on the type of wood used in its aging barrel and the length of time the spirit is aged. Climate also plays a role, as the aging time can vary depending on whether the rum is produced in a tropical climate or a cooler one. For example, a dark rum could be aged in the Caribbean for 2-5 years yet achieve the same color and flavor that a dark rum aged in the United States achieves in 10 years.
Types of Rum
Most rum can be placed into one of five main varieties, as described below.
Light Rum: Commonly referred to as white rum, light rum is the most popular style of rum and features a mild flavor. It’s typically aged in stainless steel tanks for up to a year, then filtered, which accounts for the light color.
Gold Rum: Also known as medium-bodied or amber rum, gold rum is often used as a sipper for its smooth, rich flavor. This type of rum is typically aged in oak casks and can sometimes be substituted for light rum in cocktails.
Dark Rum: Known for rich flavor that comes from being aged in charred oak casks, dark rum is most often associated with tropical cocktails like Rum Punch and Hurricane. This heavy-bodied rum is also used frequently as a sipper, because of its rich and sweet flavor.
Aged Rum: This type of rum is similar to gold rum in body and color but gets its own category merely for the fact that it’s made and aged without any additives. This means that spiced rums that are made with flavorful additions like cinnamon and bayleaf cannot be considered aged rums. Generally, the older the rum, the more expensive it is.
Overproof Rum: Exactly as it sounds, this is extra potent rum. While most rums contain around 40 percent alcohol, overproof rums contain around 75 percent alcohol. This type of rum is generally used as a rum float in cocktails and in flaming drinks, as its high alcohol content makes it easy to burn.
Best Rum Brands For Your Home Bar
Rum is a popular choice for shots, shooters, and cocktails. Some of my favorite rum cocktails include the Mai Tai, Scorpion Bowl, and Sweet Poison. If you’re looking for a fantastic drink guaranteed to impress your friends, any of these would get the job done.
When stocking up your home bar, it’s essential to fill it with the very best that each type of liquor has to offer. Without further ado, here are my top recommendations for the best rum brands for your home bar.
- Bacardi White Rum. This light rum is easily one of the most popular brands on the market. It features a smooth and creamy palate, with notes of almond and citrus, and a dry finish.
- Cruzan Aged Dark Rum. Aged for 2-4 years in charred oak casks, this award-winning rum is rich with a robust flavor. It’s most often enjoyed with soda or sipped on the rocks.
- Bumbu Rum. Distilled in Barbados, Bumbu is blended from pure rum and hand-selected spices for a drinking experience as rich and colorful as the island where it was born.
- Bacardi Gran Reserva. Aged for a minimum of 10 years, this gold rum is one of a kind. It features bright notes of stone fruits and bananas, balanced by caramelized vanilla and oak for a full and rich finish.
- Plantation Jamaica Rum Old. This exquisite rum is aged for 16 years in bourbon casks in Jamaica, then aged for a final year in the Ferrand cellars in France. It combines intense fruity aromas with hints of vanilla and almond, finishing on floral notes.
- Mount Gay Extra Old. This Bajan rum is consistent in style, with varying notes depending on the year it’s released. Aged for a minimum of 10 years, Mount Gay is a rich and elegant rum that guarantees to impress no matter which version you wind up with.
I hope you found this Rum 101 guide useful. Check out my other guides, to vodka, whiskey, tequila, and gin. Leave me a comment if you have questions or feedback about this post or to let me know your favorite rum brand!
From lighting up stages with her BA in theater to crafting delightful dishes and cocktails, Elaine Benoit's journey is a testament to passion's transformative power. As the CEO of Dishes Delish, she offers a blend of healthy, comforting recipes and exquisitely crafted cocktails. Beyond the kitchen, Elaine voiced her culinary adventures on her podcast, "Dishing," and co-owns Food Blogger Help, extending her expertise to guide budding food bloggers to success. Whether it's for a heartwarming dish or insights into food blogging, Elaine's diverse experiences make her a beacon in the culinary digital landscape.