Classification of rum

Backbar with various bottles of rum and other spirits Bar Kleines Phi, Hamburg

What is rum? Many people identify it as a cheap, sweet spirit, used in making Polynesian or Caribbean cocktails, but nothing to drink neat. But that’s not quite correct. Properly made, rum is analogous to whiskey!

Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from a fermented cereal grain mash, aged in oak barrels for a number of years.

Rum is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugar cane or molasses, aged in oak barrels for a number of years.

With a good rum, one can enjoy it straight, like a whiskey. How does one find good rum? The way that they are produced and sold is poorly done. So let’s see how rums in North America are sold – and then see a better way to classify them.

Light rums – said to be mild, light, un-aged. Their clearness often comes from them being filtered. Supposedly made of pressed cane juice.

Gold Rums – said to be richer in flavor, and aged in oak barrels for a longer period of time. Supposedly made of pressed cane juice.

Dark rums – said to be aged for much longer. Yet their color and flavor almost always comes from additives.

Black rums – said to be aged the longest, with the richest flavor. Assumed to be made from molasses, instead of freshly pressed cane juice. Yet their color and flavor almost always comes from additives.

Navy rum – a technically meaningless category, it merely refers to any rum once popular with the British Navy. But the British Navy used many different types of rums. There never was just one style.

Spiced rums – Any rum with added spices.

There never has been an agreed-upon rum classification system. In the last few years, some have been working on logical schemes to classify rum.  One system gaining traction is that proposed by Luca Gargano of Velier and Richard Seale of Foursquare.  Another is by Martin Cate (“Smuggler’s Cove”)


1. Pure Single Rum

Molasses + 100% Batch pot still distillation, from one distillery or estate.

Examples: Worthy Park, Hampden, Mount Gilboa, Port Mourant, Foursquare and Versailles.

Also in this category

** Pure Single Agricole Rum = from sugar cane juice rather than molasses

Examples: Rhum Rhum, Clairin, Saint Nicholas Abbey, Issan, Chalong Bay, River Antoine, Chamarel, Callwood.

** Cane juice rums from Martinique = AOC Martinique Rhum Agricole

2. Single Blended Rum

A blend of pot still and traditional column, from the same distillery or estate.

Examples: Appleton, El Dorado, Diplomatico, Mount Gay, Foursquare/Doorly’s, Saint Lucia Distillery/Chairmans.

3. Traditional Rum

Made on a column still only. Molasses-based rums which are distilled from an artisanal column (Coffey or creole) stills.

Examples: Antigua Distillers, Saint Vincent Distillery, Savanna, Bellevue, Riviere du Mat

** Agricole rums, made from cane juice, from the Creole single-column copper still/continuous still

producers from Martinique: Neisson, St James (Bally, Dillon), JM, La Favourite, Simon (HSE, Clément), Depaz, and La Mauny (Trois Rivières, Duquesne)
producers from Guadeloupe: Damoiseau, Montebello, Bologne, Longueteau, Reimonenq, Père Labat, Bielle, Bellevue, Séverin.

4. (Modern) Rum

Rums from modern, factory-size, multi-column stills. Originate from distilled molasses. Typically produce a distillate of more than 95% ABV. Such rums are lighter, less rich in esters, and are aromatically almost neutral. This rum is often modified with some sugar, colorings, spices or flavorings.

Examples: Havana Club, Bacardi, Don Q, Brugal, Barceló, Flor de Cana, lantern, Pampero, Cacique.

-The examples for each category come from Rumaniacs, “Notes and Categories: Towards an Appropriate Classification of Rum”, at Notes and Categories

What makes rum, rum?

(1) Main ingredient could be

* molasses made from sugarcane
* fresh sugarcane juice (sometimes called garapa)
* sugar cane syrup – sugar cane juice clarified to make it more stable for storage.
* In America, TTB regulations allow rum also to be made from “other sugar cane by-products.” A handful of American rums are made with white sugar and hot water.
Martin Cate writes “With a fully refined sugar, you’ve removed virtually all of the flavor compounds that would be required to provide an accepted understanding of rum. Yes, it’s legal in the US. But no one in the Caribbean makes rum this way.”

(2) Fermented with yeast. Each distiller has their own strains.

Some places (Jamaica) use dunder – liquid left after distilling the previous batch. Analogous to the sour mash method used for bourbon whiskey.

(3) Distillation: May be done in pot stills or column stills. The Creole column still is used in French rhum production.

(4) Aging: Not required to be aged in wood barrels to be called rum, but much is aged.

When aged in wood barrels the wood is usually oak. Brazilian rums are often aged in other woods, lik amburana, jequitibá, ipê, tapinhoã, and balsam.

Finally, rum us supposed to have “the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum” and bottled at not less than 40% ABV.

Is cachacha rum?

