For anyone interested in learning more about the history, type, and production of rum, this liquor has a rich history. Created by fermenting and distilling sugarcane juice or sugarcane molasses, most rums are produced in sugar-producing countries.
Rum is produced in various grades, giving it a wide range of flavors and uses.
Rum plays a part in the culture of many areas such as the West Indies. It also has famous associations with the Royal Navy and piracy.
It has even played a role in economic exchange, using to fund enterprises such as organized crime and even military insurgencies. Rum has a rich history and story.
History of Rum
Since rum is created from sugarcane, it may be helpful to understand sugarcane production first. Alexander the Great discovered sugarcane during his expeditions through Asia and Africa. However, the Persians and Arabs perfected sugar refining in the 7th century as they studied its use and benefits. During the 11th-12th centuries, the Arabs introduced sugar to the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Although most sugarcane production took place in Arab territories, the Portuguese discovered the Madeira and Canary Islands in the 15the century. They found that sugarcane grew well in these areas and could produce sugar without Arab control of the process. The Portuguese enslaved Africans as the labor force and set up sugarcane plantations. By the 1500s, Madeira became the largest sugar exporter.
Rum originated in the West indies and is first mentioned in records obtained from Barbados in the mid-17th century. This drink was first referred to as “kill-devil” or “rumbullion.” However, by 1667, the name was shortened to simply being called rum. Created from molasses, the syrupy byproduct from making sugar, enslaved people working on plantations may have developed the rum-making produces. By fermenting molasses, poor whites and slaves could enjoy this beverage. At some point, someone distilled the fermented molasses, creating rum.
In the 1700s, rum was the trending spirit. American colonists loved this drink. Distilling their own, Americans produced almost five million gallons along the East Coast. During this time, the British Royal Navy actually received a rum ration. When the British government passed the Sugar Act of 1764, this forbade the colonies from importing rum but still continued to smuggle it into the country.
Although its popularity has varied over the years, rum continues to be an enjoyed drink today. Common in cocktails as well as enjoyed neat, much of the rum sold today is still made in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, and the Bahamas.
Varieties of Rum
There are several different types of rum. With varying styles of fermentation, distillation, blending, and aging, there are almost an untold number of ways that rum can be produced. However, to get a better idea of the different style distinctions, these are a few of the broader categories to classify rum.
1. White or Clear Rum
This type of rum is clear and has a mild flavor. Often used in cocktails that don’t need a bold flavor, they’re typically 80 proof and aged for a year. The producers filter them to remove color. They’re typically less expensive to make and purchase than rums that require additional maturing time.
2. Gold or Pale Rum
Rum is aged in barrels over time and develops an amber hue. This type of lighter rum has a more flavorful profile. It’s often used in cocktails where a stronger flavor is desired. A pale rum is aged several years and often has subtle flavors of almond, caramel, coconut, and vanilla that develop over time. As a medium-bodied rum, they can be used in cocktails or neat. Often popular in desserts, a gold rum is a fairly affordable option.
3. Dark Rum
While this term is not very specific, it’s often used to separate this type of rum from the lighter varieties. Darker rums are often aged in oak barrels for a longer period of time, giving them a richer flavor profile. They have a robust flavor and can be enjoyed neat or in cocktail recipes as well.
4. Black Rum
As the richest and darkest, this rum is often referred to as black rum. It offers a bold tropical essence to recipes and drinks. The black rum is made from molasses and it retains much of the rich molasses and caramel flavoring. Often used in baking and candy-making, you’ll enjoy a bold and sweet/spicy flavor with its use. The barrels used to mature black rums are often charred to give the wood’s strong flavor to the rum.
5. Spiced Rum
Spiced and flavored rums offer unique flavors to this signature drink. The spices added to the rum are often derived from ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and even clove. Fruit extracts may also be added to flavored rum varieties. One type of rum that falls into this category are rum creams. They combine the flavor of rum with a dairy texture to create a dessert drink. The flavor profiles of rum can vary widely with a huge number of options.
How to Make Rum
It is possible to make your own rum. To go through the process, this detailed tutorial will explain how to make your own rum. Some of these ingredients you may need to purchase but it’s well worth investing in high quality tools.
Of course, there’s many different ways to make rum. Many different recipes, and many different ingredients you can add.
In this guide we’re going to keep it simple, but provide some links to more advanced tutorials later on 😊
- 1 Gallon Molasses
- 8 pounds’ raw cane sugar
- Large brew pot
- Heat-proof thermometer
- Long heat-proof mixing spoon
- Distillers yeast
- Fermentation bucket
- Study pot still- preferrably stainless steel
- Easy siphon
- Still burner
- Mason jars
- Measure 5.5 gallons of water in the brew pot on a stove. Heat the water to 125 degrees. It should be boiling
- Slowly add the raw cane sugar and molasses until the mixture is thoroughly combined. This will take a fair amount of time so don’t rush the process
- Once the molasses and sugar are dissolved and combined, add the additional gallon of water to reduce the temperature. Turn off the heat.
- Keep the thermometer in place to check the temperature as it slowly cools. Continue stirring as it cools until you reach 80 degrees F
Ferment the Wash
This is the part of the process that you’ll use to start producing alcohol. Fermentation uses yeast to convert the sugar to alcohol. This is one of the more challenging parts of the process but its essential to get the rum end result.
