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How Is Rum Made?

Bottle of rum with lime ice and coconut, coconut glasses and rum

Light or dark, nothing compares to the sweet, toasty flavor of rum. A beloved spirit for more than 300 years, rum conjures images of shimmering beaches studded with popular rum drinks garnished with fruit and flowers.

While you sip your delightful beverage, you might find yourself wondering, “How is rum made?”

Rum is manufactured through the fermentation and distillation of molasses, but there’s a lot more to the creation of rum. This article will give you a total rum education, from its history to current production. 

Here’s a hint: it starts as sugarcane and ends in a bottle, in your summer rum cocktails, or even in your daiquiri popsicles.

The History of Rum

Where does rum come from? The story begins in Barbados where the drink was originally called “kill-devil” or “rumbullion,” until it was finally shortened to simply rum. In the mid-1600s, rum became a key trading export of several Caribbean nations, including:

  • Jamaica
  • Barbados
  • Guyana
  • Puerto Rico

Caribbean rum has remained an immensely popular spirit throughout the world and is now made in more than 60 countries.1 Once used as a currency in colonial Rhode Island, rum manufacturing has also existed in New England for 300 years.2 It was even present at the inauguration of George Washington.3 

Talk about rich history—and even richer flavors. 

The Production of Rum

When rum production was first studied in the 17th century, there were several methods that have since been adapted and modernized over the decades. While much of the original craft of rum-making has remained the same, certain technological advancements have allowed for mass production, distribution, and refinement of this time-honored craft.

Modern, premium rum is a brilliant combination of tried and true techniques, scientific ingenuity, and dedication to quality. The following is the standard process for creating the spirit we’ve come to know and love.

#1 Sugarcane Harvesting

Like most things worth enjoying, rum starts with Mother Nature herself—in this case, raw cane sugar.  

Sugarcane is a tall, thick grass, loaded with naturally occurring sugar cane juice known as sucrose. The tall stalks of sugarcane are harvested by various methods, including:

  • Manually – Sugarcane plants are relatively tough, so manual harvesting requires hard labor and sharp cutlery. Typically harvesters use machetes or similar bladed tools to hack down large stalks and remove the leafy tops. While difficult work, this has been a standard process since the invention of rum.
  • Mechanically – When the option is available, mechanical harvesters are employed to cut and clean sugarcane plants for future processing. Significantly faster than harvesting by hand, a mechanical harvester can bring in tons of cut sugarcane per day, leading to a much higher production rate.

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#2 Sugar Extracting

The majority of the plant itself consists of water and fiber so the extraction process involves separating the sugar from the fibrous plant material. 

The first byproduct created by the sugar extraction process is a sugar-water solution known as cane juice. From here, there are three options moving forward with the rum-making process: 

  • Using the raw cane juice from the plant as a base
  • Using a concentrated syrup made from the cane juice
  • Processing the cane juice into molasses

The molasses method is the most common way to process sugarcane for rum. The quality of rum depends, in part, on the sugarcane itself and the extraction processes. After all, a product is only as good as its base ingredients.

Rum cocktail

#3 Fermentation

In the process of converting sugar to alcohol, fermentation usually requires one key ingredient: yeast. The yeast is added to the mixture of molasses (or cane juice), along with water. 

Here’s how you’d go about completing this step:

  • Boil the water and molasses solution to a specific temperature
  • Cool the solution and add yeast
  • Place the new solution in an airlock to ferment

You should keep the solution in a warm, airtight location for a number of days or even weeks, depending on the specific rum you’re making.

#4 Distillation

The fermenting solution is known as a “mash” or “wash.” Once your mash is fully fermented, the distillation process involves:

  • Heating your mash until the alcohol evaporates
  • Catching the evaporated alcohol in a still
  • Allowing the evaporated alcohol to condense back into liquid

Many distillers repeat the process several times to increase purity and quality, though it’s not a matter of personal preference. Either way, once you’re through with the distillation process, you’re left with a pure rum spirit.

#5 Aging

Technically, you could have a bottle of rum in your hands after the fourth step. However, the creation of most rum involves an aging process to give the spirit its rum flavor.

Rum can be aged in:4

  • Stainless steel vats, which are typical for white rum or light rum 
  • Oak barrels, which are standard for darker rum like navy rum or black rum 

The longer a rum ages the smoother and more complex its flavor profile can be.

As excited as you may be about your new rum creation, you’re going to have to wait a while to try it. In many countries, rum must age for a minimum of one year, and several rums are aged for decades before being bottled. 

Patience is a virtue when it comes to enjoying rum.

Rum aging in wooden barrels

#6 Blending

Some rum-makers blend their batches to create a more consistent product. Because the nature of wooden barrels can differ so much, blending multiple casks can lead to a standard flavor across the board. 

Sometimes an aged rum is blended with a younger rum, or a particularly toasty rum is blended with a very sweet rum. The blending process doesn’t always ensure quality, but it can be a way for manufacturers to exercise greater control over their products.

Enjoy Premium Rum a Whole New Way With SLIQ

Now that you know a little bit more about the process of rum-making, you’re probably ready to enjoy a cocktail that puts hundreds of years of technique into practice. 

We flaunt bartender-approved recipes and our white rum is sourced straight from the Caribbean so you can be assured that our alcoholic ice pops are like none other. Enjoy the elevated tastes of our rum daiquiri flavors and prepare for the ultimate experience in icy rum goodness from SLIQ. 

Sources:

  1. Britannica. Rum. https://www.britannica.com/topic/rum-liquor 
  2. Liquor.com. The Surprising Thing That Fueled the American Revolution. And the Rise of Our First President. https://www.liquor.com/articles/george-washington-rum/ 
  3. Ultimate rum guide. Countries. http://ultimaterumguide.com/countries/ 
  4. The Manual. Rum 101: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Understanding the Different Types of Rum. https://www.themanual.com/food-and-drink/types-of-rum-guide/ 
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