In 1493, Spanish and Portuguese explorers discovered the Caribbean had an ideal climate for growing sugar cane. The high demand for sugar in Europe led to the creation of hundreds of new sugar plantations and mills across the Caribbean islands. Sugar mill workers noticed that molasses mixed with water fermented when left in the sun. At the time, this molasses was considered a waste, but by the 1650s, it was being distilled into a spirit. Sugar plantation owners sold the rum to naval ships, at discounted prices, to encourage their presence in local waters, which would also discourage the presence of pirates. The Navy introduced rum to the outside world, and by the late 17th century, a thriving trade developed.
Sugar cane is a member of the grass family and its origin stems from South and South East Asia. Even though it was originally from countries like Papua New Guinea, this plant is grown is tropical climates all over the world. Harvested sugar cane stalks are transported to a sugar mill where the hard stems are crushed to extract the sweet cane juice. This juice is then boiled down to make molasses.
In order to initiate the fermentation process, molasses from the sugar canes is combined with water and yeast. This causes the sugars in the liquid to be transformed into alcohol. The resulting fermented ‘wine’ contains only about 10% alcohol by volume, though this may vary from as little as 3% ABV to as much as 12% or more ABV.
To concentrate the alcohol in the sugar cane ‘wine’, it’s boiled in distillation towers. The earliest stills resembled a tea kettle with a long spout and were only capable of distilling a few liters at a time. Modern continuous stills are vertical columns about 10 meters high and are capable of distilling as much as 20,000 liters per day.
AGING & BOTTLING
Immediately after distillation, the raw rum is diluted with water. It is then stored in charred oak barrels, and aged for 1-30 years, making many flavor and variations of this rum. The barrels’ charred wood produces a chemical that gives the rum colour, flavor and aroma while it’s being aged. The longer the rum is stored in the barrel, the more intense the flavor will be. Once the aging process is complete, the high quality rum is bottled and shipped to customers all over the world.
Virtually every country has their own rum (even India), but 80% of the world’s rum is produced in the Caribbean. Nearly every island in the Caribbean produces its own distinct rum style.
Rum tends to add a little sweetness and spice to dishes, so it is really versatile in the kitchen. Use it to marinate meats, glaze jerk chicken, add depth to jambalayas, or in sweet desserts and ice cream.
This rum has no colour and a light flavor. It is filtered multiple times to remove any impurities and is not aged very long. This is the most common rum used in a Mojito.
This rum has been aged in wooden casks for some period of time which gives the spirit its signature colour and sweeter, richer flavor.
This rum has been aged the longest of any type of rum. The extended times it spends in wooden casks gives it a dark colour and deep smoky sweet flavor. It is the iconic Spirit in a Dark & Stormy and is also used in many tiki drinks.
This rum is typically aged for the same length of time as dark rum. Spices (i.e. cinnamon, ginger, cloves, etc.) and caramel colourings are added to give the rum a signature sweet spiced taste. A brand you may be familiar with is Captain Morgan.