Rum is the distillation of either fermented sugar cane juice or a sugar byproduct (usually molasses). Rum as we know it today originates from the 17th century in the Caribbean Islands, but there are records from 14th-century India that refer to distilled sugar wine. The name likely comes from the British slang word rumbullion, which means “tumult” but also commonly referred to the spirit.
The first rums were made from molasses. For a time this was considered industrial waste in the production of crystalized sugar, but it wasn’t long until someone discovered the molasses could be fermented and distilled. The new spirit quickly became popular and was a major part of New World and Old World economies. The first colonial rum distillery was started on Staten Island in 1664, and rum was the drink of choice in the United States until whiskey began to dominate in the 19th century. The British Navy provided a daily rum ration to its sailors until 1970, and New Zealand didn’t end their rum ration until 1990.
There are no international standards of classification for types of rum but, in general, they can be sorted into categories.
- Light, or silver, rums have mild flavor, are generally clear, and are most commonly used in mixed drinks.
- Gold rums have an amber color imparted with the casks they are aged in, and have more flavor.
- Dark rums are aged even longer and have a strong flavor. Dark rum is the rum most commonly cooked with.
- Spiced rums have additional spices added to them, like cinnamon or vanilla.
- Overproof rums have high alcohol contents. These are almost always used in mixed drinks.
- Flavored rums are infused with fruit flavors such as banana or coconut.
Rums can also be divided into geographical categories based on the language spoken in the country that produces it. Loosely speaking, English-speaking countries tend to produce darker rums, French-speaking countries tend to use sugar cane juice instead of molasses, and Spanish-speaking countries tend to produce smoother, aged rums. Brazil produces a special type of rum known as cachaça made exclusively from cane juice.
- Don’t be afraid to spice your own rum. Consider the types of flavors you enjoy and add them to your rum. You can add fruit, like pineapple or banana, or spices, like vanilla or cinnamon. Once you have your ingredients, add them to the rum and let it sit for a few weeks. Taste it occasionally until you get a flavor you like and then filter out the spices and put it back in a bottle.
- Compared to bourbon or whiskey, rums are inexpensive. If you want something nice that you can sip on, you won’t have to pay too much extra to get the good stuff. If you do spend a bit extra for the nice bottle, make sure to drink your rum at room temperature because it wasn’t made to be drunk chilled.
- If you’re going to be using rum as a mixer, consider what you want to make before you buy the rum. Most rum mixed drinks are made with light rum because the sugar flavor is so light. Rum and Coke is typically made with a gold or spiced rum because the additional flavors of aging or spicing complement the Coca-Cola. If you fancy a flavored daiquiri, consider a rum in a matching or complementary flavor.
The world’s best-selling rum is a brand you likely haven’t heard of. McDowell’s No. 1 Celebration has been the market leader for the past few years, taking the number one spot in 2014. You’re not likely to find it in your local liquor store since it’s manufactured in India, but you can find it online.
The biggest rum on this side of the world is undoubtedly Bacardi. It is the largest privately owned spirits company in the world and has been around since 1862. Their signature rum is Bacardi Superior and it is perhaps the most famous light rum in the world. They also offer a line of aged and flavored rums.
Appleton Estate has the distinction of making the oldest barrel-aged rum in the world, at 50 years. When I said rum was relatively cheap earlier, it didn’t apply to this rum – which can cost over $3,000 per bottle. Thankfully, the Jamaican distillery has a full range of rums that come in at a much lower price point.
The Flor de Caña brand is based out of Nicaragua and is one of the most prize-winning rums in the last 15 years. Their oldest rum is 25 years old and will run you over $150, but their other offerings can be had for less than $20. This brand is well respected in Latin America.
Cuba Libre has one of the largest selections of rum in the District – with over 90 bottles – as well as an extensive rum-inspired drink menu. Whether you’re looking for rum drinks, cachaça drinks, or even pisco, Cuba Libre has you covered.
Archipelago is a tiki-themed restaurant on U St. with a large selection of rum drinks as well as a great happy-hour menu that features the classic piña colada as well as a drink featuring rhum agricole. The sliders sound delicious, too.
Paladar Latin Kitchen has locations in Rockville and Tyson’s Corner and they have a very broad selection of rums to choose from. Whether you want the fancy stuff or you just want your Captain Morgan’s Spiced, they have you covered. They have a large selection of traditional and original cocktails as well.
Daiquiri – This is essentially a rum sour. Just mix light rum, lime juice, and sugar.
Hurricane – A staple of Mardi Gras and New Orleans. The original recipe was dark rum, passion fruit juice, and lemon juice.
Mai Tai – Make this tiki drink with dark rum, orange liqueur, Orgeat syrup, and lime juice.
Mojito – These are great for the summer. Muddle sugar and mint leaves, then mix with light rum and sugar.
Cuba Libre – Mix dark or spiced rum with cola over ice. Simple is almost always better.
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