The taste of rum is a sweet kiss from a far off land. There’s a little sand, salt, and sea in every bottle — reminders of the spirit’s long history with pirates, navies, and centuries of exploration (and brutal colonization). It’s the upcycled outcome of the sugar industry, discovered when African slaves were given the byproduct of sugar production — molasses. They used the dark gooey substance to ferment a mash and then distilled the product into a very strong spirit nicknamed Kill Devil or rum.
Over time, rum became so popular that the Royal Navy of Britain adopted it as their daily drink ration, a tradition that lasted from 1655 to 1970. Rum became the drink of the American colonies too, and a cornerstone of the American economy. The need for labor to grow and process the sugarcane fueled the Caribbean slave trade — a tragic twist of fate — with casks of rum serving as the currency to trade goods, services, and human lives.
Over the years, rum became more defined. Today we have light, dark, golden, overproof, spiced, and flavored rums. The light rums tend to be those that are either aged for an extremely short amount of time or aged in steel tanks so that they remain largely clear. There are also rums made from sugar cane juice directly. These are your cachaças, charanda, aguardientes, and rhum agricoles. Vital spirits all, but we’ll leave them for now.
Dark rums are those aged in old bourbon barrels (mostly) for anywhere from two to 30 or more years. This gives them a distinct whiskey-like color and intensity. Golden rums are the middle-aged counterpart between light and dark. They’re aged in old bourbon barrels, but generally for less than two years, inflicting a twinge of coloring into the distillate.
Overproof rums are the ones that haven’t be cut in the blending process. They’ll contain an ABV well above the standard 40 percent (80 proof). The most common example of this is Bacardi 151 which clocks in at 75.5 percent ABV.
The difference between a ‘spiced’ and ‘flavored’ rum is what’s used in the infusion. Spiced rum uses spices and generally comes in the golden rum variety. Although it’s common for spiced rum to be a cheap light rum with caramel coloring added to give the illusion of aging. Flavored rums are infused with a fruit, vegetable, or some other food stuff. Though it’s generally a fruit like coconut, banana, mango, and so on.