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Rum: The Production

Rum: The Production

Rum: The Production

Rum is a distilled beverage that is made from sugar and water. It is in the 17th Century that “Rum” was first distilled on plantations in the Caribbean. It all happened when slaves discovered that the molasses, which is the sweet, sticky residue that remains after crystalized sugar is extracted from the sugar cane, could be turned into alcohol.

Rum is an alcohol that was involved in one of the darkest periods in history, The Slave Trade. Slaves, molasses, and rum were part of the infamous “slavery triangle”. It was also involved in the period of Piracy. It is widely believed that rum played a very crucial role in fueling the flame of discontent that led to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. Once the drink started to catch on, it quickly spread from the Caribbean to the American Colonies. In 1664, the first distillery for rum was set up in what is now known as Staten Island and was quickly followed by one in Boston. New Englanders had a special affinity for making rum; not only was the rum industry their most profitable industry, but the rum they produced was considered to be of higher quality than all others.

Rum wasn’t always the light and smooth spirit we know today. Prior to the 1800s, it was a dark and heavy drink. The refinement of rum began in the place it all started, the Caribbean. The Spanish Royal Development Board set out to make rum more appealing to the general public and offered a reward for anyone who could improve its quality. That’s where Facundo Bacardi Masso entered and the rest was history.

Rum production
The story of Rum starts with the sugar cane. The sugar cane is cut by hand and it is vital that the stem be cut very close to the ground. This way the cane will grow back within a year. A sugar cane is capable of renewing itself over a period of seven years.

Once they arrive at the distillery, the canes are crushed by crushing mills to squeeze the juice out of the stems. The green cane juice, called "Vejou", is extracted and gathered in a drainage system for filtering. The juice is then heated and clarified before being pumped into evaporators that drive off any excess water. After cooling and extraction of the sugar crystals, a brownish liquid remains, known as Light Molasses. The light molasses will go through three different boiling sessions to result in Blackstrap Molasses. This is what rum is made of. It is very thick and surprisingly bitter, even though it contains 55% of sugar. The impurities of the sugar left in blackstrap molasses are what give the final product its characteristics and aromas. Rum made from the molasses falls in the category of “Rhum Industriale” while rums made from the sugar cane juice are “Rhum Agriole”. The Cachaca from Brazil is an example of the latter.

The next stage is fermentation, during which the molasses is mixed with water so it reaches 15% sugar content, the final product is called “Live wash”. The quality of the water used will influence the final quality of the rum.

After fermentation, the live wash is distilled in either a pot or a column still. The choice of the still will have an effect on the final character of the rum. However, regardless of the still, all rums leave it as clear and colorless spirits. Some rums are distilled in both pot and column stills, this gives the rum greater depth and complexity. When a pot still is used, the rum tends to be heavier as the alcohol level is 85%, in this case there is also more room for impurities before bottling. Column distilled rums are lighter, crisper and cleaner with less of the molasses character. Because they leave the still at the much higher alcohol level of 96%. However, before bottling, the alcohol level is watered down to approximately 40%.

Aging is the final part of rum production. Because of the warm weather in the Caribbean, rum ages three times faster than Scotch or Cognac. Seven year old rum is equivalent to twenty one year old Scotch. Ageing gives the rum a smoother more complex quality. Many believe that rum peaks in quality between seventeen and twenty years of ageing. This depends on the style of rum and whether it was made in a pot still or column still.

Currently Rum is produced in Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, The Virgin Island, Guatemala, Brazil, Venezuela, The United States, Australia, Tahiti, Philippines and Thailand.