Part 1 of a 4 part series on Rum.
What Is Rum Made From? Production, Styles & Characteristics!
Let me be the first to say, rum is going to be the next whiskey! Ok, maybe I'm not the first to say that. But I've been saying it a lot lately and plan to continue to say it a lot more. If your last impression of rum was spring break piña coladas, daiquiris or hurricanes then you have some catching up to do, friend! The rums that craft distillers are making today are super high quality and extremely sipable straight. Trust me on this…have I ever steered you wrong? So let's get smart on rum in this first of 3 articles on rum to come…
Rum by Definition
First things first – what is rum made from? It is any alcohol made from 100% cane product distilled under 95% alcohol by volume (ABV) and bottled at 40% ABV or higher. So that means raw cane juice, white or brown cane sugar, evaporated cane sugar, cane syrup, cane molasses, panela, etc… The tricky thing about sugar cane though, is that it degrades almost as soon as you harvest it. Meaning that the natural sugars start to ferment and the natural bacteria and enzymes start to degrade what ever is left. In 24 hours you lose up to 3% of the sucrose alone. So unless your distillery is right smack on a sugar cane plantation you're not likely to be using fresh cane juice for your distillation base. Stay tuned for our article on rum types to learn more about that though!
To be clear beet sugar does NOT count as cane sugar. So, spirits made from this would not technically be considered rum even though sugar can be made from beets. Just wanted to make sure we were clear on that since there's often confusion!
How Rum Is Made
When it comes to this up and coming spirit, the standard distillation approaches apply but you're simply starting with a sugar cane related feedstock. Unlike grains the sugar is already readily available for distillation so there's no need to use enzymes to break down the sugars. Just put the molasses or evaporated cane juice into the still and get distilling! With rum, though, you want to preserve the complexity of the flavor profile whereas with things like vodka or gin you may want to make as clean of a distillate as possible. So this often means using fewer plates in your still when distilling rum so that you don't distill all that flavor out along the way.
When we were making rum at New Deal Distillery for part of a workshop, for example, we started distilling with 4 plates open…taking cuts and tasting the resulting heads, hearts and tails every 15 minutes as you can see below. As we got to the heart cuts, however, we all felt it was drinking a bit too clean. It almost tasted like vodka…neutral. So we scaled it back to only 2 plates being open. Why? Well, the more plates you have running the more impurities are getting taken out and the closer to pure ethanol alcohol you are getting. Now, while impurities may soundbad they also contribute a lot of complexity and flavor so this is the fine art of distillation…how much impurity do you want to keep in to enhance the flavor while also creating a deliciously clean, drinkable beverage?
Time to Get Sipping…
This, my friends, is the beauty of rum. Straight off the still, if distilled artfully, it can be pretty damn complex and sipable. One that I've had recently that fits this classification perfectly is Bayou Silver Rum. When I talk of rum being the next whiskey, honestly, even I'm thinking of aged rums…but this silver one? Holy hell it's an amazing sipping rum. It's creamy with hints of vanilla and maybe even ever-so-slight banana. And for a clear spirit it has a pretty long finish, which means you're still enjoying it for a minute or two after you last sip. In terms of the aged stuff…well stay tuned for our article on rum styles. We'll be giving some suggestions as well as diving deep on the different styles to explore as you embark on your rum journey!
Next up? We're going to be diving deep into the history of rum…and wow is it a pretty amazing history. Rum is believed to have been first used for fermented drinks as early as 350 BC in India. Honestly it was a key component to the first era of globalization even. Slavery, trade routes, colonialism…this delicious drink that has gone awry over the years has a complicated past. And understanding the history helps you better make sense of the ebbs and flows of rum's popularity and appreciate the craft revolution that is taking hold today.
Tell Us Your Thoughts On Rum!
What's your current perception of rum? Is it something you'd consider sipping like a whiskey? Why or why not? Help us understand where we're starting from so we can get myth busting and help grow this great category of spirits! And, of course, if you have craft rums you like send them our way so we can check them out ourselves…