“There is a Rum for everyone, but they don’t know it……yet” -Erik Voskamp
When you think of rum, you probably think of Sailor Jerry or Bacardi. Tropical cocktails in tall glasses with umbrellas and drunk pirates – the usual, right? While rum is a staple for beachcombers and pirates alike, its history and versatility make it so much more than just a bottle of rum (yo ho ho).
So, things you may already know – rum is made from sugarcane juice or molasses. Sugar is left to ferment and then distilled. Aged rum is aged in bourbon barrels, giving it the golden or brown color, although sometimes caramel color is used. There are a ton of different kinds of rum, and with so many options, there really is a rum for everyone. To get you through the history of rum, let’s start at the beginning.
Sugar cane was a part of the spice trade, bringing it back to colonies. Tobacco couldn’t grow, so they ended up planting sugar cane. Columbus introduced sugarcane to the new world (whether he was the first, we won’t ever know… the guy was kind of sketchy). Anyways, it was introduced to the new world and that made rum the first spirit.
The English navy was huge on rum, because they could mix it with lime and not get scurvy. Sailors were given a ration of rum to keep them warm, happy, and healthy on a long boat ride. Not only does rum help with scurvy (okay, that’d be the limes, but whatever) it’s also been said to increase good cholesterol, prevent heart attacks and heart disease, make your bones strong, help fight the common cold, and apparently strengthen your hair. But let’s be honest, those were probably all tricks to get the sailors to ingest their limes. Editors note: Whether these health claims are true or not, when it comes to booze, moderation is key. Using alcohol medicinally is far different than getting hammered off rum and cokes.
If you are reading this and thinking god I hate rum … please do these things for me:
- Find a good cocktail bar in your area.
- Ask for a daiquiri. (This should just be a white rum, lime, and sugar – shaken.)
- Drink that.
- All thank you cards can be sent to my P.O. Box.
Rums By Type
If you look at the types of rum in your liquor store, you’ll probably find three main types; white, dark, and spiced. A majority of it is made in the Caribbean or Latin America, but there are no specific rules about where it has to be made like bourbon or scotch (other than Rhum Agricole that needs to be made in French territories, and Cachaca, which is required to be produced in Brazil). Depending on the region, there are alcohol percentage requirements or stipulations on the methods in production.
Did you know that when labeling the ages on rums, the rules differ? With Jamaican rum, the age on the label is gauged by the youngest in the blend. If it says 5, that means that it could be older, but the youngest in the blend is 5 years. With Guatemalan rum, the age is gauged by the oldest rum in the blend. You could have a bottle that says 23, but some rum mixed in could be younger (for example, Ron Zacapa 23).
White rum is aged for a short amount of time if at all, typically in steel tanks then clarified in a way similar to the process used with vodka using charcoal. It lends itself to a lighter flavor, typically more tropical and a little more citrusy, while darker rums lean into a warm spiciness, full of caramel and stone fruit. When choosing a white rum, I like to pick something that is full-bodied and delicious in cocktails without breaking the bank. Some good options are Cruzan, Mount Gay, Plantation, or El Dorado.
Gold rum is going to be a little softer, with a strong alcohol front and a spicier end. Probably best used in a punch, it adds just a little more depth than a white rum. I’d recommend Appleton Estate, El Dorado 5yr, or Gosling’s.
Dark rum is where I found an unexpected love. I had been burned by the younger years of drinking Sailor Jerry and coke, and regrettably having cream soda and rum as one of my staples in my early drinking days. (Easily the grossest thing, right?) The first time I fell in love with rum was with the likes of Ron Zacapa 23, and Kirk & Sweeney. These two are so tasty with just a little ice, in an Old Fashioned, or in another boozy cocktail. (No juice or soda here, please.)
Spiced rum is similar to dark, best sipped over ice. Bumbu is my pick for a spiced.
- 2 oz white rum (Cruzan)
- .75 oz fresh lime juice
- .75 oz simple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice, and shake. Double strain into a coupe and enjoy! To mix things up, you can add muddled fresh fruit, but the classic is hard to beat.
- 2 oz Cachaca
- 2 demerara sugar cubes
- 3 limes, cut into 8ths
Muddle limes and sugar in a double old fashioned glass. Add Cachaca, and stir.
- 1.5 oz El Dorado 5 yr rum
- .50 oz Smith & Cross
- .50 oz lime juice
- .50 oz POM pomegranate juice
- .50 oz Simple Syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker, add ice and shake. Double strain into a coupe.
I’ve also published a few rum drink recipes on this site in the past: Common Enemy and Little Prince. If you’re looking for something specifically holiday themed, how about an eggnog inspired by the cocktail our very first president used to serve?
So, what have we learned? Rum will help you keep your heart and bones healthy, while also fighting off illness and the ever present yellow fever! Not to mention, you can utilize it to explore the tropical side of your personality or your pirate side.
About the Author: Ashley R. is Bartender at The Wylder in Boise, Idaho. She’s known for challenging traditional expectations regarding what a cocktail should be, and having an intuitive understanding of the way flavors interact.