Bartenders Guide: Rum
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."
-H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Once considered a drink for the poor and lower-class, rum has come a long way, largely thanks to the efforts of Don Facundo Bacardi, who decided that a light, dry rum might be nice. The heirs to his estate now own a large chunk of the liquor universe and live in feudal splendor.
In my estimation, rum is one of the most versatile and indispensable liquors in any bar. If I were having mixed company and could choose only one spirit, rum would be it. It can serve as the basis of a light and fruity cocktail, or savored after dinner like a fine cognac. Sure, gin is a classy choice and vodka, whiskey and tequila all have their fans, but pretty much anyone will appreciate, or at least tolerate, a well-made drink with rum.
As the entire liquor industry moves towards ever more unique super-premium products, there are now more rums than ever to sample and enjoy. Although Bacardi Silver is the inoffensive American standard, I encourage you to discover the deep and rich treasures present in gems like the infamous Havana Club, Diplomatico, Pyrat or Clement's Creole Shrubb, which is infused with orange.
And don't you dare stick an umbrella in it.
*Interesting side-note, for the eager and bar-hungry. While some people are aware that a Cuba Libre is a rum and Coke with lime, few people know why. The story goes that when Castro first completed his conquest of Cuba, one of the first changes put in place was that Army soldiers were no longer allowed to drink in uniform. It is said that sympathetic bartenders would empty out a little Coke from the bottle, fill it with rum and top it off with a lime, to disguise the odor. Thus was born the Cuba Libre, or "Free Cuba". Is this true? I don't know...but it sounds good.
Rum is a distilled beverage made from sugarcane by-products (such as molasses and sugarcane juice) by a process of fermentation and distillation. Therefore, it is similar to brandy and cognac except that it is made with sugar products and not grapes. For information on Cachaça, a similar spirit, click here.
The distillate is clear, or silver, rum. It can then be aged in oak and other barrels to smooth its flavor and add golden color. Cheaper rums will avoid this process and add gold coloring instead.
Rums can range from dry to sweet, light to dark and simple to heavily spiced. Light, dry rums are typically used in cocktails. Heavier, darker rums are usually enjoyed on the rocks or neat, like any fine cognac.
The majority of the world's rum production occurs in and around the Caribbean and in several South American countries, though there are rum producers in Australia, Hawaii and elsewhere around the world.
Rum is produced in a variety of styles, which usually correlate to the dominant regional influence.
Spanish-speaking islands and countries traditionally produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Rums from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela are typical of this style. The most popular rums in America are generally Spanish influenced.
English-speaking islands and countries are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retains a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Barbados, Bermuda and Jamaica are typical of this style.
French-speaking islands are best known their rums made exclusively from sugar cane juice (rhum agricole). These rums retain a great deal of the sugar cane flavor. Rums from Haïti and Martinique are typical of this style.