Rum – a quick guide

Rum DOES NOT come in white, golden, dark. This marketing nonsense. 

Rum is a distilled spirit like any other. To be called Rum, it must be made from fermented sugar cane, or by-products of the sugar production (ie molasses). 

Generally, stick to the fact that Rhum is fermented cane juice, and tends to be made on French speaking islands.

Rum, or Ron, is made from fermented molasses. Traditionally, Spanish speaking islands tend to produce rum distilled in column stills, and English speaking cultures use pot stills.

Rum, like other spirits, may be aged (hence the colour to some), or unaged. It may even be lightly aged and filtered to remove colour. Colour tells you very little. 

“Dark” rum is simply coloured with caramel. 


What makes Rum, Rum?

Rum distinguishes itself from other spirits by the plant from which it is made. In the US, rum is defined as a spirit distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane byproducts at less than 95% abv and bottled at at least 40% alcohol by volume.
In the EU, rum can be distilled to up to 96% abv must retain the aroma and taste of rum.
Sugar cane, a member of the grass family has its origins in Papau New Guinea but this hearty plant is grown in tropical climes around the world. The sweet juice of the mature plant is extracted by pressing the hard stalk in mechanical mills.

Some distilleries use this fresh juice while others use the by product of the sugar refining process known as molasses as the raw material for the fermentation process.


The EU Says


Rum is:


a spirit drink produced exclusively by alcoholic fermentation and distillation, either from molasses or syrup produced in the manufacture of cane sugar or from sugar-cane juice itself and distilled at less than 96 % vol. so that the distillate has the discernible specific organoleptic characteristics of rum, or


a spirit drink produced exclusively by alcoholic fermentation and distillation of sugar-cane juice which has the aromatic characteristics specific to rum and a volatile substances content equal to or exceeding 225 grams per hectolitre of 100 % vol. alcohol. This spirit may be placed on the market with the word ‘agricultural’ qualifying the sales denomination ‘rum’ accompanied by any of the geographical indications of the French Overseas Departments and the Autonomous Region of Madeira as registered in Annex III.


The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of rum shall be 37,5 %.


No addition of alcohol as defined in Annex I(5), diluted or not, shall take place.


Rum shall not be flavoured.


Rum may only contain added caramel as a means to adapt colour.


The word ‘traditionnel’ may supplement any of the geographical indications mentioned in category 1 of Annex III where the rum is produced by distillation at less than 90 % vol., after alcoholic fermentation of alcohol-producing materials originating exclusively in the place of production considered. This rum must have a volatile substances content equal to or exceeding 225 grams per hectolitre of 100 % vol. alcohol and must not be sweetened. The use of the word ‘traditionnel’ does not prevent the use of the terms ‘from sugar production’ or ‘agricultural’ which may be added to the sales denomination ‘rum’ and to geographical indications.

This provision shall not affect the use of the word ‘traditionnel’ for all products not covered by this provision, according to their own specific criteria.