Great rum is a powerful expression of its base ingredient—molasses or cane sugar. Rum is a distilled spirit, the same as vodka or gin. Spirit distillation is a means of heating a base alcoholic liquid in order to concentrate the alcohol and remove unwanted toxins. There are no universal rules governing the production of rum, but there are differences in styles.
What defines a rum style?
Stylistic differences can generally be grouped by the method of production used to make it and by the European country that colonized the various rum producing states.
Spanish Rum - Lighter, more delicate styles are often made in countries colonized by the Spanish such as Cuba and Puerto Rico. Much of this influence can be attributed to Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, who revolutionized the rum distillation process by using a continuous still instead of pot stills which produce richer flavours.
English Rums - English rums from countries such as Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Jamaica and the Demerara region including Guyana tend to be the richest and sweetest of rums, but wide variances exist. These often molasses-based, and traditionally pot still distilled rum, are rich and sweet in character. The rich character of these rums is often enhanced with extended maturation in oak barrels.
French Rhum - The French rum, or rhums, are typically made by fermenting pure sugarcane juice, not molasses. These rums tend to provide more of the flavour of the sugarcane than others. Rums such as Barbancourt, produced in Haiti, also use more French oak for maturation. The oak provides a more subtle vanilla quality to the rums as opposed to the more obvious toasty, smoky character of rums aged in Bourbon casks.
White Rum - White rums are the lightest, regardless of their place of origin. They are aged in oak but charcoal filtered to remove colour. Great for mixed drinks and cocktails.
Gold/Amber - As the name suggests, they are amber in colour. Many gain their colour from oak, some from the addition of caramel for colour. Great for cocktails.
Dark Rum - Rich rums that have gained complex caramel, toffee, spice and dried fruit flavours from extended oak aging. Great for robust cocktails or sipping on their own.
Naval Rum - Dark rum, traditionally given to British naval officers, as part of their daily ration.
Overproof - Rum bottled at more than 50% alcohol.
Single Barrel - Rums bottled from a single cask as opposed to being a blend of several casks. Most rums are the latter.