What is Rum?
Rum is a spirit wrought with history and is featured in various genres of lore. Simply looking at a shelf laden with rum, you can see that there are many types of rum spanning from clear to dark brown. However, each of those bottles contains some byproduct of sugarcane: sugarcane juice, sugar cane syrup, or molasses in most cases. A jaded past has given rum a bit of a party drink stereotype, yet it is found in many classy cocktails and is even being enjoyed “neat”. Throughout this guide, we will explore how rum is made, a bit of history, and discuss what drives the cost of rums from budget to premium offerings.
Most rum has its roots in the Caribbean and Latin American countries, however, has come to be produced all over the world. Rum is made from several sugarcane byproducts but is most often produced using molasses. While island nations like Jamaica are most often brought to mind when discussing rum, most of the molasses are imported from Brazil.
The addition of yeast and water to whichever sugarcane product is used starts the vital process of fermentation. The yeast does more than simply facilitate fermentation in rum, as it determines how long the process takes and even impacts the taste of the final product.
Rum is distilled in either pot or column stills and laid to rest in barrels - often old bourbon barrels but other woods and steel are also used. Rum ages quickly because of the climate in the areas it is typically produced. Rum aged in Jamaica will mature faster than one produced or aged in the UK, for example.
What Grade does Your Rum Get?
Rum is put in categories based on an array of factors. The verbiage can vary based on where the rum is produced, yet these seven terms are used globally.
- 1Dark Rum: Dark rum can also be called by its specific color like brown, black, or even red. Dark rum gets its color both from its base ingredient (molasses) and the time it spends in heavily charred barrels to age. The time in the barrel typically leads to a strong flavor. The interaction with wood often gives a dark rum a spiced flavor and the taste of molasses is noticeably present.
- 2Gold Rum: Gold rums are considered the middle of the road when it comes to body and flavor. The gold color is picked up from the time the rum spends in oak barrels, often old bourbon barrels. Some regions call gold rums by a different name: amber rum.
- 3Light Rum: Popularly produced in Puerto Rico and well represented by major rum producer Bacardi, light rum is generally tasteless outside of a hint of sugar. Also known as silver or white rum, light rum is often filtered to remove any trace of coloring from resting barrels.
- 4Spiced Rum: The addition of spices like cinnamon or cloves gives this rum group its name. Often dark in color, these rums are essentially spice-flavored gold rums.
- 5Overproof Rum: Made popular Bacardi with its Bacardi 151 offering, overproof rum is a strong version of the original. On average room is 80 proof or 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). Overproof rums run in the range of 150 to 160 proof range - pushing the limits to 80% ABV. Most bartenders utilize this type of rum to make strong mixed drinks and cocktails.
- 6Flavored Rum: Flavored spirits like vodka have taken the spirits landscape by storm. Rum is also a popular flavored alcohol, offering everything from fruit flavors to abstract tastes like bubblegum. Flavored rum is made the same way as other rum but has chemicals added after distillation to simulate food tastes.
- 7Premium Rum: This category features rums that are best enjoyed neat, rather than being diluted into a cocktail. Often made by smaller producers, these rums are typically considered “top shelf”.
Is Rum a Really a Pirate’s Drink?
Rum has played a role in a variety of historical periods. Its presence in the Caribbean led it to be a spirit sought after by those traversing the region. It just so happened that the pirates and various navies spent a lot of time passing through, collecting rums and rum drinks along the way.
Pirates typically enjoyed a drink containing rum called Bumbo, consisting of rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg. The Royal Navy instituted a policy of sailors drinking rum and water, calling the mixture grog. The rum was added to make the often stagnant water palatable. Thus, rum became the drink of seafarers and was widely seen in literature and film when referencing the past times of this population.
Rum Standardization or the Lack Thereof
Rum is lacking many of the global qualifications or standards that most spirits have. Therefore, it is hard to pin down a set of rules regarding what makes rum. Some regions have adopted laws primarily focused on the ABV or proof requirements of rum, while others enforce laws regarding aging. Some examples:
Rum Brands Information
Trinidad and Tobago
Virgin Islands (U.S.)
