Rum – the spirits of the tropics


When people talk about rum, for most, the tropics with palm trees and beautiful beaches come to mind.

Rum can be, and is produced from sugar beets as well. However, sugar cane rum possesses a superior flavour, and north European producers always blend their sugar beet rums with imported distillates and call the, at least in German, Rum Verschnitt.

They are fine to blend with tea or other concoctions, but seldom worth considering as a drink after a fine meal or in cocktails.

Caribbean islands are famous for their rums and each has developed a different style for this spirit that only represents the very essence of sunshine. The concept of terroir applies to rum as well.

Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean in 1493 during his second voyage and plant thrived in the region.

Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Barbados, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico are the most famous producers, although Central- and South American republics also produce considerable quantities.

Basically, there are two broad types of rum: molasses and sugar cane. The difference is the first originates from the leftover liquid after sugar has been extracted, whereas the second comes from sugar-rich juice of the sugar cane. Now several distilleries produce flavoured-rums – spiced-, banana-, star fruit-, lime-, mango- that appeal to the palates of young consumers.

French prefer the darker, richer, and deeply flavoured sugarcane juice rums of Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique whereas the English-speaking world goes for the lighter molasses rums, and a good portion of it originates in Jamaica.

Rum is a simple distillate, but the devil is in the detail. What maters is where the sugar comes from, how the spirit is distilled (Coffey or Alembic still) aging and blending.

Sugar cane consists of 75 per cent water, 10 sugars, and 10 – 16 fibre. The juice is boiled, increasing sugar content to 30 per cent; fibre serves as a fuel for distillation. The syrup is clarified and crystallized to produce two grades of sugar and molasses. The latter is fermented by inoculation of yeasts, and ultimately the low alcohol containing liquid (eight per cent) is distilled out at 75 ABV in Alembic style stills, and 85 in Coffey style stills.

Following distillation, both distillates are aged in oak barrels for a suitably long time with a minimum of 12 months and maximum of 21 years, pending on distiller, brand, and price point. The longer the aging the more expensive becomes the product.

In tropical countries much more volume is lost than in cooler regions like Scotland, Canada, and even Kentucky.

The crucial and most important aspect of quality of rum creation is blending.

Companies that strive to produce a consistent quality employ gifted “blenders” who are first talented and then trained or a long time to accomplish their objective all the time, bearing in mind market demands.

Appleton Estates, founded in 1749, in Jamaica is the oldest sugar estate distillery in the country. The property is nestled in the Nassau Valley, the heart of Jamaica’s sugar cane belt. Today, the estate comprises 4615 hectares including a sugar refinery and distillery.

After changing brands several times during two centuries, the estate was purchased by Wray and Nephew in 1916, and soon after sold to Lindo Brothers and Company.

Appleton Estate’s master blender is Joy Spence, the first woman to hold this position in the industry. She joined the company in 1981 and since then created several unique blends.

Standards or regular brands are blended using Coffey still product, whereas high-end brands consist exclusively of distillates originating in Alembic stills.

Fine rums should be enjoyed like cognac in snifters, and at room temperature (18 C) to appreciate their subtlety.

In the tropics, rum being plentiful and inexpensive is used in cocktails, punches, baking, and mixed with soft drinks. Occasionally, rum may be used as a marinade, for flambéing, in cooking or as a fruit preservative.

Rum was originally poorly marketed and only high volume was considered to be important for financial success. Up to recent times (1956), the imperial British Navy had daily rum allocations (1/2 pint per day per sailor) which guaranteed sales but discouraged creation of high end products.

Now there are several rum distillers specializing in fine rums from Nicaragua, Guyana, Haiti, Martinique, Cuba, even the Philippines, India, and Australia.

Several specialized American blenders age and blend imported rums from a number of countries and to satisfy American palates.

Here are three rums you can buy confidently for your cocktails or straight enjoyment

Havana Club Seven Year Old (Cuba), El Dorado 12 year Old from Guyana, Appleton Estate Reserve (Jamaica)


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