Many products have a geographical indicator, or GI.  The official French name for geographical indicators is Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, better known as an AOC. Other countries have their own legally protected names for products.  Examples include

America: bourbon whiskey, a type of corn whiskey aged in new oak barrels.

France: Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Champagne, Roquefort cheese, and many others.

Martinique (French) AOC for rhums made on the island of Martinique

Brazil: Cachaça

A geographical indicator doesn’t change what something is (bourbon is whiskey; Cachaça is rum; Cognac is brandy.)  Rather

it’s to protect those producers from outside interlopers making an inferior product and passing it off as something that cannot compare to the original. Would you feel duped by a Canadian-made rum labeled as Jamaican rum? Or Brazilian-made “bourbon”? The AOC and GIs are the government-enforced regulations that prevent such travesties from hitting the store shelves and the wallets of unsuspecting consumers.

  • M. Pietrek, The French Connection – A Cheat Sheet for French Caribbean Rhums and the AOC


Martin Cate system

Pot Still Unaged (such as Wray and Nephew, Hamilton Jamaican Gold, etc.)
Pot Still Lightly Aged (Smith and Cross, Pritchard’s Fine, etc.)
Pot Still Aged (various independent bottlings, Cadenheads, Berry Brothers, Plantation, etc.)
Pot Still Long Aged (Appleton Estate 50, Black Tot)

Blended Lightly Aged (Appleton Signature, Banks 5 or 7, El Dorado 3, Plantation 3, etc)
Blended Aged (Appleton Reserve or 12, El Dorado 5 or 8 or 12, Plantation 5 or 20th Anniversay, Pusser’s, Mount Gay Black Barrel or XO)
Blended Long Aged (El Dorado 15 or 21 or 25, various super old stuff, XO’s etc.)

Column Still Lightly Aged (Bacardi 1909, FdC 4yr, Scarlet Ibis, etc.)
Column Still Aged (Ango 1824 or 1919 or 5 or 7, Bacardi 8, FdC 12, Cruzan Single Barrel, Brugal 1888 or Extra Viejo, etc.)
Column Still Long Aged (FdC 18 or 25, English Harbor 25)

Black Pot Still (only example: Hamilton Jamaican Black)
Black Blended (Coruba, Goslings, Hamilton Guyana 86 pf, Lemon Hart 80, etc.)
Black Blended Overproof (Lemon Hart 151, Hamilton Guyana 151)

Further reading

The lowdown on Rum with Richard Seale, Master distiller, Foursquare

Talking Rum and Sugar with Richard Seale

Chemistry of rum

The Chemistry of Rum: Compound Interest

From Alchemy to Science: Esters, Aldehydes, Mass Spectrometers and Hyper-Accelerated Aging

Days of Dunder: Setting the Record Straight on Jamaican Rum’s Mystery Ingredient

Feeling the Funk: From Dunder to Wonder – Tales of the Cocktail 2017

Rum Super Geekdom

Comparing and Contrasting Semi-Volatile Fingerprinting of Mature and Immature Heavy Pot Still Rum (PDF paper)

Trace Carboxylic Acid & Ester Origin in Mature Spirits (PDF paper)

pointing fingerHere you can check out our reviews of  bourbonScotch,  Irish whiskey,  Canadian whiskey,  ryes or flavored whiskys.
We have articles on science & health, and a plethora of other topics. Feel free to learn more about me, Distilled Sunshine.


  1. […] Of course, if you have been brought up on this and enjoy it, that’s great. Don’t let someone dissuade you from what you enjoy. Hey, I enjoy gefilte fish. (Our own dietary stockhold syndrome!)  But I would caution people not to “try” to become Scotch drinkers. Some people say that they spend years acquiring a taste – but why? Don’t force yourself to drink something you don’t like, to “get to the point” where you like it. There’s so much out there to try that you may love without effort – and without the great expense. There’s a wide world of American, Irish and Canadian whiskey, non-peated Scotch whiskeys, not to mention rum – the cane and molasses equivalent to whiskey. […]


  2. In the case of Havana Club, Bacardi, and perhaps a few others, it’s not quite correct to say their rum is distilled to 95% ABV. While high proof spirit is one component, they blend it with more flavorful rum distilled to a lower ABV, in the 75% range.


  3. […] Of course if you enjoy it, that’s great. Don’t let someone dissuade you from what you enjoy. Hey, I enjoy gefilte fish. Just don’t “try” to become a peated Scotch drinker if you don’t like it. I’ve seen people spend years and $$$ acquiring a taste – but why? Don’t force yourself to “get to the point” where you like it. There’s so much out there to enjoy without effort or great expense. American, Irish and Canadian whiskey, non-peated Scotch whiskeys, not to mention rum – the cane and molasses equivalent to whiskey. […]


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