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Rum: The Complete Guide from History, Types to Rum Production

Published: 03.08.2022

Rum is distilled liquor or spirit that’s produced from sugarcane. It is from either sugarcane juice or the by-product of cane sugar known as molasses.

To turn it into the rum we know and love, the liquid goes through a fermentation and distillation process that differs from country to country. Not to forget, the environmental factors, aging period, and even the barrel used to store the rum add unique flavor, color, and taste, making it possible to produce diverse varieties of rum. 

From clear white to gold and dark rum, there’s a choice for every occasion when it comes to infusing them in your cocktails. Be it exotic cocktails at a party, refreshing ones beside a tropical beach, or spiced rum during winter seasons. 

If you want to make one yourself, check out our wide range of delicious cocktail recipes.

In this guide, we will tell you all about this popular spirit that’s become a beloved ingredient in cocktail drinks all over the world. Read on to find out.

History of Rum

When the Europeans started growing sugarcane, one of the most ideal places was found in the Caribbean Islands. Due to its perfect environmental conditions, it made growing and harvesting sugarcane more profitable.

With large quantities of sugar being produced, the waste by-product of sugarcane, the molasses was discarded. Fortunately, the slaves working in the plantations discovered that this by-product can be refined; its impurities were segregated through distillation and then fermented. 

Historians believe that traditionally rum originated in the Caribbean Island nation of Barbados. According to a 1651 document from Barbados, it states, “The chief fuddling they make in the Island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this made from sugar canes distilled, a hot hellish, and terrible liquor”.

The rum was earlier called, “Rumbullion”, or “Kill-Divil” because of its strong undiluted taste and crude distillation methods. It was eventually shortened to just rum in 1667.

With the rum production in the Caribbean a success, its popularity skyrocketed and spread to colonial America. In 1664, the first distillery outside the Caribbean was built in Staten Island. 

The rum industry was the most prosperous and largest establishment in early colonial New England. It dominated the trade, and the region’s economy, and even aided the American Revolution. The rum produced there was considered the best in the world during a larger part of the 18th century. 

The late 19th century saw the emergency of rum production which was light-bodied and dry. Spanish-born Don Facundo Bacardi Masso with the help of French Cuban Jose Leon Bountellier began the distillation of rum which was in a more palatable form and refined.

This new brand of rum was marketed as a white-labeled grade because of its mild flavor and pale color. This gave rise to the exquisite world-famous Bacardi rum. 

The first brand of rum is said to be Mount Gay, founded in 1703 in Barbados, the birthplace of modern rum. It is also said to be the place where the world's oldest commercially run distillery exists. 

In 2011, bottled rums were found in the Harewood House in the UK. It is believed to have been distilled from Barbados in 1780. In the 19th century, it was transported to England at the behest of Edward Lascelles, who was Harewood’s first Earl.

These dark and light rum bottles are called the Harewood rum. It finds its place in the Guinness World Records as the oldest known rum in the world. 

What is Rum made of?


Do you ever wonder what your favorite rum is made from? The answer is from sugarcane juice or molasses, which goes through distillation and fermentation. 

Molasses is a dark brown waste by-product of sugarcane after it’s been crushed; the juice is extracted and boiled to form sugar crystals. 

Once the juice is pressed from the sugarcane or molasses is produced, it is then integrated with yeast and water as a base.

The rum flavor ranges from dark, white, and blackstrap. Blackstrap molasses is a thick, bitter concoction produced by shredding and smashing the sugarcane. It is then boiled to a certain degree till it turns black. This thick black syrup is what is known as blackstrap. 

To add that robust licorice flavor you find in blackstrap rum, find our carefully put-together cocktail recipes and add an exotic spin to your drinks. 

How Rum is made?

With the history of rum taking center stage in many countries and their culture, it is vital to learn how rum is made. Here is the step-by-step guide to rum making:

Step 1: Sugarcane Harvesting


Sugarcane is a multi-purpose crop; it can be either used to produce sugar crystals or used as a base for making rum.

Sugarcane is usually harvested around the fall when the stems are tall and thick. With the help of machetes, the stems are cut close to the ground which has the highest concentration of sugar. The roots are left undeterred for it to re-grow in time for the next crop. 

Some regions in Hawaii and Louisiana use machines to commercially harvest sugarcane. While in some areas of Florida, cane growers primarily harvest by hand. 

There are various varieties of sugarcane; this and the regions where it’s grown play a significant role in the flavor profile of the rum produced from it.

Step 2: Extraction

Sugarcane consists of 73% of water, and 16% soluble sugars, while the rest is non-sugars and fibers. For extraction, the cane is cleaned, chopped into small lengths and then pressed to get water and sugarcane juice. 

