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Rum Styles, Categories and Distinctions
To many people, rum is simple -- a common alcoholic beverage of the Caribbean islands. But if you look a little closer, the noble spirit of sugar cane has far more styles and variations than its distant cousins Bourbon, Whiskey, Scotch, Cognac and Tequila.
First, rum is made in more than 80 countries worldwide. Obviously, Scotch comes from Scotland. Tequila comes from a small part of Mexico. Bourbon originated in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Tennessee Whiskey comes from -- take a guess. Cognac can only be made in a particular sector of France.
The fact that rum is produced in every region where sugar cane grows -- and then some -- is the first broad indication as to the myriad styles and variations that each territory brings to their rum production -- much more akin to the incredible variety of wines and beers of the world.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Caribbean Rum Varies From Region to Region, Style to Style
Every region of the Caribbean makes rum their own way. Rum can be as light and clear as vodka, or as herbaceous as gin. Smoky and rich with wood tones like whiskey. Fruity and refined like Sherry and Brandy. Spicy, sassy and piquant like Tequila. Rum can certainly be inexpensive, accessible and casual. Rum can also be refined, complex and luxurious. Rum can be whimsical, flavorful and flat-out unadulterated fun. Some rums play like a delicious dessert.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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Spanish Style Rums are Dry and Light
The traditional Spanish style of Caribbean rums made in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico are generally well refined, dry and light in body. These rums are often efficiently distilled in tall columns and take most of their flavor from the barrels in which they're aged.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Full-Flavored, Pot-Stilled Rums from the British West Indies
The traditional British West Indies style rums from Barbados, Jamaica, or Guyana are among the most rich, full-flavored and pungent. With longer and slower fermentations, they are refined in simple, inefficient, rustic pot stills where they retain more flavor compounds before aging begins. After maturing for years in the Caribbean heat, they begin to present bold flavor profiles that are reminiscent of rich navy style rums.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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French Caribbean Rums Come Right from the Cane
The French Caribbean islands have their own distinct style -- Rhum Agricole. In Martinique, by law, they create rums directly from cane juice, not molasses. The don't distill this rhum to the highest proof possible, as many Spanish style distillers do, but seek to retain more of the cane flavor compounds in their final product, often aged in oak barrels from the Limousin forest of France. These flavor profiles tend to be more vegetal, grassy, and complex. Similar rhums are made in Guadeloupe, nearby.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Cachaca, the Unique (and Powerful) Rum of Brazil
The rums of Brazil are also made in a more rustic method, from cane juice, not molasses. Known as Cachaça (ka-SHA-sa), these unique cane spirits are distilled to lower proofs and often bottled after little or no age in barrels. Cachaça tends to be inexpensive, unpretentious, herbaceous, a bit wild -- and extremely popular in Brazil.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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From Antigua to Venezuela, Rum Comes in Many Styles
Guatemala and Venezuela are known for their sweet delicious aged rums like Zacapa and Diplomatico. Trinidad's Angostura and St. Lucia Distillers are accomplished at creating a myriad varieties of rum. On the island of Antigua, English Harbour brand is an authentic style to their region. Grenada still makes some rum just as they did 250 years ago at River Antoine. Colombia also has a reputation for fine rums and aguardiente, fresh un-aged rum. Few people realize that some of the best South American rums come from Cartavio, Peru.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Choose from White, Gold, Spiced, Flavored, or Dark Rums
We all know about white (or clear) rums, made with a light profile to be complimentary with cola, fruit juices and other mixers. The gold rums offer a bit more aged rum flavor. Spiced rums combine the exotic elements of the spice islands to produce complex and intriguing profiles that bring tropical flavor to any drink. Flavored rums -- in seemingly endless varieties -- deliver delicious notes of coconut, citrus, mango, banana, passionfruit and dozens of other varieties. Dark, rich rums are often a favorite for topping cocktails like Mai Tais and Piña Coladas.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Aging is Where the Rum 'Magic' Really Happens
With age, rum really shines. The combination of well distilled rum and toasted or charred oak barrels is magic. After four or five years, these rums are developing intense and complex flavors. By eight or ten or twelve years, it's downright luxurious. Rums that exceed 15, 18, 21 and 25 years are often considered the ultimate expressions of the category. But, even the finest and most luxurious rums are a bargain compared to the finest Whiskies, Tequilas, Scotches and Cognacs.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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Rum is Fun! So Be Adventurous
The United States is the largest market for rum in the world. In the past decade, the number of rum brands and expressions imported in the U.S. has skyrocketed in many regions. There are rums on the shelves from almost every Caribbean country, and from as far away as Asia, Africa and Europe.
Rum is fun. Be adventurous. There are so many categories, styles and variations to enjoy. You're never done discovering rum. And just when you think you know it all, new rums are being introduced to the market every single day.
For more information, pick up a copy of Rob's Rum Guide, with tasting notes and information on more than 500 rums, or check it out online at RobsRumGuide.com.