Rum, most styles within any spirit category. Started as a by-product of the sugar industry. The raw material, fermentation, distillation and post-distillation will effect the end product. There is a diverse range of styles produced throughout the Caribbean, French islands, Brazil and Latin America

Raw Materials 

  • Sugar cane (Rhum Agricole and Cachaca)

  • Molasses 

Sugar cane 

  • tall, leafy stem

  • thick and strong 

  • grow to 3-4metres 

  • contain the sugar "sucrose" 

  • harvested by hand or machine

  • cane needs to be processed ASAP, peel contains wild strains of bacteria and yeast can star to consume the sugar resulting in a drop in yield due to the bacterial infection occurring in the stem, can also cause undesirable flavours in the juice

  • liquid is obtained by crushed the stems in a mill 

  • only available during the harvest season (vintage variation)

  • must be fermented quickly

  • most sugar cane juice is used by the sugar industry for sugar 



  • the sugar cane juice once extracted is boiled to a syrup and the sugar crystalises

  • process of heating and crystallisation is repeated until all that is left is a dark syrupy residue 

  • molasses is a by-product of the sugar industry and is the starting point for most rums

  • it is a cheap, stable product that is widely traded

  • some Caribbean islands are net importers 

  • few producers are sufficient

  • quality and not origin is important 

Image below - Sugar cane


  • sugar cane (Rhum agricole and Cachaca) fermentation can begin ASAP

  • molasses need to be diluted, contains up to 60% sugar, would kill any yeast

  • molasses is diluted with water 

  • most distillers have cultivated their own yeast strain/strains in order to create specific flavours in the final product

  • temperatures in the distilleries need to be controlled (hot west indies heat)

  • the temperature in the fermenter can reach levels that kill the yeast, resulting in the fermentation ending prematurely 

  • technique to cool the fermenter > continually circulate it through a heat exchanger

Image below - molasses fermenting


Distillers in the Caribbean use a wide range of stills varying in style and size. 

Column still distillation > light marks

Pot stills > heavy mark

Retorts > separate copper vessels placed between a pot still and a condenser, flavour creators for aromatic rums

Column Still distillation

  • standard 2 column still

  • multiple column still including hydroselector and demethylising column 

  • used to make highly rectified rums

  • lower strength and highly flavoured marks can also be produced, by drawing the spirit off the still at a lower strength (Rhum Agricole)

Pot Still Distillation 

  • range of shapes/sizes

  • standards double pot distillation

  • pot distillation with the use of retorts for extra congeners 


  • separate copper vessel placed in the middle of the pot still and the condenser 

  • flavour creators, used mainly for heavier and more aromatic rums 

  • allow a distiller to produce a mark (distillate) in one distillation

  • the retorts are filled with the low and high wines from the previous distillation

  • alcohol vapour is released from the pot still and passes into the low-wines retort

  • low-wines retort contains a mix of low-wines and water 

  • hot vapour boils the liquid in the retort, releasing the most volatile components and concentrating the vapour to a higher strength

  • vapour is carried into the high-wines retort > contains high-wines and water

  • process is repeated

  • high-wines - hot vapour boils the liquid in order to release the most volatile components and concentrating the vapour

  • strength vapour is then condensed and collected as new make spirit

Distillation using a retort

  1. short heads run

  2. heart of the spirit is collected at 80-86%abv

  3. spirit falls to 80%abv the tails are collected in 2 parts 

  4. the first part that follows on from the heart > high wines

  5. the second, lower abv part  is collected when the spirit falls to around 40%abv > low wines

  6. low and high wines are used to fill their respective retorts for the next distillation

  7. once distillation is complete the liquid left in the retorts is fed back into the pot still

  8. the liquid is joined with fresh wash for the next batch distillation


  • the liquid left in the retorts contains congeners from the previous distillation

  • distiller can create different flavours by adjusting the structure of the retorts,

  • dunder or acidic material can be placed in the high-wines retort in order to create a high ester rum

Marks = Distillates 

Rum distillers will producer numerous marks. They need a variety to make up their blends, and they are also widely traded, especially to blenders in charge of large international or own-label brands.

Light marks 

  • quick fermentation

  • small number of congeners

  • cultured yeast

  • light bodied, highly rectified, light flavours/aromas

  • most use multiple column stills similar to vodka production

  • must be distillation to less than 95%abv (US) 96%abv (EU)

Heavy Marks 

  • cultured yeast

  • longer ferment, flavours have more time to develop

  • dunder in the high wines retorts (speciality) high ester rums 

  • aim > retain a high amount of congeners

  • pot still with retorts attached 

Image below - Pot still with retorts 


  • each mark is treated differently

  • light marks will see no/less oak

  • trade in Caribbean rums > previously matured in UK

  • Caribbean climate "tropical ageing"

  • high, humid temperature

  • distiller lose approx.. 6% of volume per year

  • 3 years tropical ageing = 1 year in Scotland

  • rum is pulled further into oak, higher levels of oak extraction at an earlier stage

  • light marks > needs a few months, oak can become too dominant

  • heavier marks > need time to develop and allow the green, unripe cane notes to turn into rich tropical fruits aromas

  • heavier the spirits = longer the maturation process 

  • vast majority, American oak, ex-bourbon barrels 

  • rhum agricole prefer ex-cognac, french oak

Blending and Finishing 

  • distilleries sell spirit to blending companies 

  • blends can be made up from different distilleries/islands/countries 

  • caramel is an important source of colour, used for colour consistency typically does not affect flavour

