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What actually is Rum?

March 26, 2021
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Sam - Rum AmbassadorSam, our Brand Ambassador at Shakespeare Distillery has a love for spirits which extends well beyond his work life. This combined with his experience in distilleries and his training in the mixology world, lends itself perfectly to writing a series of blogs about rum and its production.

“What actually is Rum?”

This is one of the questions we hear the most. As one of the very few producers of rum in the UK who make it from scratch, we’ve certainly done our homework when it comes to rum.

When you think about rum you probably think about a mojito on the beach in Barbados, or Captain Jack Sparrow stumbling along the shores armed with an empty bottle of rum. Where does this association come from?

Well rum is made from sugar cane; either the sugar itself, sugar cane juice or the by-product of sugar production which is called ‘Molasses’. The Caribbean has the perfect climate for sugar cane to grow, so naturally it became one of the first places to start using it to create alcohol.

Molasses based rum generally speaking creates a richer, spicy style of spirit which is also known as Rum Industrial. Rum made from sugar cane juice is known as Rhum or Rhum Agricole, resulting in a sweeter, fruitier style. The big misconception with rum is that people think alcohol and flavour are both created during the distillation process – this is not the case! Gin gets it flavour from being distilled with botanicals whereas rum’s unique flavour and alcohol comes from fermentation.

Rum on the rocksDid you know that most distilleries in the UK will import their rum from the Caribbean? This means they have no control over the flavour of their rum. Our fermentation is a 7-day bubbling process in which the combination of yeast, water and sugar creates flavour and alcohol. Once the ferment has finished we are left with what is known as a wash; this is a beer-like liquid but stronger, fruitier and much sweeter. Enough of that for now, I will talk about fermentation in more detail in a later blog.

The wash will be distilled twice, concentrating the flavours and alcohol. The first distillation is called a stripping run (no this doesn’t mean we all run round the distillery in our underpants!) and it creates a spirit around 40-50%, known as the low wines. The second distillation is known as a spirit run, where our low wines are distilled into a delicious white rum.

It’s worth pointing out that ALL rum starts its life as a white rum! Anything that comes off a still is clear; colour is not transferred. From there it could be turned into a spiced rum, put into a barrel to age, or have caramel added to create a golden or dark rum. Because of this I would say that rum is by far the most versatile spirit on the market; there are so many different types and styles all with different serving suggestions. It makes ordering a gin and tonic seem really easy.

Rum tasting neatTo enjoy rum to its full potential, you need to understand the different styles of rum and how they are best drunk. Don’t let this scare you. In the forthcoming blogs we will be covering these all these points, but to get you going start by trying your spirits neat; this is something I preach across the whole industry. To know how to pair a spirit to a mixer and understand its flavour, base and quality you have to try spirits neat. Even if you don’t feel you know how to officially taste rum the right way, have a smell, have a taste and start seeing the versatility rum has to offer.

What do we know? We know that rum comes from sugar cane, that the base flavours we have in rum are from the fermentation process and rum is one of the most versatile spirits on the market. If you want to understand its complex nature start sipping neat before mixing. Moving forwards, I am going to be posting more blogs about the styles of rum and how best to mix them, some of the history behind rum and the way that it has adapted into the spirit we know and love today. I am also going to take you deeper into the production of our stunning product, looking at the fermentation process, distillation and how our way compares to the rest of the industry. If you want these blogs to cover anything in particular then please do get in touch with suggestions.

Cheers, Sam