What is Rum?
Spirit distilled from sugar cane, although this does not mean that it is sugary or even sweet – for it has been distilled. It is made from fermented molasses, which is what is left after sugar has been made from sugarcane. Both patent stills and pot stills may be used in its production and, as British law defines rum as a spirit distilled from cane in cane-producing countries, this means that rum cannot be legally made in the U.K. Most rum consumed in the U.K. Comes from Jamaica and Guyana in the West Indies, also Barbados and Trinidad. Cuba is another famous source of rum and, especially for the French markets, Martinique. For the U.S. Market, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are (or were) the main suppliers. In very general terms, Jamaica is associated with dark, definitely flavoured rums; Guyana for demerara, which is often also dark and almost aromatic; Barbados and Trinidad for lightish and rather dry rums; and Martinique and Guadeloupe for delicate, very fragrant rums. But nowadays many different types will be made in each rum region. Rum was connected with the slave trade and the British Navy for many years for obvious reasons – the trade between Europe and the West Indies – and the regular issue of rum to the Royal Navy was only discontinued in 1970; it served as both a stimulant and disinfectant.
The name’s origin is much debated: some consider that it derives from the Latin saccharum (sugar), others that it comes from the 17th century words ‘rumbustion’ or ‘rumbullion’, which appear always to have been associated with the spirit. Rum can be light or dark in colour; the flavour and smell vary from pungent and rich to almost neutral. At one time the rich dark rums were in vogue; but currently the light rums, especially the white rums, are very popular, as they blend well with certain fruit juices in mixed drinks. The strength of the rum cannot be judged at all by its colour.
Although rum is, as might be expected, drunk by all sorts of the inhabitants of rum-producing countries, in the U.K. It is unusual that the white rums are very much classless drinks. In producing countries, rum is often drunk straight but, except as a purely warming, medicinal or between-times drink, it tends, especially with the white rums, to be served in mixes. Its popularity soared in the 1970s. As a hot drink, it has been famous for at least a century (see grog). Rum is matured in wood and that available in the U.K. Will be at least 3 years old; the superior qualities will be older, although it tends to mature faster than other spirits. Occasionally a rum establishment will produce a very fine old rum which will, in delicacy and charm, be in the nature of a liqueur, and should be drunk like fine liqueur brandy.