In simplistic terms, rum is distilled liquor made from molasses but that description does little justice to the
complexity of this wonderful drink both from an historical standpoint and in every other way. First, the alcohol
content can vary anywhere from forty to seventy percent or more although the first figure is the most common.
There are also several color variations ranging from perfectly clear through light amber to a very dark brown.
There are taste variations between the different types as well. All these differences, to a degree, can be
explained by the different historical origins of rum liquor.
It is uncertain exactly when and where rum making began, in part because the definition of this fine liquor is
so loose. However somewhere around the seventeenth century it rose to prominence in the Caribbean where the native
sugar cane was abundant, thanks to a climate perfectly suited to growing it. The unboiled juice extracted by
milling was called melazas, which evolved into the English word 'molasses'.
The knowledge of how to make rum quickly spread everywhere - to America, Brazil, England and elsewhere as the
world's navies came and went.
The two major types, though, light and dark, follow roughly the divisions introduced by the country of origin.
Spanish speaking countries, such as Spain, Colombia, Cuba and others, produce chiefly light rum. Countries
colonized by the English and their descendants produce mostly dark rum.
The light rums are further divided into light, silver and white although all have a very light taste. The
differences are only a matter of degree, and not much of one at that. Nevertheless, to a true connoisseur every
Dark rums, by contrast, retain much of the molasses flavour along with its color. However, in truth, added
flavors and spices produce a substantial component of that taste artificially. In between the two extremes, there
is a range of gold, amber or flavored rums that nonetheless are made to a great degree by the same process as the
That process, while more varied than nearly any other liquor, is in broad outline relatively simple. The cane
juice is fermented using cultured or wild yeast for a day to several weeks, depending on the recipe. It is then
distilled, where it comes out as a colorless liquid. Lighter rums are made in a column still, with their darker
cousins the product of a pot still of the type used for scotch or Cognac.
In the case of the lighter rums, little or no aging takes place. Those from Cuba are typical examples. Darker
rums see significant time in oak casks, up to several years in some cases. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are
well-known makers of this style. Those in between may see only a few months or as long as a few years, such as many
of the fine liquors of Jamaica. The color is not chiefly the result of barrel aging, as it is for whiskey, but from
the amount of caramel introduced.
A special category called Spiced Rum can be any of the three, where the name comes from the type of spices used
in the final product. They also frequently have fruit juices as part of the blend.