Slowly but surely, rum is starting to climb its way up the list of popular drink choices, and it’s easy to see why. With an underlying profile of sugary sweetness, rum has undoubtedly come a long way from its Caribbean roots. And now, whether you’re heading on a night out or enjoying an evening in, you’re sure to find the most experienced mixologists, as well as those do-it-yourself bartenders, shaking their way through rum-based cocktails.
Like most spirits, I quickly realised that the more you buy rum and, better still, the more you drink it, the more complex it becomes. So, whether you’re a rum novice or an enthusiast who has been drinking the stuff for years, here are my tips when choosing your next bottle.
There are three main rum colours: light, gold and dark.
Light or white rums are the lightest in flavour and tend to be aged for around three to six months in tropical climates or one year in colder countries. The big difference between light rums and the others is that they are distilled in stainless steel casks, unlike darker products that age in oak barrels. Light rum usually has the least depth in terms of flavour but can make an excellent ingredient for your next cocktail.
When it comes to buying gold-coloured rum, it’s important that you know what you’re getting. If you find a rum specifically labelled ‘gold’, the chances are it will have earned its colour from adding caramel. Aged rums can also have that golden colour, but unlike golden rums, they get their colour with age – the older the rum, the darker it is. It’s worth noting that the more aged and darker the rum, the more levels of flavour you’ll be getting – so if you’re looking for a more straightforward and smooth taste, stick with a ‘golden’ bottle.
Dark rum is the heaviest of the lot, so you might want to sip it as you would whisky. Distilled twice, and in some cases, three times, dark rum is bursting with deep and rich flavours. As a whisky drinker, a darker rum on the rocks is one of my favourite tipples.
Spiced rum is becoming an increasingly popular choice. This is when a blend of spices like anise, pepper, cinnamon and rosemary, or tropical ingredients, such as coconuts, are infused into gold or aged rum to give it either that extra kick or sweet taste.
If you’re basing your rum shop on quality, then the clue is in the finer details, including the barrel.
Most amber and dark rums age in oak barrels. However, you might notice that the barrels might have been used to store previous alcohols beforehand – including the likes of whisky, sherry, or cognac, which will infuse the rum with a unique flavour over time.
It’s also worth noting whether the rum is single casked or not. If it is, then the rum has been stored in just one barrel and bottled as it came out of the cask and has no artificial colours or flavours.
While the details I’ve mentioned might seem trivial, they can actually have a significant impact on the quality and price of rum – and like every spirit, the better the quality, the higher the price.
Take the Heroes and Heretics Darkwood. If you’re looking for quality in a bottle, then there you have it. It ticks every box. At the age of 13 years, this single cask rum is guaranteed to take you away to the Caribbean coast with every sip.
My advice to you? Spend time looking at the smaller details, like the age, the barrel and even assessing its colour. After all, it’s not about the picture plastered on the label, it’s about the nurture and care that goes into making a fine quality rum. And of course, if you’re looking for a deeper blend in flavour, a rum to really enjoy, whether it’s on the rock or as a mixer, then be prepared to spend a few extra pennies. The taste will be worth it, I promise.
Peter has been a keen blogger and amateur food critic for over 20 years. When eating and drink Peter loves spending time with his family and friends.