Rum is riding high now but it’s had an interesting journey, as Maxxium UK’s Andy Gemmell explains
LINKED to everything from pirates to Piña Coladas, rum is truly one of the world’s most diverse and exciting spirits.
Sometimes described as the ‘bad boy’ of the spirit world, it’s a category that’s not constrained by the same rules as other spirits.
Whether it’s mixed in punches or served on the rocks, rum can be enjoyed in so many ways, which is probably the reason it’s the drink of choice for many bartenders.
White, golden, dark, spiced or over-proof – rum is a broad category, with great variations in raw ingredients, distillation, ageing and blending
Just like the regional variations in whisky, rum can also be defined by where it originates, though on a much grander scale. Darker rums, which generally have a fuller taste retaining much of the molasses flavour, come from the former English colonies such as Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and the Virgin Islands, while the lighter, cleaner rums tend to originate from the Spanish speaking islands and countries, like the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, Rhum Agricole, produced from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, is typical of the French-speaking islands of Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Originating in Barbados, rum’s popularity spread to Europe and colonial America several centuries ago, which led to more and more distilleries being built to cope with the demand and refine production.
This resulted in a ‘triangular trade’, with slaves brought from Africa to work on the plantations in the Caribbean to produce sugar that was then distilled in the colonies to make rum, with the profit being reinvested in the slave trade.
No one is entirely sure where the name ‘rum’ actually originated, but there have been many colourful suggestions ranging from ‘rummers’, the nickname for the drinking glasses (roemers) preferred by 17th century Dutch sailors who sailed in the Caribbean, to the French word for aroma (arôme), or the rummage – the English naval term for the ship’s hold where rum would have been kept.
Nowadays rum is going from strength to strength as bartenders and consumers begin to appreciate what it has to offer.
The Mojito is the most popular cocktail in the UK; golden rum is one of the fastest-growing drinks categories, spurred on by the spiced rums within this sector; and a raft of new brands have been launched.
Rum has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings.