Regional Rum Varieties
Firstly, it’s important to note that the rum industry is sporadic with little standardisation. As there are many different regions with their own techniques, a single unifying vocabulary has never been put into place.
The broadest categorisation of types of rum tends to be broken with the following:
You can use the links to jump ahead. Before you continue, bear in mind that these rums aren’t European by any means. Indeed, they are each grouped by a common language due to colonisation through which they also share cultural heritages for producing rum.
Finally, the three types of rum can also be referred by the word in their language: Rum, Rhum, and Ron.
English-style rum is predominantly produced in the West Indies and its surrounding Caribbean Islands. However, there are a number of producers on the American mainland, too.
Most of its production consists of aged rums but it’s often associated with Navy and overproof style rums as we describe below given its association with maritime travellers.
Traditionally, English-style rum is produced from molasses using a copper pot still. Nevertheless, column stills are common as well.
Typically, its rum will have a dark appearance with a greater presence of molasses flavour. They can often be described as almost viscous in mouthfeel with a distinctive mustiness.
Key English-Speaking Rum Territories
- Antigua [e.g. English Harbour]
- Belize [e.g. Isla Ñ Rum]
- Bermuda [e.g. Gosling Brothers, Ltd.]
- Bahamas [e.g. Ole Nassau]
- Barbados [e.g. Mount Gay]
- Demerara, Guyana [e.g. El Dorado]
- Grenada [e.g. Clark’s Court]
- Jamaica [e.g. J. Wray and Nephew Appleton Estate]
- Saint Kitts & Nevis [e.g. Belmont Estate Rum]
- Saint Lucia [e.g. Admiral Rodney]
- St Vincent & The Grenadines [e.g. Saint Vincent Distillers]
- Trinidad & Tobago [e.g. Angostura Rums]
Although best associated for its smooth mouthfeel and flavour profile, Spanish-style “ron” can be surprisingly varied. Thanks to the wide geographical spread of territories, the ranging climates and techniques result in a spectrum of unique rum.
Milder climates will experience a reduced angel’s share and a slower ageing process. Therefore, they tend to be more elegant and refined. Meanwhile, hotter locations often produce livelier and vigorous flavours.
Furthermore, its influence extends all the way to the Philippines, which also has an active rum-producing heritage.
Although the former Spanish territories produce a rich variety of rum, they are best known for ron añejo, which is premium aged rum.
Generally speaking, it tends to be the most popular variety of rum largely thanks to early popularity of Panamanian rum in the USA.
Finally, Spanish-style rum may often include the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, most of its producers consist of corporation subsidiaries such as Captain Morgan and Sailor Jerry. These labels will distil rum in large quantities and export them in tank containers, which are bottled abroad.
Similarly, the Canary Islands is mostly known for its “Ronmiel de Canarias”, which consists of a protected “Indicación Geográfica Protegida” (IGP) designation for rum that contains at least 2% honey in the final product.
Key Spanish-Speaking Rum Territories
French Rum & Rhum Agricole
While consisting of fewer territories, French-style “rhum” has a rich and celebrated heritage. It is best known for “rhum agricole”, which is produced from sugar cane juice rather than molasses.
Although sugar cane juice rum may sometimes be made in Spanish areas as well, it tends to be mostly associated with the French style.
Similarly, the term “rhum agricole” implies a traditional and artisanal approach. This term seeks to distinguish it from the substantial Spanish and English “rhum industriel.”
Of the islands that produce it, only Martinique has an appellation as it is still a territory of France. The AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole regulates its production with regards to distillation and ageing.
Typically, French-style rum will reveal fresh herbaceous notes with a delicate mouthfeel. It’s often distinctively lighter than Spanish or English-style rums thanks to the use of sugar cane juice rather than molasses.
Finally, French-style rum can also be found on the La Réunion and Mauritius islands just off the Eastern African coast in the Indian Ocean. Like the Philippines and Spanish-style ron, they are heavily influenced by French production methods.
Key French-Speaking Rum Territories
- Haiti [e.g. Rhum Barbancourt]
- Guadeloupe [e.g. Damoiseau]
- Martinique [e.g. Rhum Clément]
- Mauritius [e.g. Saint-Aubin]
- La Réunion [e.g. Rhum Charette]
Other Regions & Varieties
Although they may not technically be regarded as rum, there are numerous drinks around the world that are quite similar:
- Aguardiente de Caña: Unaged distilled cane spirit primarily from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.
- Cachaça: Brazilian cane spirit occasionally classed as rum.
- Liberian Cane Juice: African distilled cane spirit.
- Seco Herrerano: Triple-distilled sugar cane drink similar to vodka.
- South African Spook: Distilled beverage closely related to the Liberian variant above.
