Rum is a distilled beverage made from sugarcane byproducts. Molasses or sugarcane juice is distilled and aged in oak barrels creating a clear alcoholic beverage. Rum is produced in most of the Caribbean countries, as well as Australia, India, Fiji, and Mexico. In Jamaica the rum is usually dark in color and possesses a subtle molasses taste making it a favorite beverage to drink straight, without mixing.
The first distillation of rum took place on sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean during the 17th century. Of course the most famous association with rum is that of the Royal Navy. Historical documents show the Royal Navy discovering rum for the first time in 1655 when they captured the island of Jamaica. The daily ration for each sailor was at that time French brandy, however since rum could be produced on site, the ration was changed to Jamaican rum. The English sailors found the effects of the rum to be a little stronger than they could handle, thus the practice of watering it down with ale began. The mixture was called ‘grog’.
Rum can be made from sugarcane or molasses. Rhum Agricole is made from fresh squeezed sugar cane juice which is then distilled 70%, and originated in the French West Indies. The alcohol content can be as high as 140 proof, but before it is served in Jamaica or the US the drink is watered down to about 40 proof. The aging process is only three months, but some distilleries venture at aging the beverage for a few years and calling it Rhum Vieux or old rum.
The addition of yeast to sugar cane or molasses is the commencement of the fermentation process in creating rum. It converts the sucrose to glucose, which in turn converts to alcohol. Once the fermentation is completed, the mixture is still in the form of a ‘wine’. To concentrate the alcohol it is boiled and the vapor is collected and condensed. The resulting liquid is then aged in barrels once used for whiskey or bourbon. The aging process can last from one to 30 years, making rum one of the most varied beverages available.
The grades of rum are completely dependent on where the rum is produced. For example, light rum usually comes from Brazil or Puerto Rico. It is sometimes referred to as silver rum or white rum and has very little flavor aside from being sweet. Light rum is the most popular variety for mixing in cocktails. Gold rum is also called amber rum and gains its color from the aging process. The taste is stronger than light rum, but not as strong as spiced or dark rum. Spiced rum gets its flavor from spices or caramel added before the fermentation process. Resorts in Jamaica will serve the traditional dark rum which is aged longer than other varieties. It is stored most commonly in charred barrels, adding to the color and flavor. Over-proof rum is rum that has an alcohol content of 60% to 80%.
After the British discovered the wonders of rum, they quickly altered the traditional wassail punch with rum and the modern rum punch was born. Should you decide to visit Gran Bahia Principe be sure to ask for a large serving of Jamaican Rum Punch. The beverage is a pleasing mix of ‘one sour, two sweet, three strong, four weak’, or one part lime juice, two parts sugarcane, three parts dark rum and four parts water. Other Jamaican Rum Punch recipes call for white rum and grenadine as well as dark rum. The Hot Toddy is another famous rum drink, previously touted for its healing powers for those suffering from the cold or flu. A Hot Toddy is simply warmed rum mixed with honey, boiling water and lemon. Similarly, Hot Buttered Rum is warmed dark rum mixed with butter, sugar, cloves and boiling water. It is traditional in St. Thomas hotels to also add heavy cream, cinnamon and nutmeg as well.
Jamaican rum has always had the reputation as the most flavorful of the rums made. Combined with the rich history of the country, it is easy to see why rum is synonymous with the island paradise.