Virgin Islands (U.S.)
Trinidad and Tobago
Blue Chair Bay
Missouri, United States
Louisiana, United States
Rum Pricing Drivers
The chart above shows that rums prices are broken into three categories: budget, standard, and premium. Rum prices range from $11 all the way up to $30 in our selection. What is it that makes one rum $19 more expensive than another? There are several factors that can impact the price of rum.
Like many spirits, aging plays a major role in the cost of rum. There are multiple factors involved in aging that can drive the cost of a rum. The barrels alone can be a costly investment for rum makers. A well-reported shortage of barrels has taken its toll on the spirits industry from bourbon makers all the way down to rum distilleries. A lot of dark rum is aged in old bourbon barrels and the shortage has an impact on costs over time.
Aging obviously requires time. As the saying goes, “Time is money.” Rums that are aged for extensive periods are often more costly than those that rest for just a short length of time. Fortunately for rum makers, rum is often aged in climates that expedite the aging process. However, there is a downside to aging rum in the tropics: the angels’ share.
The Angels’ Share
As part of the aging process, specifically in wooden barrels, rum makers often lose product to the natural process known as evaporation. The portion in the barrel that evaporates is fondly known as the angels’ share. While it has a pleasant moniker, the angels’ share can be costly to those producing rum in tropical climates. Rum aged in oak or wooden barrels in warm climates can lose up to 10% of the product to the angels’ share. These losses could drive the overall cost of rum on the market.
While all rum is based on some form of sugarcane by-product, not all ingredients are of the same quality. Some sugarcane is mass produced while others are made for specific rum distillers. The quality and rarity of ingredients are often major drivers of the cost of rum.
Unfortunately, we are often driven to purchase a product based on interesting bottles or beautiful labels. Marketing plays a major role in the cost of rum. Some rum is known for its accessibility and lower price point, like Bacardi, and is marketed as such. Others like to hold their rum to a higher prestige and market it up to a higher price point, like Mount Gay. In many cases, a well-known name brand may be priced higher than a less popular, similar quality rum.
While we have broken down rum into three categories, there are popular offerings from each of the budget, standard, and premium sections.
Bacardi and Captain Morgan are popular brands from the budget category that are found in bars across the world. Both are frequently utilized in rum-based cocktails and while less expensive than other options, are quite popular globally. In addition to standard offerings, Bacardi offers 10 fruit flavors including several citrus options.
Captain Morgan has recently released a new line of cannon ball-shaped bottles, featuring unusual flavors like watermelon and apple. Many associate the Captain with its line of spiced rums.
Mount Gay and RumChata are two popular selections amongst the group of rums in the standard category. Mount Gay fancies itself as one of the original rums produced in Barbados. With over 300 years of rum making experience, Mount Gay is popular amongst those that prefer to drink their rum in its most simplistic fashion: neat.
RumChata is an interesting product as it is actually a cream liqueur. With a base of Caribbean rum, RumChata also consists of cream and a secret mix of spices. While it can be enjoyed on its own, RumChata is often mixed with other spirits or used in creamy cocktails.
As with any type of spirit, the premium options are often enjoyed neat. Bumbu is a craft rum distillery based in Barbados, the self-proclaimed origin of rum. Bumbu is the quintessential premium rum, featuring an extremely ornate bottle and decorated with multiple awards from international spirits competitions. Bumbu touts hand-selected ingredients and pure, naturally filtered water is what separates it from lesser rum brands. Bumbu is a premium rum and implores its consumers to drink it neat or on the rocks.
Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum
Rum could quite possibly be one of the most popular spirits in film, given its appearance in virtually every maritime scene depicting the 1700s. While rum has humble roots as the drink of pirates and naval seafarers, it has become one of the most popular spirits on the market.
From cheap to expensive, rum has its sugarcane in common. What happens after the sugarcane is harvested makes all the difference in the taste, color, and cost of rum.