Monday, 22 November 2010

Drinking a Man's Drink #3: Rum

Ahoyhoy most glorious internets, your DaveHowitzer here with yet another Drink Feature, this time on everyone's favourite caribbean export not weed- RUM!!!


The origin of the word rum is unclear; one theory suggests that it was British slang for a spirit not defined as a whisky, brandy or arack and was generally defined as excelent -but I think we can discoutn this becuase early rums were generally very poor- and yet another suggests that it was coined from the latin word for sugar, saccharum. Another probable origin is as a truncated version of rumbullion or rumbustion, old slang terms for "tumult" or "uproar." This seems fairly apt, as it conjours up images of priates and lowlifes drinking rum in some island tavern and causing a massive fight a la Pirates of the Caribbean.
Because we drank it...duh.

In current usage, the name used for a rum is often based on the rum's place of origin. For rums from Spanish-speaking locales the word ron is used. A ron añejo indicates a rum that has been significantly aged and is often used for premium products. Rhum is the term used for rums from French-speaking locales, while rhum vieux is an aged French rum that meets several other requirements.

Some of the many other names for rum are Nelson's Blood -a nod to the good Admiral himself-, Kill-Devil, Demon Water, Pirate's Drink, Navy Neaters, and Barbados water. A version of rum from Newfoundland is referred to by the name Screech, while some low-grade West Indies rums are called tafia.

The first distillation of rum took place on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century where slaves first discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, can be fermented into alcohol. Later, distillation of these alcoholic by-products concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first true rums. Tradition suggests that rum first originated on the island of Barbados then spread to other islands. A 1651 document from Barbados stated, "The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor." -The writer obviously had a massive stick up his yes, hellish oh yes....terrible? Naaah-

After rum's development in the Caribbean, the drink's popularity spread to Colonial North America. To support the demand for the drink, the first rum distillery in the British colonies of North America was set up in 1664 on present-day Staten Island. Boston, Massachusetts had a distillery three years later. The manufacture of rum became early Colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry. New England became a distilling center due to the superior technical, metalworking and cooperage skills and abundant lumber; the rum produced there was lighter, more like whiskey, and was superior to the character and aroma of the West Indies product. Rhode Island rum even joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe for a period of time. Estimates of rum consumption in the American colonies before the American Revolutionary War had every man, woman, or child drinking an average of 13.5 liters (3 Imperial gallons) of rum each year. -sounds like one of my nights out-

Rum's association with piracy began with English privateers trading on the valuable commodity. As some of the privateers became pirates and buccaneers, their fondness for rum remained, the association between the two only being strengthened by literary works such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The association of rum with the Royal Navy began in 1655 when the British fleet captured the island of Jamaica. With the availability of domestically produced rum, the British changed the daily ration of liquor given to seamen from French brandy to rum. While the ration was originally given neat, or mixed with lime juice -a practise still used today! Check what your bartender squeezes into your rum next time...nothing dirty- Admiral Edward Vernon had the rum ration watered down around 1740 to make a mixture that became known as grog, in order to reduce the alcoholic effect on sailors. The Royal Navy continued to give its sailors a daily rum ration, known as a "tot," until the practice was abolished after July 31, 1970, however the tot is still available on special occassions my the order of the monarch (currently H.M. Queen Elizabeth II -God save the Queen and all that jazz) to honour occassions such as a royal birthday or marriage.


Dividing rum into meaningful groupings is complicated by the fact that there is no single standard for what constitutes rum. Instead rum is defined by the varying rules and laws of the nations that produce the spirit. Within the Caribbean, each island or production area has a unique style. For the most part, these styles can be grouped by the language that is traditionally spoken.
Spanish-speaking islands and countries traditionally produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Rums from Guatemala, Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela are typical of this style. Rum from the U.S. Virgin Islands is also of this style. 

English-speaking islands and countries are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retains a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavour. Rums from Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Saint Kitts, Trinidad & Tobago, the Demerara region of Guyana, and Jamaica are typical of this style. 

French-speaking islands are best known for their agricultural rums (rhum agricole). These rums, being produced exclusively from sugar cane juice, retain a greater amount of the original flavour of the sugar cane and are generally more expensive than molasses-based rums. Rums from Haïti, Guadeloupe and Martinique are typical of this style.

Further the grades and variations used to describe rum also depend on the location that a rum was produced. Despite these variations the following terms are frequently used to describe various types of rum as a generalisation:

Light Rums, also referred to as silver rums and white rums. In general, light rum has very little flavor aside from a general sweetness, and serves accordingly as a base for cocktails. Light rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove any colour. The majority of Light Rum comes out of Puerto Rico. Their milder flavor makes them popular for use in mixed-drinks, as opposed to drinking it straight. 

Gold Rums, also called amber rums, are medium-bodied rums that are generally aged. These gain their dark colour from aging in wooden barrels, usually the byproduct of Bourbon. They have more flavor, and are stronger tasting than light rum, and can be considered a midway-point between light rum and the darker varieties. 