The end-product that comes from the extraction of cane juice is molasses. A sweet, dark viscous substance made from refining sugar. Most rum is produced from sugarcane-based molasses.

Step 3: Fermentation


The most crucial stage in producing rum is the fermentation process. This process breaks down the sugar into alcohol. The base ingredients can either be cane sugar juice or sugarcane syrup, to this yeast is added. 

A chemical compound called congeners is created due to the addition of yeast. It is a collection of acids, esters, and aldehydes. 

They are flavorsome compounds that determine the style of rum being produced. Their formation will be either let to continue or cut short by the temperature of the fermentation or the type of yeast used. 

Some rum producers use a specific strain of yeast for a predictable time frame in fermentation and consistent taste. Such as Bacardi uses faster-working yeast to produce lighter rums. 

While some use traditional wild yeast to give the rum a distinct taste and flavor. For example, Dunder is a traditional yeast flavor source used in the fermentation process of wash of Jamaican rum.

How long does it require to ferment rum?

After all the ingredients are left to rest, the sugars get converted to alcohol with the help of yeast. Depending upon the variety of rum, the time required to ferment rum can take a whole day or a few weeks. 

The quicker the fermentation process the lighter the wash, this type can be seen while producing white rum. But when the fermentation occurs slowly, where the yeast is added steadily at intervals, it tends to produce a darker much richer version of rum upon distillation.  

Once the bubbling process of the fermentation is complete, the mash is allowed to rest for 6-7 days.

Step 4: Distillation


Distillation is as vital as the fermentation process in the making of rum. Fermentation generates flavor and gives rum its depth, while distillation either removes or separates flavors. This helps distinguish various types of rums from light to heavy.

When it comes to rum distillation, there are two types of stills used for rum production. The type of distillate rum produced can be influenced according to which of these two stills are used. 

  • Copper pot (Alembic) stills 
  • Column (Coffey) stills. 

Copper Pot Distillation:

Rum distilled through a copper pot is the original type of rum making. It works as a large copper kettle, where low-proof alcohol is heated with the lid covered. 

About two-thirds of the fermented liquid is poured into the pot still. It is then heated so that the liquid boils. This happens at an ideal temperature of 78.

The alcohol-enriched vapor travels up through a long tube. Here, the vapor condenses and converts back to the liquid state.

Spirits produced from pot stills are said to retain more flavor from the wash than compared to other distillation processes. Though it is considered the simplest form of distillation, it requires a specific skill set to produce good rum. 

Column Still Distillation

Column stills are also called “continuous stills” because unlike pot stills they can continuously run without the need to start or stop at intervals between batches. 

In addition, they produce a higher concentration of alcohol in the final distillate, with much cleaner and lighter rum. These attributes of column stills make them more economical to operate compared to pot stills. 

Column stills contain two long columns. The first column known as the analyzer works to keep the steam rising while it lets the wash gradually descend. 

The rectifier, which is the second column, helps the alcohol pass from the wash. Here it circulates until it cools and condenses into rum at certain levels.

The more towering the stills are, the more levels or plates they contain. This in turn produces a much more pure form of alcohol or lighter rum. 

Step 5: Aging of Rum


Whether the spirits are distilled in copper pot stills or column stills, the rum produced is a clear liquid. The color and flavor hugely depend on the rum aging process.  

Rum is stored for aging in stainless steel vats or oak barrels. In stainless steel vats, it retains the color of white rum. When stored in oak barrels, rum turns darker over time. Some even use bourbon and whiskey barrels to age the rum. 

Everything from the duration of the aging, climate, humidity, and even the size of the barrel used to store rum affects the aging process. Dark rum has a longer aging period than white rum. 

The alcohol in the rum infuses with the wood and extracts its color and distinct flavor. This provides rum with an enhanced and smooth quality of aged rum.

Step 6: Blending

Blending is the final stage in the production of rum. This is where a distiller can alter the character of the rum. Different varieties of rum available in the market are blends of dark and white rum of varying aging stages.

During the blending process, in the case of dark rum, caramel may be added to boost color and flavor. Whereas white rum can be filtered to remove any color that might have been gained during aging. 

Types of Rum

The majority of the rum produced in the world comes from the Caribbean and North and South America. With over 80 countries around the world producing rum, there are diverse varieties of this drink you can garnish in your cocktails. 

Following are some classifications of rum based on their color and history.

White or Clear Rum


White rum also called light, silver, or clear rum, as the name suggests is colorless alcohol. The production of this type of rum began in the 19th century. To achieve dry and light-bodied rum, cultured yeast was infused in the fermentation and distillation process. 

White rum was famous for its mild and pale color and it was exclusively produced and distributed in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. 

