Probably, most of us don’t need to learn how to make rum, but we’re nearing the Rum Show and, well, you never know when this sort of knowledge might come in handy.
There are really only six questions you need answered about how rum is made so don’t worry, you can become a rum expert by the time you’ve finished your commute home. Here we go:
What can my rum be made from?
Your rum can be made from fermented sugarcane juice, cane syrup, or sugarcane molasses. Sugarcane juice comes from crushed sugar cane. It gives rum a fresh, grassy, vegetal character. Cane syrup is made by boiling sugar cane. It is rich and dark, high in sugar content and full of concentrated flavour. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Molasses rum is heavy and full flavoured.
Where can I make rum?
You can make your rum anywhere in the world and indeed it is made all over the world. Traditionally rum distilleries are found either near to the source of the raw materials (sugar cane growing regions) or the supply of the raw materials (major port towns) so bear this in mind.
While rum can be made anywhere, local traditions and regulations in each rum producing region differ substantially and there are protected geographical designations too.
How should I ferment my ferment?
Whether it be sugar cane juice, cane syrup, or molasses, first ferment it to a wash of around 4% to 9% ABV. Some distilleries rely on naturally occurring wild yeasts while others have developed their own strains of yeast. You can also buy in your yeast.
The choice of yeast mainly depends on traditions and the conditions at the distillery, but yeast is often discussed enthusiastically because it’s an important stage of the process. It is astonishing how much the type of yeast and the length of fermentation affects the flavour of the final rum.
For example in a typical Jamaican rum, a long fermentation with muck and dunder increases the esters and the acidity in the wash and that gives the final rum a more powerful flavour.
Dunder is the name given to the liquid left in the still after a batch of rum has been distilled. Dunder is rich in nutrients so can be used as fertiliser or fed to cattle for instance, but some distilleries, typically in Jamaica, keep it and develop it in a ‘dunder pit’ ready to add to the next wash for added acidity and flavour.
Muck on the other hand is the mucky, stinky soup of rotting fruit and veg fermenting in the muck pit. Muck can be added to molasses to increase the acidity and esters of the wash.
How will I distil my distillate?
Your rum can be distilled in a dizzying variety of ways. You have a choice between distilling in copper pot stills, retort pot stills, wooden vat stills, hybrid stills, copper column stills, wooden Coffey stills or multi column stills…in practice the ‘choice’ depends on local traditions as much as the type of rum being produced.
How should I age my rum?
Now, in most regions rum can be bottled unaged but some countries have a minimum age of anywhere between a few months to two years in wooden casks. The thing about aging this spirit is that the climate and conditions where it is aged are as important as the type of cask used.
Label your rum as tropically aged if it has been aged locally in the tropical climate where it was made. This accelerates the effects of maturation compared to, for instance, European aged rum.
Put an age statement on your single cask rums as you would on an aged whisky, but age statements on blended rums might refer to the average age of the rum in the bottle, not the youngest.
So, what are the different types of rum I can make?
Well here’s the thing. No one quite agrees on a definitive way to broadly categorise rum and almost every region seems to have its own definition of what even constitutes ‘rum’.
So if you choose to, you can distinguish your rum style by fitting it into one of the languages. So French Rum or rhum agricole from French islands such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti is made from sugar cane juice and has a fruity profile. English Rum from the former British colonies such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana is often a rich and heavy pot-distilled molasses rum, sometimes blended in the UK. Spanish Rum is produced in Latin America countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guatemala. It’s often light, fruity and floral from column distillation and cask aging. Brazilian Cachaça Rum is great mixed with crushed lime and sugar to make a Caipirinha.
The other popular way to categorise your rum is by its colour: Dark, Gold, Light, White… but that seems crazy: if colouring is allowed and not all ‘white’ rum is unaged and not all dark rum is aged then that might be a little misleading.
You could define your rum by its unique strength but be careful, there is not much international agreement there, for instance rum needs to be at least 40% ABV for the US market but only at least 37.5% ABV for Europe.
Or, you could use The Whisky Exchange’s technical classification which breaks rum down into six categories according to how they were made. So you can call it a Single Distillery Rum if it’s either pot still, column still or a blend of both from the same distillery… or distilled on multi-column stills. Whereas if you make a multi-distillery rum you might call it a modern blend or a traditional blend.
However, none of this tells your consumers much about the rum itself, for instance will you mention on the label whether your rum has added sugar, or colouring?
You might notice that here at Whisky.Auction we’ve chosen not to try to sub-classify rums at all because each individual rum stands on its own reputation. We just give as much detail of each individual bottling on each listing.
Now you know everything you need to know to make your own rum. Once you’ve produced your rum drop us a sample. We can’t wait to taste it!