Rum 101

Rum lovers around the world owe a great debt to a simple plant: sugar cane. Hundreds of years ago, there was a sugar craze in Europe, and colonies were established around the Caribbean to make the sweet commodity. But the production of sugar creates a lot of byproduct—namely, molasses. There wasn’t much use for the thick, sticky, sweet substance until it was discovered that molasses could be fermented and then distilled. The alcohol quickly became popular with pirates, sailors and America’s founders.

Rum also became a key element in the infamous “slavery triangle.” The Brits shipped molasses to New England, where it was transformed into rum, proceeds from the sales of which purchased slaves in West Africa, who were subsequently taken to the sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean and South America.

While the rules for rum production vary greatly from country to country, there are two main types: light and dark. The color of the spirit is primarily determined by the amount of time it has spent aging in oak barrels. The longer it’s been aged, the more color and flavor it picks up from the wood. Some experts say that the Caribbean’s high heat and humidity help speed up the alcohol’s maturation. No matter the color, most rum is still made from molasses, but some brands do use fresh sugar cane juice.


While rum can be sipped neat or on the rocks, many famous cocktails use the spirit as a base, including the Mojito, the Piña Colada, the Dark ‘n Stormy, the Daiquiri and the Mai Tai, not to mention the simple Rum and Coke.


10 Cane, Abuelo, Angostura, Appleton Estate, Atlantico, Bacardi, Banks, Barbancourt, Botran, Brugal, Clément, Cruzan, Flor de Caña, Gosling’s, J.M, Montecristo, Mount Gay, Myers’s, Oronoco, Pusser’s, Pyrat, Santa Teresa, Smith & Cross, Starr African, Wray & Nephew, Zacapa

Learn all about even more types of liquor in our Spirits 101 stories on absinthe, bourbon, cognac, gin, Irish whiskey, rye whiskey, Scotch, tequila and vodka.

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Discussion (2)

  • Chad R. posted 4 years ago

    I'd have to agree about John's comment. I think these things should be called primers instead of 101s. Most of these posts hardly tell you anything about what makes the different types of the same spirit so different. VERY VERY introductory. Of course, I doubt I'm the audience for this kind of thing anyhow so I might be off base.

  • John-Christopher Ward posted 4 years ago

    This is not Rum 101, this is kindergarden. Rum is very complicated and not because it is made in more than 100 countries. You didn't scratch the surface.

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