Spiced Rum, obtain their flavor through addition of spices and sometimes caramel. Most are darker in colour, and based on gold rums. Some are significantly darker, while many cheaper brands are made from inexpensive white rums and darkened with artificial caramel colour. Among the spices that may be added to create Spiced Rum are Cinnamon, Rosemary, absinthe/aniseed, or pepper.

Dark Rum, also known as black rum or red rum, classes as a grade darker than gold rum. It is generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels. Dark rum has a much stronger flavour than either light or gold rum, and hints of spices can be detected, along with a strong molasses or caramel overtone. It is used to provide substance in rum drinks, as well as colour. In addition to uses in mixed drinks, dark rum is the type of rum most commonly used in cooking. Most Dark Rum comes from areas such as Jamaica, Haiti, and Martinique, though two Central American countries, Nicaragua and Guatemala, produced two of the most award-winning dark rums in the world: Flor de Caña and Ron Zacapa Centenario -yum-, respectively. 

Flavored Rum: rums infused with flavours of fruits such as Banana, mango, orange, citrus, coconut or lime. These are generally less than 40% alcohol, serve to flavor similarly themed tropical drinks. 

Overproof Rum is rum that is much higher than the standard 40% alcohol. Most of these rums bear greater than 60%, in fact, and preparations of 75% to 80% abv occur commonly.

Premium Rum: As with other sipping spirits, such as Cognac and Scotch, a market exists for premium and super-premium rums. These are generally boutique brands that sell carefully produced and aged rums. They have more character and flavour than their counterparts.

Some Brands

Ok guys, now we've waffled on about the history, let's get into the good stuff...the tasting session! Here's a selection of rums that you can find at home or at the bar with some tasting notes to help you along. The best way in my opinion to taste a rum with with coke and a squeeze of lime, however as stated previously, any premium rum should be taken neat.

Bacardi: A family-controlled spirits company started by Facund Bacardí i Massó, a Catalan wine merchant who emigrated to Cuba in 1830. Facund began experimenting with charcol filtration, to make the then less than palatable rums of the day far more attractive and eventually bought a distillary in Cuba in 1862. The Bacardi family (and hence the company) maintained a fierce opposition to Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba in the 1960s. The Bacardi family and company left Cuba after it became clear that Castro was serious about his pledges for change; in particular, in nationalizing and banning all private property on the island as well as all bank accounts. However, the company had started foreign branches a few years prior to the revolution; the company moved the all important Bacardi international trademarks out of the country to the Bahamas prior to the revolution as well as constructing a plant in Puerto Rico after the prohibition era to save in import taxes for rum being imported to the US. This helped the company survive after the communist government nationalized all Bacardi assets in the country. Embittered Bacardi helmsman Jose Pepin Bosch bought a surplus B-26 bomber with the hopes of bombing Cuban oil refineries (the bold plan was foiled when a picture of the bomber appeared on the front page of The New York Times...very bad times indeed). He was also allegedly involved in the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro.
[Tasting Notes: Bacardi Superior, 37.5% ABV]
So according to the marketting, the ultimate mixing rum...hmm. A strong nose of ethanol and not much else in my opinion. As for the taste, it's smoothe but it has a really noticable burn. Not much in the way of any taste. All in all, I don't think it measures up to the hype, it's an easy rum to drink because it really doesn't taste like a rum. I will give it one thing though, it does actually make a mean Daiquiri in comparison to some other rums.

Havana Club: Rum made in Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba. The brand was established by José Arechabala in 1878. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the distillery and company was nationalized by the Cuban government; subsequently, the Arechabala family left for Spain, then emigrated to the United States. Since 1994 it has been produced by Havana Club International, a 50:50 joint venture between Reina Mia, Co. and the Cuban government. The Havana Club brand is sold outside of Cuba in conjunction with the Reina Mia Company, owned by a wealthy doctor drinks giant registered at Canada. Havana Club is not sold in the United States however, due to the United States trade embargo against Cuba. Bacardi sells a different rum in the U.S., also called Havana Club but unrelated to the Cuban version. The Bacardi product, which is made in Puerto Rico, has been the subject of trademark violation litigation by Pernod Ricard.
[Tasting Notes: Havana Club Añejo Blanco]
It has a mild smell, a faint hint of ethanol, much less than the Bacardi. Very nice taste not overly strong notes molasses or fruit, just like what a light rum should taste like.
-Dave's Note- I'm a HUGE fan of the Havana Club Añejo Especial, but I felt that the only rum you could really fairly compare the Bacardi to was this, because they both are a popular white rum and this one is leaps and bounds ahead of it.-

Pampero: Pampero was created in 1938 by Alejandro Hernández, the son of a fisherman from Isla Margarita. Pampero is credited for having set the initial standards for rum production in Venezuela, and was the first rum to be accredited ‘Añejo’, by the Venezuelan government. Alejandro Hernández later on joined the political life of the country, occupying the office of Governor of the Nueva Esparta state and even running for the presidency of the country. Despite popular belief and its long tradition, Industrias Pampero, C.A. is no longer a Venezuela-owned company. After having been a part of United Distillers for some years, it is currently a division of Diageo, the world's largest spirit holding company.
Pampero rums have been awarded several international prizes, including the Gold Award Premium Category for several years, and most recently, the Best Rum at the prestigious 2007 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
[Tasting Notes: Pampero Especial Ron Añejo, 40% ABV]
Sweet nose with strong vanilla notes and traces of caramel and banana. Very smooth and sweet and dries the mouth and notes of something sweet, perhaps caramel of toffee. Great sweet aftertaste, an all round solid rum that is gathering popularity on our side of the pond. Awesome.

