Rum is obtained from distillation of sugar cane or molasses. It is normally known as a meditation ristillate, perhaps in the company of traditional chocolate, but can also be paired with food.

How is rum made?

For many centuries, cane sugar was a very rare product destined first for medicinal purposes, then for the tables of the rich. In 1492, with the discovery of America, it spread to the western colonies in the Caribbean.

Sugar cane is a herbaceous plant that has its natural habitat in subtropical countries, with temperate climatic conditions and no major temperature fluctuations. The mature plant is about three metres high and weighs between 1 and 4 kg. Harvesting usually takes place in July and, while in the past it was done by hand, nowadays agricultural machines are used that also perform topping, i.e. they remove the leaves and leave only the stem (the part richest in sugar, about 20%). Pressed and defibrated, the stems yield a first, very dense sugar juice (vesou) filtered, decanted and fermented with often wild yeasts (caipiria). Distillation takes place in discontinuous stills for the agricultural rum (only the 10% of rums on the market). Ageing is carried out in oak barrels from various parts of the world. The most renowned area for great rums is the Caribbean Sea area.

Where does rum originate?

Today, rum is thought of as a strictly Caribbean spirit, but it actually has ancestors all over the world. Marco Polo in his travels speaks of an excellent sugar wine drunk in Iran, while fermented drinks made from sugar cane juice were experimented with in India and China. Furthermore, the first distillation of rum took place in England with sugar cane brought from India around the 15th century and a few years later sugar cane from the Americas was distilled. Paradoxically, the first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place only a few decades later, around 1600. It was slaves on plantations who discovered that molasses fermenting turned into alcohol. A document from Barbados dated 1651 reads: "The major intoxicant produced on the island is Rumbullion, also known as Kill-Devil, made from distilled sugar cane, hellish and terrible."

How is rum made?

  1. Preparation of sugar caneThe shoots are planted in suitable soil and remain there for 12-18 months, until they reach a height of 3 metres in tropical areas and 1 metre in subtropical areas. Afterwards they are cut as close to the ground as possible (this is where the highest concentration of sugar occurs) and harvested manually or mechanically. At this point a choice is made between making agricultural rum or industrial rum. In the case of agricultural rum, the cane is crushed to obtain a juice that is decanted and purified. In the second case, the cane is ground to obtain sugar and molasses as well.
  2. Fermentationyeast is added to the juice or molasses and left to ferment for 1 to 15 days. The longer the fermentation, the more intense and complex the organoleptic profile of the rum.
  3. Distillationis carried out using discontinuous stills or column stills.
  4. AgeingThe rum is aged in American oak barrels and stabilises during this time.
  5. Mixingsince a company's rum must always have the same organoleptic profile, and for this to be the case, it is necessary to mix rums with different wood ageing and from different vintages.

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Types of rum

Classification by ingredient

Most rums are made from a by-product of cane sugar, molasses, which still contains residual sugars. Fermentation takes place by adding water and selected yeasts. Distillation in continuous column apparatuses produces industrial rum, which is particularly neutral and ductile towards both ageing and blending. This is why rum can be said to be divided into 2 types:

  • agricultural rumobtained from cane sugar;
  • industrial rumobtained from molasses.

There is also another by-product of industrial rum called fancy rum which it is improper to call rum as it is not even obtained by distillation, but by mixing alcohol and caramel syrup. In its best versions it is flavoured with 'real' rum. Since it has a sweet and simple flavour, it can be used in the topping of desserts, but it is not very interesting to drink.

Classification by colour

  • White rumIt is transparent or very light in colour.
  • Rum goldIt is light amber in colour, a colour that is imparted by brief ageing in wood.
  • Dark rumIt is dark amber to brown in colour, a colour that is imparted by long ageing in wood.

Classification by ageing

  • Carta Blanca: unaged rum which, after a short rest in non-wooden containers, is reduced in degree, chilled to stabilise the colour and then bottled. It is used in blends to make cocktails;
  • Carta de Oro: rum with a short ageing in wood;
  • Rum Anejo: aged rum, when the age is stated on the label it always refers to the minimum period of rest in wooden barrels.

