Rum 101

RUM is a distilled liquor made from sugar, sugar cane juice and/or molasses by a process of fermentation and distillation. Distillation is done using pot stills (known as batch distillation, the method used to distill brandy - why some rum may be referred to as sugar brandy) or column stills (known as continuous distillation, which may produce a more consistent product). The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in wooden casks, typically of oak. Most of the world's rum comes from the Caribbean, where it originated (most accounts credit the island of Barbados with its creation, though Cuba, Brazil, and Guyana all also claim its origination) after Europeans introduced the sugar cane plant from Asia to the region and applied their Brandy methodology to what was essentially a waste by-product of sugar production, molasses.

The age of the rum as indicated on the label does not necessarily refer to all the liquid in the bottle as most rums are a blend of various aged rums in order to produce a desired taste, smoothness, and alcohol content. In the U.S., if a distiller wants to indicate a rum's age on the label, by law they have to use the youngest rum in the blend. However, in most other countries, particularly in the Caribbean, the bottle is usually labeled with the oldest age in the blend. Thus, a rum with a blend of ages varying from 2 to 12 years is labeled "2 Years Old" in the US and "12 Years Old" almost everywhere else.

Rum is primarily produced in the following styles:

White Rums
White Rums, also referred to as light, silver, or platinum, are light-bodied and are typically aged less than 12 months in uncharred oak barrels. They are dry, colorless, strong, and typically without any overwhelming flavors aside from a general sweetness and taste of alcohol. As such, they are often used as a base for cocktails. White rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove color.

Gold Rums
Gold Rums, also called amber rums, are light- to medium-bodied rums that are generally aged about 3 years in wooden barrels, usually charred oak barrels that have been previously used to age a different spirit such as whiskey or sherry. Rums referred to as añejo are aged for more than 3 and up to 10 years, and may be considered dark rums depending on color. Gold rums are richer flavored, deeper colored (naturally through aging or from the addition of caramel) and mellower than light rums.

Dark (and Aged) Rums
Dark Rums are - surprise, surprise - darker than gold rums. They are generally produced in pot stills and are often aged longer (typically more than 5 years, and may be aged for decades), in heavily charred barrels. Like gold rums, some dark rums may also achieve their color through the addition of caramel. Dark rums are medium- to full-bodied and have more robust flavors, aromas and textures than light or gold rums. Black rums are the darkest variety of rum, usually from heavy molasses use and the addition of extra caramel and spices. They are primarily used as added flavor in tropical drinks and are the most common form of rum used in cooking.

Spiced Rums
Spiced Rums, sometimes referred to as Aromatic Rums, are gold rums with added spices and tropical flavorings, though many cheaper brands are made from spicing inexpensive white rums and darkened with artificial caramel coloring.

Infused Rums
Infused Rums, also known as Flavored Rums, are typically made from light-bodied rums, and are infused with the essence of ingredients such as fruits, coffee, vanilla, or coconut. They are often bottled at less than 80 proof.

Sugar Cane Rums
Sugar Cane Rums are made from fresh sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses, and as such retain more of the pure flavor of the sugar cane. These rums are particularly popular in French-Speaking Caribbean countries where they are known as Rhum Agricole. In Brazil, the popular sugar cane spirit is known as Cachaça. Similarly, aguardiente, Spanish for "painful water," is a harsh, unaged sugar cane spirit popular in Central America.

Rum Cream
Rum Creams, as the name implies, are rum- and cream-based liqueur drinks.

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