El Dorado: Rum brand produced by Demerara Distillers in Guyana.
Demerara Distillers is known not just for the production but also for the marketing of its rums. In 1992, the company introduced its El Dorado brand of rums to the local and international markets by focusing on the well-known legend surrounding its name. The story tells of explorers who traveled to Guyana in search of a fabled golden city known as El Dorado. The tale describes a king who wore a fine dust of gold all over his body; to the explorers he appeared to be made of gold. The legend continues to describe the king's city (Manoa, in Rupununi, in the heartland of Guyana) as being constructed of pure gold, just like its king.
In 1992 Demerara Distillers changed the world of rum with the launch of their El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve which established a new standard and pioneered the new wave of aged rums which we know now. This was enabled by the company’s extraordinary wealth and variety of traditional and original distilling equipment and their great store of matured rums - some as old as 30 years.
Since the launch of their flagship 15 Year Old aged rum, the El Dorado brand has stood for an unrivalled collection of age statements, including 3 Single Estate editions each produced from one of the three original production stills which have been preserved from the great Sugar Estates of the 18th and 19th centuries.
[Tasting Notes: El Dorado 8, 40% ABV]
Interesting nose of orange and lemon citrus with grapefruit peels with a hint of vanilla. Very strong indeed. On the tongue it has strong notes of cinnamon, tea, and charred wood overlaying molasses. Leaves a lingering taste of citrus and smokey fruit. Simply excelent.

Ron Zacapa: A popular premium rum produced in Guatemala. Zacapa was created in 1976 to celebrate the centenary of the foundation of Zacapa, a town in eastern Guatemala.
It is made using the concentrated first pressing sugar cane juice, which is called virgin sugar cane honey, rather than molasses and is aged and blended using a unique aging system based on the solera method traditionally used for sherries. This process is overseen by master blender Lorena Vazquez. The company claims that part of their success lies in the fact that the barrels are stored 2,300 meters above sea level in an aging facility situated below the upper slopes of the mountains and volcanoes of Guatemala, where the temperature is an average of 62 degrees Fahrenheit.
Early Zacapa bottles came in a bottle covered in a petate - a handwoven matting made from palm leaves which dates from the Mayan period. More recently they feature a band around the middle of the bottle.
The rum has won awards from different international competitions and is the first rum to be included in the International Rum Festival’s Hall of Fame. The Beverage Testing Institute has given Zacapa a 95 point rating.
[Tasting Notes: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23yr Old, 40% ABV]
Complex nose; sweet to start with notes of chesnut, honey, cherry, chocolaten and smoky wood.  Then becomes much more savoury with tobacco, grilled nuts and traces of what I can only describe as leather or hide. On the tongue very sweet, strong vanilla notes and almost a creamy sense if moved around the mouth. A great sugary, molasses finish on it too. I adore this rum, take it neat, sip it gently and take time to enjoy it's richness and complexity.

Guys and guyettes I hope you have enjoyed yet another mammoth post about a fantasticly diverse spirit and I encourage you to go out and experiment with rum as much as you can. It really is the drink of the moment right now, just like Bourbon was a few years ago.

Love, Dave

P.S. This post is dedicated to BroLo who really wanted a rum post =P



  1. Love this series- the Scotch one led me to a bottle of Lagavulin that makes me far too happy.

  2. Bacardi is nasty stuff, fo'sho - no subtlety, just BOOZE.

    You make me want to undertake a highly scientific study of the various navy rums hiding behind many British bars. I may not return from such an endeavour...

  3. @Von Pusser's navy rum is both the best of the best and worst of the worst in that respect, tastes bloody amazing but will knock you flat on your back. Seriously, you could strip paint with it.

    @Max I'm glad you're loving it mate and I'm actually impressed that you could find a Lagavulin out in Minneapolis. Kudos to you sir!

  4. oh, the Lagavulin is just the beginning :oP

    MMM rum ....

    Can you do brandies next dave ? Its about crimbo time I break out my oversized balloon. ;o)

    I too enjoy zis

  5. @ Sorrowshard- I actually think that might be aq shout, brandy is something I'm actually not so familiar with product knowledge wise, so this might be a good excuse to break out a balloon and a pen and paper XD

    Glad you're enjoying it mate.

  6. Thank you Dave... you are my hero! I'll have a proper read tonight!


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