Rum, what is it?

So what is rum?

Well according to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia (and I quote);

“Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels”

Easy then, right? No.

So it’s made from sugarcane, but it can be made anywhere in the world and there are (on the whole) no rules governing how it has to be produced, aged, coloured, flavoured (sugar can be added as well as “other flavourings”). Some countries have their own rules (round of applause), but many do not. It’s also categorised in lots of different ways, from colour to region of production, and it’s inconsistent. Basically, it’s a pain in the arse for the consumer, most have no idea what they are buying.


Most places (supermarkets, online stores) categorise rum by it’s colour. It’s either Dark, Gold or White. Well, producers are allowed to add natural caramel food colouring (E150a) to rum – more on that later too – so colour is pretty much an irrelevant descriptor and classifier. Dark rum can be the same as White rum but with loads more E150a added, in fact white rum often isn’t clear at all during maturation and has the colour filtered out for bottling.

Terms like “Navy style”, “Overproof” and “Anejo” are often used. What style? What makes it “Navy”, isn’t “Overproof” just anything over 40% abv? Anejo (aged), for how long? Forget it.

The easiest to grasp classification I’ve seen so far is grouping by regional styles, based on where the rum was produced. Similar to the way Scotch is classified (lowland, Speyside, Islay etc). The issue with this is that grades of rum are also produced in each region. The 2 main grades (as I see it) are:

  • Mixing – Often “white” or younger darker rums and designed to be put with mixers in cocktails etc.
  • Sipping – usually aged (for a decent time, maybe 8 years plus), or put into a Solera and designed to be drunk either neat or over ice.

I don’t drink cocktails so it’s very unlikely I’ll be reviewing any mixing rums. Almost all of what I review will be “sipping” rums (I hate that term).

Right, sipping rums based on regional styles, here we go:

Other classifications of interest:

There are various other classifications of rum out there and at the moment one of the best aims to remove country of origin or colour as the main classifier and focus on method of production instead. This is a classification that has been widely embraced by the rum-loving geeks out there and has been call the Gargano Classification (after Luca Gargano of Velier fame), which was put forward in conjunction with Richard Seale of Foursquare in Barbados. These guys know there rums, so who better than to come up with a new method. This is how it breaks down:

  • Pure Single Rum – 100% pot still from one distillery, molasses base.
  • Pure Single Agricole rum – 100% pot still from one distillery, cane juice based.
  • Single Blended Rum – Pot and column from the same distillery.
  • Traditional Rum – Single or artisan column.
  • Agricole Rum – Single or artisan column, cane juice based.
  • Rum – Multicolumn over 95% abv.

Of course, these classifiers can be added with country of origin to give a more detailed description, for example “Jamaica Pure Single Rum” – you know you’re getting a Jamaican pot still rum from molasses, which will probably blow your head off.

Rum. Done.