When you think of rum, you feel the warmth on your face, you hear the gentle lapping of the waves and the palm trees rustling on the Caribbean breeze. Sorry, it’s been a while since the last holiday! The rich history of rum spans the Caribbean islands in a culture as intoxicating as the drink itself. From the cocktail-friendly white rum through to the mellow golden examples and molasses-rich navy bottlings, no other drink includes such a spectrum of colours, flavours and exotic spirit.
You’ve most likely come across rum as a clear spirit added to coke or as part of the concoction known as a Mojito cocktail but there is much more to this drink than meets the eye. What is rum’s true identity and can it be pinned down? Possibly not, as each country in the Caribbean and each distillery has its own story to tell and it’s own personal version of this most Caribbean of all the spirits. For your own taste of the islands, think about Planning a trip to the Caribbean and visit http://lostwaldo.com/.
During the colonial times, the wonder of sugar was discovered and the rise of rum is forever linked to the boom in sugar production under colonial rule. After the useful parts of the sugar cane had been used up, the rich molasses left over were, when distilled into a spirit, a handy little sideline to make some extra money.
Making rum is a pretty simple process but it’s the fine details that make for so many different varieties. First the molasses is added to water and yeast, then fermented and distilled. The differences arise from what yeast is used, how long it is fermented for and if a column or pot still is used. How long it is matured for and what kind of barrel it is stored in will also affect the taste. This is where regional variations occur across the islands.
It could be said that the style of a rum has some link to the history of the place where they are made. English-speaking islands, colonised by England tend to produce richer and darker rums, including the heavy Navy rums. Those islands with a Spanish influence tend to make rum with a smoother taste. Areas colonised by the French make something called rhum agricole. This is quite a different style of the drink, developed in the French Caribbean and Indian Ocean colonies like Martinique and Haiti. It is made not from molasses but from sugar cane juice. They are characterised by being strong and pungent but improve significantly with age.
However, it’s not as straightforward as that because even within an island, there will be regional variations depending on the style used by each individual distillery. As a general rule of thumb though, for example, a rum that is velvety in texture, try one from Barbados. For a more intense flavour and spiciness, head for Jamaican rum.
- Bacardi was produced in Cuba from its birth in 1862 until Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. Most of its rum is now made in Puerto Rico, but the Bacardi Building, topped by its distinctive ‘bat’ sculpture still remains one of the finest art deco structures in Havana, the capital.
- Cuba’s Havana Club is produced only about 100 miles from US territory but due to a trade embargo you can’t buy it there.
- Zacapa is made using the first pressing of sugar cane juice and is then matured at an altitude of 2,300m above sea level in Guatemala.