Rum’s experiencing the biggest revival since pirates kept parrots. Stats show consistently rapid growth over the last few years, and Rum overtook Vodka as the most popular spirit in the UK in 2013. According to the WSTA (Wine and Spirit Trade Association) Rum was the spirit of choice last summer with quarterly sales up +8% and sales of flavoured and Spiced Rums rocketing by +34%.
Rum is basically the taste of the Caribbean, and cocktails would not have existed in the same way without it, starting with the Tiki bars of the 1930s. And can you imagine the navy, merchant navy or pirates without thinking of rum? They may have drunk rough stuff generally but high quality Rum was still coveted from the time of the first rum distillations in the 1600s.
The water-powered River Antoine Rum distillery in Grenada, image courtesy of the Married To Adventure blog
It can be made with sugar cane, sugar or molasses (a by-product from sugar production), which is fermented then distilled, either in copper pot stills for high end and artisan Rums, or in continuous or column stills for larger scale industrial Rums. Incidentally, the column still wasn't invented until 1822, so all the early Rums were made in small batches using pot stills.
Rum comes in a huge range of styles, colours and tastes depending on what it’s made from and how it’s matured. There are Dark Rums, Spiced Rums, Golden Rums, Aged Rums, Vintage Rums, White Rums and - a woefully under-explored category in the UK - Agricole Rums, which themselves come in a range of ages and styles. Rum can also be classified as intended for mixing or sipping.
Dark Rum is usually made from caramelised sugar (demerara) or molasses. They are generally aged for several years, often in heavily charred barrels, giving them much stronger flavors than either Light or Gold Rums, with lots of flavours of spices, strong molasses and caramel.
These gain their caramel color from ageing in wooden barrels - often the charred, white oak barrels previously used for ageing Bourbon Whiskey. They have more complex flavours than Light Rum, but are lighter in colour, body and flavour than Dark Rum. Cheap Golden Rum is made with cheap White Rum mixed with caramel.
Spiced Rum's flavors and colour somes from the addition of spices and occasionally caramel. Typical spices include cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.
White Rums are often aged in wooden barrels to mellow them, then filtered to remove any colour. Some are aged for around three months in stainless steel vats. Others are bottled straight from the still.
Agricole Rums are ripe for explosion in the UK. These are made with fresh sugar cane in the French Caribbean (Martinique and Guadeloupe), and they have protected geographic status with AOC certification. The difference between a White Agricole Rum and a Standard White Rum made with molasses is astonishing. An agricole rum like HSE or Trois Rivières will smell of fragrant sugar cane juice and can be enjoyed neat (perhaps with ice and a squeeze of fresh lime), whereas the standard one is more like a Vodka. This means the Agricole Rums make far superior cocktails.
High quality Sipping Rums have been increasing in popularity and this trend is set to continue, with Rum amateurs and connoisseurs exploring aged, premium Rums. Sipping rum is usually given a lengthy ageing, making it smooth and …sippable, with complex flavours coming from the spirit infusing with the wood and mellowing with age. Sipping Rum prices range from about £30 (e.g. Angostura 1919) to around £150, but as with most spirits, the most high-end Rums can cost £100s and rare Vintage Rums fetch £1,000s.
Sipping, Dark and Spiced Rums are all great with chocolate - slurp some while munching your Easter eggs
Cocktail experimentation shows no sign of slowing down, and Rum is a staple cocktail ingredient. From simple Mojitos made with standard or premium White Rum, to complicated concoctions making use of more unusual Rums - often including more than one type at once - Rum will continue to play a crucial role in the cocktail world.
Mai Tai, Mojito, Dark ’n Stormy, Piña Colada, Zombie, Daiquiri, Long Island ice tea… There are dozens of classic Rum cocktails in a huge variety of styles, as well as countless lesser-known ones and new ones being invented all the time. Try premium Rums in short, simple cocktails like Daiquiris to showcase the spirit itself. Rum is also famously perfect for punches and for making large quantities of pre-batched cocktails.
Dark rum suits hot cocktails beautifully (Hot Toddies, Hot Buttered Rum, ‘Caribbean coffee’, added to hot chocolate) and is great simply with lemonade over ice - some might prefer this to the usual combo of Dark Rum with cola.
Want to explore Rums? Sign up for a Rum tasting evening, hosted by an expert, or go to bars that specialise in Rum. That way you'll be able to taste lots of Rums without buying all the bottles, so you can find out which ones you do want to invest in for your home bar.