Just like wines and other spirits, rums differ from each other. And faced with the unending varieties of rums, it is easy to feel lost, not only because rum is a relative new beverage for many, but also because classifying rums can be difficult.
Rums cannot be easily classified according to their region or country of origin. In fact, the country of origin does not necessarily dictate the type of rum. Rather, the context in which the rum was crafted in its early days (during the colonial era), is a much more important factor.
Three main regions, three rum families
The influence of the colonizing country is thus strongly found in rum. It was the colonizing power that dictated the methods of production, and by extension, the taste of the rum.
Rum is generally divided into three broad categories:
- French or Caribbean rum, or “Rhum”;
- British rum, or “Rum” and sometimes also called Navy Rum;
- Spanish rum, or “Ron”.
These three types of rum each have a different style and flavor. However, this is only a basic classification method, and just the first way of approaching the ever-so complex world of rum. You may need to taste them one by one to get a better idea of each type!
Caribbean rum, dry and fruity
The French-style rum of the French West Indies falls into the category of agricultural rums. It offers a fine and complex flavor, with floral and fruity touches. Created from fresh cane juice, it is a very aromatic rum in which you can detect the rich taste of sugar. Despite this, its taste remains quite dry.
It is mainly produced in Martinique and Guadeloupe, but also in other places such as Haiti or Reunion Island. In total, it represents only about 2% of the world production of rum.
A rum with the AOC label
Some Caribbean rums are the only ones in the world to benefit from a legal framework that regulates their production and their different appellations. Martinique rum is thus the only one to hold the label of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This label specifically regulates the varieties of sugar cane used in the making of rum.
But more than a simple drink that follows production rules, rum is also an integral part of the West Indies culture. Each region has its own rum drinking habits, and rum is even used in traditional recipes, such as the famous rum baba.
It is probably time to book that Caribbean vacation, don’t you think?
The Navy Rum, heavy and spicy
British rum, or “rum”, is a heavier drink. Very aromatic, it harbors strong spicy accents. It is an industrial rum created from molasses and generally goes through two stages of distillation, which gives it an oily consistency.
This type of rum is produced in a large number of islands, such as Barbados and Jamaica, but also specifically in the Demerara region in Guyana and in Belize.
The perfect drink to replace wine and brandy
Rum quickly became popular in England, much more so than in Spain and France, for several reasons.
First of all, it is a drink that the English could finally create on their land. Until then, they were heavy consumers of wine and brandy, which they had to import (at costly prices) from Spain and France, their rival countries. Since then, rum has largely been used in several English households.
Moreover, in the British Empire, rum was long considered a very effective medicine. It was said to be good for the body, and was thought to promote longevity.
Finally, from the mid-17th century to 1970, rum was distributed to mariners daily. That’s why it’s also called Navy Rum.
“Ron”, light and smooth
If you only know one type of rum, it is surely this one!
Spanish style rum is the lightest. Its mild character and less marked aromas often make it the ideal rum for cocktails.
Rums that belong to this category are the most consumed around the world. Firstly, because they are the ones we use the most in cocktails. Secondly, they are easier to drink for novices, because of their slightly sweet taste with hints of caramel, cocoa or coffee.
Made from molasses, “Ron” is produced mainly in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Guyana and other countries in Central and South America.
The mysterious “Solera” Method
These rums generally use a specific aging method called “Solera”. It consists of mixing several rums of different ages to create the final product. This is a mix of old rums, aged for several years, and new rums, recently out of the process of distillation. When talking about this method, the Spaniards explained that the old man has the power to educate the young. There is only one drawback though: it is very difficult to determine the actual age of the final rum created.
Hispanic rum: the “Ron” from Latin America
Rum is present in almost all the former Spanish colonies, representing almost the entire South American continent as well as Central America and some Caribbean islands.
In most of these countries, distilleries that have survived throughout the years produce rum for local consumption only. Therefore, they are not really known worldwide. However, some former Spanish colonies export their rum to several countries of the world. This is the case of the Dominican Republic, whose rum is close to the Cuban style rum.
… And Canary Islands
But rum is also present in a territory that is still part of Spain: The Canary Islands. It is on these islands, especially on the island of Gran Canaria, that the first sugar cane crops were planted outside of Asia. It is one of the only European places where the climate allowed the cultivation of sugar cane. Long before it was imported to the Caribbean and Latin America, the territory of Gran Canaria was already adorned with vast plantations of sugar cane.
Some say that rum was created in The Canary Islands long before it was made in the Caribbean. The most popular traditional Canarian rum is honey rum.
Cuban rum, closely linked to its island of birth
Whenever we think of Cuba, we undeniably think about old cars, Cuban cigars and … Cuban rum. But do you really know Cuban rum?
Cuban rum is divided into three categories: white or colorless rum (the youngest), amber or golden rum, and dark or brown rum (the oldest).
The history of Cuban rum is intrinsically linked to the history of the island.
In the 19th century, the sugar industry in Cuba was the number one sugar industry in the world. That was the time when we witnessed the first major brands of Cuban rum. One of those brands created a new type of rum, lighter and more refined, that other distilleries eventually started to make: it was the “Ron Superior”. The island quickly became one of the biggest producers of rum in the world, behind Guyana and Martinique.
Forcefully exile drums
In 1960, Fidel Castro decided to nationalize distilleries and expel large families. In order to survive, they were forced to continue their rum production outside Cuba.
Today, the debate remains open and ignites enthusiasts: what is true Cuban rum? Should it be the one produced on Cuban soil with sugar cane from the island, or can we use this name for rums that were forced to leave the island but have kept the traditional production techniques?
Some, however, prefer to simply savor their rum and leave that debate in the hands of rum enthusiasts and connoisseurs!