  • one style, Navy Blends - caramel has as significant impact on colour and taste 


White Rum 

  • clear and colourless

  • not time in wood, Bacardi do age their white rums in oak to round out the palate, filter to remove any colour

  • light to medium intensity

  • modelled around light marks

  • referred to as "Latin American style" -first rum to set this mould was Bacardi in cuba

  • made throughout the Caribbean and Central America

  • blend > light marks will often include some heavier marks for extra character

  • some do not conform to the general style and will have a higher % of heavier marks, result in a highly aromatic rum

Golden Rum

  • also known as amber rum

  • intense and complex 

  • colour and flavour is extracted from oak maturation

  • caramel can be added for colour consistency

Dark Rum 

  • premium styles will typically be older than golden rums 

  • gained much of their colour from oak

  • contain a greater % of heavier marks 

  • flavours > dried fruit, sweet spice, clove, cinnamon, fig and raisin

  • full bodied, smooth, intense and complex

Navy Rum 

  • sub-category of dark rum

  • based on a light column still rum

  • blended ith a soft sweet Demerara rum 

  • small amounts of Wedderburn, Jamaican pot still rum to provide an aromatic lift

  • large dose of caramel, darkens the colour and gives a slightly burnt-treacle finish

  • modelled on the dark, rich and heavy Navy rums, given to every Britsh Royal Navy sailor until 1970

Spiced Rum 

  • based on golden rums 

  • addition of spices, natural flavourings - cinnamon, aniseed, rosemary and pepper

  • caramel can be used for extra colour/ brand consistency

Image below - important rum-producing countries

 Jamaica - Guyana - Martinique - Guadeloupe 

Rum producing countries to remember! 


  • Central America - south of Trinidad 

  • rum distilling started in 1650, when it was under the control of the Dutch

  • style of rum is named after the major river Demerara

  • one of the wolrds major sugar producers 

  • long acted as the soft deep base for many British Navy blends

  • increasing volumes of rum have been sold under the Guyanese brand, El Dorado

  • in the 20th century, industry saw consolidation

  • even though distilleries were closed, they were preserved 

  • Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL) produce the widest range of marks in the world

  • all DDL marks come from the Diamond distillery

  • key to their diversity in the range of different stills 

  • wooden framed Coffey still- dating back to the 19th century

  • double and single column stills 

  • pot still made from greenheart wood with copper necks 

  • single pot still > wooden pot, a retort with a rectifier attached and a condenser

  • double pot > copper neck of the first pot goes into the body of the second pot and both are filled with wash. This particular pot produces a rum that is deep and powerful with aromas of black banana and overripe fruit


  • only Caribbean island that comes close to Guyana for range of styles 

  • producing punchy pot still rum for centuries

  • pot still heritage, very alive today

  • the key to their pot still rums begins in the fermenter

  • long ferments 

  • use of dunder 

  • graded by the concentration of esters and have been given different names.

  • COMMON CLEANS > delicate and slight floral. Lowest ester rums containing between 80-150 esters

  • PLUMMERS > light tropical fruits, slightly higher concentration 150-200 esters 

  • WEDDERBURN > fuller, deeper fruit, more body with increased pungency and lift, 200 esters 

  • CONTINENTAL FLAVOURED or  HIGH ESTERS > most pungent (gloss paint and acentone) heavily diluted there is concentrated banana, pineapple. Blenders use them as the equivalent of heavily peated malt. To achieve this intensity, usually 5-10 day fermentation, with dunder and cane waste. 500-1700 esters

  • All these rums are distilled in a pot-retort system and varying the contents of the retort will create new complex flavours

French Islands 

  • French owned islands - Martinique, Guadaloupe  and La Reunion

  • Rhum agricole - sugar cane > use of cane juice + method of distillation gives a different style of spirit. It is pungent and vegetal when young with aromas of green leaf, apple, grass, unripe banana, anise and violet.

  • Rhum industrial - molasses 


Rhum Agricole​

  • first made in the early 20th century as a result of France switching to a cheaper Euro-grow sugar beet

  • cane is harvested, crushed by roller to extract the juice 

  • juice goes into the fermenter

  • dry fibres are recycled and used as fuel for the distillery

  • ferments - short, some producers will prolong the ferment to increase complexity

  • alcoholic liquid of 4.5-9%abv

  • distillation by law takes place in continuous column stills, with a minimum of 20 rectification plates. 

  • new make spirit must be between 65% - 75%abv

  • the final spirit is congener heavy with an ester level of 350-400

  • esters are key to rhum agricole, spirits have pronounced flavours and character

  • varying conditions in the fermenter, strength of distillate and shape of the column = different flavours

  • maturation takes place in french oak (new and ex-cognac), American oak barrels and larger vats are used for ambre styles 

  • most is sold unaged as rhum blanc (rested for 3 months)

  • rhum blanc is a popular mixer in the local market

  • aged rum are sold as > Eleve sous bois, paille, ambre, vieux or as vintage 

  • AOC Martinique - only legally defined age statements 

Labelling terms 

Blanc - rested for 3 months 

Eleve sous bois - minimum of 12 months 

Paille/ambre - not leagally defined

Vieux - minimum of 3 years in oak casks, less than 650L

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