How to Choose a Great Caribbean Rum

  • 01 of 10

    Rum Styles, Categories and Distinctions

    Pyrat rum cocktails
    ••• Rum cocktails. © Elenadan/CC by 2.0

    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.

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  • 02 of 10

    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.

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  • 03 of 10

    Spanish Style Rums are Dry and Light

    Havana Club rum
    ••• Havana Club rum from Cuba. © Guillaume Baviere/CC by 2.0

    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.

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  • 04 of 10

    Full-Flavored, Pot-Stilled Rums from the British West Indies

    Mount Gay Extra Old rum
    ••• Mount Gay Extra Old rum from Barbados. © Richard Whitaker/CC by 2.0

    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.

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  • 05 of 10

    French Caribbean Rums Come Right from the Cane

    ••• Ingredients for a Ti Punch Cocktail. a Caribbean rum drink from Martinique. © Wikimedia Commons

    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.

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  • 06 of 10

    Cachaca, the Unique (and Powerful) Rum of Brazil

    Brazilian Cacacha
    ••• Brazilian Cacacha. © Vi Neves/CC by 2.0

     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.

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  • 07 of 10

    From Antigua to Venezuela, Rum Comes in Many Styles

    Ron Zacapa Centenario
    ••• Ron Zacapa Centenario. © Graeme Maclean/CC by 2.0

    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.

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  • 08 of 10

    Choose from White, Gold, Spiced, Flavored, or Dark Rums

    ••• Cruzan flavored rums from St. Croix. Photo © Fiyah Dawta/CC by 2.0

    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.

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  • 09 of 10

    Aging is Where the Rum 'Magic' Really Happens

    Matusalem Gran Reserva rum
    ••• Matusalem Gran Reserva rum. © Wapster/CC by 2.0

    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.

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  • 10 of 10

    Rum is Fun! So Be Adventurous

    Don Beach rum quote
    ••• © San Howzit/CC by 2.0

    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.