Classification by style

  • Cuban and Puerto Rican styleMolasses is distilled in a continuous still. The result is a light and refined distillate.
  • Jamaican styleMolasses is distilled in a discontinuous still. The result is a dark and strong distillate.
  • French stylesugar cane juice is distilled in a continuous column. The result is a distillate with fruity and floral hints.
  • Trinidad StyleMolasses is distilled in a continuous still. The result is a distillate with hints of strong wood.

French Rum AOC

In 1996, the name AOC Martinique for agricultural rum from the island of Martinique that fulfils the requirements, i.e. it is made with only fresh sugar cane juice and respects a precise production method. Today, this is still the only designation of origin for rum. To be marketed as AOC Martinique, a rum must have the INAO certificate (Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité) French.

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How do you drink rum?

Rum and cigar

Often the service of rum also includes a cigar appropriately chosen according to the type of distillate one is going to drink. The best quality rums, in fact, are perfect 'meditation' rums and therefore can only be accompanied by a slow, relaxed smoke. But why are they paired together?

The pairing of rum and cigars stems from a shared origin and production process: both are produced in tropical countries, particularly in the Caribbean region, where the climatic conditions and terroir are ideal for the cultivation of both sugar cane and tobacco. However, it would be wrong to reduce to just this a pairing that has become a celebratory ritual of enjoying life: there is also a profound cultural aspect in both making and combining these two products.

The diversity of flavours in rum, which can range from sweet and fruity to spicy and smoky, is well matched by the richness and complexity of cigars, which can have notes of earth, leather, chocolate, coffee and more. In addition, both rum and cigars improve with age: ageing in wooden barrels gives rum complexity and smoothness, while cigar ageing allows the flavours to meld and mature, creating a more rounded smoking experience.

Rum and cigars

How to serve rum and chocolate?

To match the right chocolate with rum, the general rule of thumb is that the % of cocoa should rise in proportion to the ageing of the rum, tending to 100% in the case of particularly aged rums. However, it is also necessary to talk about types of chocolate as these also have very different organoleptic profiles. For example, a 100% Trinitario chocolate is extremely different from a 100% Criollo chocolate.

To best enjoy rum and chocolate together, it is recommended to start with a sip of rum to envelop your mouth in its flavour, then place the chocolate in your mouth and continue with another sip of rum. This ritual ensures that the taste of the rum is not excessively altered by that of the chocolate, which could easily happen if the rum is not tasted first.

What about rum-filled chocolates? Rum on rum is theoretically fine, but let's say that these are very easily filled with industrial rum or - worse - fancy rum and therefore the flavour is (hopefully) not similar to that of the spirit being tasted. It is therefore not recommended to use them for pairing.

How to serve rum and chocolate

What to pair with rum?

The combination par excellence is with chocolate, but there are other interesting combinations that can give satisfaction. For convenience, the proposals have been divided by colour.

Dark rum

Dry biscuits with lots of butter either in a sweet version with hazelnuts, walnuts or toasted almonds, or in a savoury version with grana cheese can accompany medium dark rum.

Rum is characterised by toasted aromas that go well with dried fruit, crunch and honey. This is why it is interesting to pair it with certain Middle Eastern desserts such as the Turkish baklava rich in cinnamon, nuts and pistachios and honey or the melamakarona Greekssmall star-shaped biscuits with cinnamon, orange peel and honey syrup. Fans of Korean cuisine can try yakgwa, sunflower-shaped biscuits made with honey, sesame oil and pine nuts.

White rum

White rum has a distinctly more neutral and delicate organoleptic profile and can therefore be excellent for drying the greasy foods (a bit like a Korean classic: soju and fried chicken) or to boost the fresh fruit. The more intrepid can try combining it with the very fatty cheeses with fruit preserves. It has always been used in mixology to prepare famous cocktails like the mojito or the daiquiri.

What to pair with rum