Rum Story // Rum Has Rules

Rum Story // Rum Has Rules

Written By: Richard Nicholson, New Zealand Rum Society

What makes a good or great rum?

Obviously, any answer will be very subjective! But there are ground rules as to how rum is made and therefore what great rum producers focus on when creating their rums.

In future posts we’ll look at each element, so treat this as an introductory overview. And, like any summarised account, there will be generalisations, which means we will cover off nuances in future posts.


First rule. Sugarcane.

Firstly, and most importantly, rum’s core ingredient is derived from sugarcane. Not sugar beet, or heaven forbid, a neutral spirit (i.e. vodka) that has then had flavouring added to appear to be a ‘flavoured rum.’ Believe it or not, this happens!

The juice of the crushed cane is used – that juice then goes through a process to turning it into a syrup, or, alternatively,  a form of molasses (i.e. a by-product of sucrose extraction) is used.



Second rule. Fermentation.

The sugarcane juice, syrup or molasses needs to then be fermented before it is distilled. This will create the first step in producing alcohol. The fermentation can be controlled or natural and have a short or long cycle fermentation, and a variety of different methods can be applied.

It is here that we get most of our congeners (flavour and aroma compounds), including esters. In some instances, this can result in very big flavours, such as the famed ‘Jamaica funk’.

We’ll get into this, and other fun fermentation facts, in future ‘rum stories.’ Stay tuned!

Looking for a great 'Jamaica'? Try out this one:



Third rule. Distillation.

The fermented sugarcane juice/syrup/molasses, which is often called the wash, or wine (or vin for French-speaking rum producers) is then distilled and in most rum producing countries it must not contain distillation past 96% abv.

Distillation is generally performed in one of three types of stills (although it can be combinations thereof), namely: pot still, single or double column still, and multi-column still. In general, pot stills will give you heavier (think full bodied, big, intense flavour), and column stills will be lighter, although there are many exceptions to column distillation, which we will cover in a later post.

We've got the perfect example of this – The Grander Panama shows many varieties of column distillation:


It's important to note that those congeners we spoke of in fermentation are changed or eliminated during the distillation process (not all flavours or aromas are wanted!). But it’s up to the distiller to decide what they want to create, and therefore what you will enjoy in the glass.


Fourth rule. Maturation (ageing)

Rum does not have to be aged to be a great rum, but in general, most of those sipping rums you enjoy are aged. We’ll talk about unaged rums in more detail in due course, in the meantime have a look here at Rum Runner’s selection.

The new make rum is put into oak casks that are predominantly made from European oaks (mainly French and Spanish), or American oak. Sometimes they will be new casks and sometimes they will be casks that previously contained another spirit like Bourbon or Cognac.

Ex-Bourbon casks are by far the majority of rums, and here is a great example:



When the rum interacts with the wood there is a wonderful symbiosis that occurs. The alcohol seeps into the wood and partly there is a filtration of sorts, and some of the unwanted flavours are removed or more intense elements are softened, whilst conversely, the wood imparts some of its own flavour characteristics, such as caramel, dark chocolate and vanilla, or dried fruit, tobacco and spices.

Ageing can enhance a rum’s character but there are many variables other than simply how long it’s been in a barrel.

Don’t get too hung about a twenty year rum vs a ten year old rum, nor dismiss some of the incredible blended rums on offer - here’s an example:



So, what makes a good or great rum?

Well, there you have it. The different elements that help create a rum. The best ones, the great rums, are a result of careful consideration along each step, and as you’ve probably noticed, there’s quite a bit to it! The selection of rums at Rum Runners are a representation of some of those methods and styles.


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