If you want to garnish your drinks with white or clear rum, check out our cocktail recipes

Dark Rum


This type of rum has a fuller and darker flavor profile than white or gold rum. After its invention and growing popularity throughout the British era, many tried to interpret its taste and color even in countries that had no-sugar producing colonies.

In the 19th century, a new kind of beverage called “Inlander rum” was created to taste and look like dark rum. They were invented by European distillers by adding grain alcohols to flavored beverages. Over the years, its formula has been changed by mixing imported molasses and to comply with EU regulations. 

Check out our cocktail recipes for dark rum and add that deep, smoky-sweet flavor to your drinks.

Gold Rum


Gold rum also known as amber or pale rum has a much smoother and richer flavor than white rum. This rum is aged in wooden barrels that give that smoky-sweet taste. 

It originated in the Caribbean around the 19th century in the region of the Americas. It contains 40% ABV and is used in some of the favorites such as the original Cuba Libre. They are also best used in cocktails as well as cuisines. 

Want that rich, buttery undertones in your drink? Then get started with these exciting cocktail recipes today!

Overproof Rum

Overproofed as the name suggests contains a higher concentration of alcohol than normal. It contains over 57% ABV. 

The interesting history behind overproofed rum is that, during the British colonial era, sailors in the British navy were given a regular ration of Cognac. But due to many ships docking in the Caribbean and Cognac being expensive, an alternative was provided in the form of rum.

But the hazard of accidentally spilling rum on gunpowder proved it was difficult to light it. But that wasn’t the case with overproofed rum. Therefore, some overproofed rums have the marker “navy strength” or gunpowder proof. 

Overproof rum is popular in the Caribbean regions where they prefer a stronger type of rum.

Rhum Agricole

Rhum Agricole is a French term meaning sugarcane juice rum. It is also called “Plantation rum”. They are traditionally made from freshly squeezed sugarcane juice rather than molasses. This style of rum is produced in Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe. 

The birth of Rhum Agricole began in the French Caribbean islands. In 1870, the once most priced sugarcane suddenly dropped in prices due to the emergence of sugar beets in Europe, and the overproduction of sugarcane worldwide. Many distillers and smallholdings were driven to bankruptcy. To cut costs and find alternative uses for sugarcane, the obvious choice was made to produce rum directly from sugarcane juice. 

Its flavor is described as earthy, herbal, grassy, and vegetal. Rum lovers who want to try something new should go for Rhum Agricole.


Cachaca is also known as caninha or pinga and it’s the most popular spirit compared to other distilled alcoholic drinks in Brazil. It is made from fermenting sugarcane juice and producing spirit through distillation. 

Cachaca was invented shortly after sugarcane was introduced in Brazil by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Popularly called the “People’s spirit”, it was created by slaves working in the plantation and distillation mills. Over time the elite of Brazil came to enjoy the drink and spread to the whole of Brazil and beyond. 

September 13th is celebrated as the Cachaca day and is known as a close cousin to rum. Cachaca is widely used as an ingredient in tropical cocktails. 

Flavored Rum


Flavored rum is a diverse variety of natural and artificial ingredients infused in the rum for the desired flavor. The flavors are added after fermentation and distillation.  

It contains about 80% proof. Some of the flavors of fruits used are mango, banana, lime, orange, citrus, star fruit, or coconut.

It’s unclear when they started mixing flavors to add that extra punch to rum. Though, it is believed that the Caribbean islanders have been infusing various flavors with rum for centuries.

It was a traditional practice to add fruits, herbs or spices to cool down the heat of the freshly produced rum. This made the strong spirit more palatable and added medicinal value. 

If you are looking for a tropical-themed drink, we have got you covered, check out our delicious cocktail recipes

Spiced Rum

If you want that sharp spicy note in your drinks, then spiced rum can be the choice for you. Some of the common spices mixed with rum are seeds of vanilla, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, rosemary, cardamom, and ginger to name a few. 

There is no definite evidence to pinpoint when spiced rums were first recognized. But plantation owners and distillers in the Caribbean were known for growing spices beside sugarcanes, and then mix their home spice blends with rum. 

The most poignant moment for spiced rum was in 1984 when Captain Morgan Rum Company started distributing spiced rums in the US. To this day, they are popular behind almost every bar across the world. 


Rum is a key ingredient in many classic cocktails whether it’s Zombie, Mojito, Hurricane, or Daiquiri. This exquisite spirit is not just a drink but an experience. If you’re a rum lover or new to the world of rum, we hope that this article gave you new insight into the history, making and types of rum. 

For adding your favorite drink to cocktails, find our exclusively curated cocktail recipes for all occasions. As the saying goes, “If life gives you lime, make a glass of Dark ‘n’ Stormy”.

Author: editorial office