- Rum-Verschnitt: A German mixture of dark rum, rectified spirit, and water with colouring agents.
- Tuzemák: A Czechlosvaokian spirit made from distilled sugar beet.
Occasionally, some of the beverages listed above may be classed as rum by certain countries. However, they are generally treated as an entirely different spirit.
Rum Grades & Ages
As mentioned earlier, the rum industry isn’t standardised throughout its different territories. Therefore, this is no definitive classification for the different types of rum.
Nevertheless, each type of rum is usually categorised among the following grades:
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to learn about them all.
Light / White Rum
Occasionally referred to as “plata”, “blanco”, or even “blanc”, white rum is usually aged despite its appearance. Indeed, Mexico requires a minimum of 8 months ageing whereas it’s 2 years in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Venezuela.
Occasionally, the rum is aged in steel vats to prevent it from taking on additional flavours. However, it may also be aged in wooden casks and then filtered to remove the colour and any impurities.
Light rum is often mild in flavour but quite sweet. Typically, it’s a cocktail ingredient, which is why it’s one of the most popular types of rum. However, light rum is sometimes enjoyed neat with ice.
Finally, it’s rare than light rum is above 40% ABV as it’s often diluted to the legal minimum for a maximum yield.
Amber / Gold / Pale Rum
Gold rum is often regarded as a compromise between clear rum and dark aged rums. Usually, it’s aged for around two years using white oak ex-bourbon barrels. Although gold rum will have a richer flavour than light rum, it rarely delivers anything overly complex.
Consequently, it’s often used as an alternative for cocktails. That being said, it’s often seen as easier to drink neat and can also be more refreshing than dark rum. Confusingly, some amber rums that follow a traditional method may use the “añejo” term, which usually indicates darker rum.
Dark / Añejo / Aged Rum
Dark rum is a complex and varied classification that can be occasionally somewhat vague. However, it is also one of the most prestigious types of rum.
Certain rums can be darkened by using caramel and its flavour is adjusted with additives like vanilla essence. Although it’s aged, it might not be for much longer than gold rum.
Consequently, some brands seek to distinguish themselves by using other terms. As mentioned above, French-speaking islands have adopted “agricole” to describe their process.
Meanwhile, some Spanish-speaking territories will use “añejo” to emphasise the ageing process. Sometimes, this is translated into English or the term “premium” may be added to make it clearer for marketing.
Cheaper dark beverages may be used for mixing while more premium rums are enjoyed as sipping spirits like cognac.
Nevertheless, dark rums are usually aged for a number of years in oak barrels. Occasionally, the barrels are charred for bolder flavours but may consist of virgin oak, ex-bourbon, sherry, and cognac casks, too.
Hotter territories will require shorter lengths of time due to the aggressive angel’s share. Conversely, producers in milder climates can easily age their rums for longer.
While rare, you may also find vintage rum, which consists only of a single year’s sugarcane harvest. This approach is not dissimilar to Millésime Armagnac.
Finally, some particularly dark rums are referred to as black rum. However, black rum is primarily used for cooking rather than as a drinking rum and is usually an extension of the dark category. Nevertheless, it usually differentiates itself by being made from heavily boiled blackstrap molasses.
Navy & Overproof Rum
Although closely related, overproof and navy rums aren’t necessarily the same. Overproof rum is usually golden and can be as high as 70 to 80% ABV rather than the 40% minimum.
Overproof rums are typically made for domestic markets for mixing punches and may also be used for cooking, especially when preparing a flambé dish.
Stronger rums were valued by the Royal Navy and to avoid overly-diluted spirits, samples were mixed with gunpowder to see if it would ignite when exposed to a flame.
The practice, which was also used for gin, lead to the term “gunpowder strength”, which was often used interchangeably with “navy strength”. With the invention of the hydrometer, this strength is known to be at least 57% ABV. It soon replaced cognac and was rationed to sailors with lime or in a grog to prevent scurvy.
While similar to overproof rums, the naval variant is often a type of dark rum. Occasionally, it’s blended from several different rums that are sourced from territories like Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad.
As a result, it was made by English-style rum producers and is an important part of their tradition to this day. It was a valuable commodity and used for trading by privateers, which is why it’s often associated with pirates and buccaneers.
Spiced & Flavoured Rum
Spiced rum is often confused with dark rum. However, beyond a dark appearance, they’re not the same. Most are made from gold rums and their appearance is darkened with flavouring.
Typically, spiced rum is flavoured with spices like cinnamon, cloves, and aniseed but fruit such as coconut and pineapple are common as well.
This type of rum is often used as a mixer but may be sipped neat with ice. Furthermore, French-speaking countries have a proud tradition of adding pieces of fruit to white rum at home, which is left to age as a “rhum arrangé”.
Now that you have learned about the different types of rum, check out more of our rum resources: