Rum is obtained from a skilled creation process divided into several stages.
The first step is to extract the raw material from the sugar cane. Here, two methods are used, and they yield two major categories of rums. On one hand, we have “industrial” rum made from molasses, a viscous liquid obtained when refining sugar. On the other hand, we have “agricultural” rum which is made from the juice of cane, the “vesou”, obtained by grinding the sugar cane plant.
Fermentation, distillation and aging
The second stage is fermentation. During that stage, the raw substrate is converted into alcohol by adding yeasts. This is when the future rum gets the characteristics that will give it its identity.
The fermented liquid is then moved to the third stage, distillation. When the substrate is heated, water is separated from alcohol and the aromatic components it contains.
Rum thus obtained generally has an alcoholic content around 70°. Before being sold, it must be diluted with water to bring it back to around 40°.
However, some rums go through the dilution process right away, while others first go through an aging phase that can last several years. You know, just to test your patience, especially if you’re a big drinker!
Sugar cane: growing a plant with multiple treasures
Native to Asia, sugar cane is now grown in many parts of the world. With an annual production around 2 billion tons, it is perhaps the most cultivated plant in the world. It is mostly found in the Caribbean and South America, with Brazil being the world’s largest producer.
The plant that loves sun as much as rain
Europe has very few sugar cane plantations, as few places are suitable for its cultivation and growth. Several conditions must indeed be met in order to grow this bamboo-like plant. First of all, sugar cane requires a tropical climate: a balance between a lot of water and a lot of sun. It also needs an airy soil allowing its roots to sink deeply.
Although the taste of the cane depends on where it grew, climate fluctuations do not affect the quality of the rum. At most, the plant will contain more sugar if it has grown under a very sunny sky, and less if it has experienced a lot of rain.
It takes almost a year of growth before the plant can reach full maturity. The harvest of sugar cane intended to produce rum takes place between January and July.
And that’s when we can finally extract all its riches!
Rum aging, an optional phase, yet full of flavors
Why leave rum in barrels for several years instead of tasting it right away?
Rum aging is not obligatory, but this step is often where the magic happens. In fact, this is when rum gains its richest aromas.
The possibilities of aging are many, even unlimited: for a few years or a decade, on land or under the sea, hot or cold … Each environmental condition offers a specific aroma. The aging process is regulated by just a few laws, and almost everything depends on the degree of knowledge and creativity of the rum manufacturer.
There is, however, something common to most rums: they are usually aged in oak barrels from the United States, which were first used to age whiskey. This habit dates back to the middle of the 20th century. Since then, whiskey producers have been forced to change barrels for each production. Rum producers quickly seized the opportunity to buy second-hand barrels at low prices. Such barrels give rum lightly sweet flavors, with a pinch of caramel and vanilla.
Although aging is beneficial to rum, it has its downside: some of the rum, sometimes up to 10% of the annual volume, evaporates during the process. It is called the “angels share”.
Everyone deserves his share of rum, right?