- Once the rum wash reaches 80 degrees F, add the yeast. Standard Distillers Yeast can be used although some distillers prefer Rum Turbo Yeast. Even beer yeast or bakers yeasts are used to bring through different flavors – so we’ll leave up to you to experiment with!
- To oxygenate the wash, aerate the mixture by pouring it into another container for about five minutes. An immersion blender can also be used to generate air in the wash
- Pour the mixture into your fermentation bucket. Most commercial fermentation buckets have a cap and air-lock as well as spigots for pouring
- Seal the fermentation bucket completely and store in a dark, well-ventilated area for two weeks.
- Check the air-lock on the bucket periodically. It should be releasing carbon dioxide slowly as alcohol is produced.
- At the two week mark, use a hydrometer to measure the alcohol volume. It should calculate out to be approximately 10-12%. If not reaching this level, store the rum for an additional 2-3 days to allow for more fermentation.
Distill the Fermented Solution
Since this fermented solution (called wort or wash) contains some nasties, you want to remove any potentially harmful compounds and also condense the alcohol to obtain the desired alcohol level of the rum.
- Clean and sanitize the still. Sterilizing isn’t too important since you’ll be boiling the wash, but cleaning is crucial as anything foreign in there will impart unwanted flavors on your final sprits. – so make sure that you do this prior to using the still.
- Once the still is cleaned, assemble it and ensure no leaks.
- Strain the wash through the cheesecloth to remove any solid yeast particles or other contaminants.
- Pour the wash into the still and turn on the heat. Start raising the temperature of the rum wash. When the temperature reaches 168 degrees F, the still will start producing. Increase the temperature to continue producing distillate.
- Collect the distillate in your mason jars. There will be three types of alcohol found in the rum.
- Heads- the first 20-30% of the rum is known as the heads. This contains compounds such as acetone and should not be kept. You’ll notice this by smelling the solvent-like scent. Collect the heads and discard.
- Hearts- when the solvent acetone smell has run off, the next 30% is the actual rum you want. Collect this
- Tails- the last portion which is also about 30% is known as the tails. This contains protein and carbohydrates that you don’t want to drink. You’ll notice an oily film that occurs on the product. You can discard the tails or put it through a separate distillation rum to get more rum out of it.
- Make your cuts. Take from the middle and work your way out to find the best tasting mason jars of product. We want to eliminate the heads and tails, but don’t need to be too exact since we’re going to distill this rum twice.
- Dilute the first round of the distillate hearts back to 40% ABV with distilled water (this is crucial for safety as higher ABV liquids are combustible) then add back to the still.
- Complete a second round of distillation.
- Make your final cuts. There will be much less heads and tails in this run since we got rid of most of them in the first run. Be more exact to make sure you’re completely happy with everything that’s going into your final blend.
- Dilute the distillate. Dilute depending on the type of rum desired. If you’re barrel aging, consider diluting to a higher strength (50-60%). If drinking white, then dilute to drinking proof (40-45%).
Age the Rum
This is where you’ll have to make a key decision. You may want a lighter or darker rum so decide on what you prefer. These are a few of the options to use.
- White Rum- No aging is required. Dilute the drink with water to reach 45% and blend. Bottle the rum and leave for two weeks to let the flavors stabilize. It can also be aged in a stainless steel container if desired.
- Dark rum- for a darker rum, age for 6-18 months. Age in a charred oak barrel or age with oak chips to give it a distinct flavor. Make sure to blend the mixture before bottling for a uniform flavor. We usually age at a higher ABV (say 60%) and then dilute again when bottling.
- Spiced Rum- After the rum is aged, you can add flavors such as vanilla, cinnamon, berries, cloves, or other spices. Add the spices in a separate container than the aging barrel if you want to experiment with different flavors.
After your rum reaches the desired age, remove it from the aging container. Measure the alcohol content using an alcoholmeter and then add water to reach the desired ABV- usually around 40-45% is preferred. Blend the mixture thoroughly and then bottle. The rum should be stored in glass containers for the best results. Your rum can be enjoyed on its own or used in mixed drinks.
Most of the problems experienced with rum production involve not obtaining the correct temperature or not distilling the rum correctly. This is a common mistake that’s made. Most people plan on trialing several batches in order to perfect their process.
Don’t expect the first batch to turn out well.
Keep detailed notes of the process and then adjust. Rum that’s made in a warmer climate may age faster than in other areas so make sure that you consider the weather conditions in your area.
If you’re still struggling with your rum production, then consider reaching out to a professional. Rum distilleries often offer tours and have expert brew masters who can guide you through the process. They may not offer brewing classes but are often available to answer questions and can often provide some guided tips on common mistakes. Consider reaching out or visiting a local distillery when you run into problems.
The process of rum production has a rich history. With a large number of varieties available, you can create your own rum with a distinct profile.
There are both large and small distilleries around the world today. With a fairly easy production method, even the amateur brewer can make their own style of rum.
Use this guide to learn more about the history of rum and how it has developed over the years. Once you understand the process and what affects its flavors, you can create your own style of rum.
Most importantly, enjoy the process!