Participating Rum Vendors and Chefs will show off bartending and Cooking skills every hour with great cocktails and food. Each hour will feature a pairing of food and drink from a different region of the world.
Sponsorship available for the Demo Stage
Rum of the World
Rum Styles by Geography
Rum styles are typically broken down along the lines of the colonizers. Generally speaking, former French colonies use sugar cane juice to make their rum, and former English and Spanish colonies use molasses. French style rhum is grassy, Spanish style rum is light and dry, while English style rum is heavier and full flavored. These three colonial delineations are where most garden variety rum educators stop, but while convenient, it’s a woefully inadequate system. In order to really understand rum styles, one needs to delve deeper and drill down to the country level. Let’s take a look at a variety of rum-producing countries and learn a bit about their styles and the brands that represent them.
The Birthplace of Rum?
The American journalist, Richard Foss, argues that people have known for at least 3,000 years that sugar cane yields a juice that can be fermented. Indeed, some scholars argue that the first written record of the plant’s cultivation and fermentation was in India.
Some others affirm that China created the first beverages using the fermentation of sugar cane juice, and then found its way around civilization. An example is “Brum”, a drink produced by the Malay people thousands of years ago.
Nevertheless, a manuscript called Manasollasa (The Book of the Happy State of Mind) from around 1800 B.C. includes a recipe for sugar cane beer made in India. Another manuscript from the same period describes two alcoholic drinks made with sugar cane: “soma” and “sura”.
Sura was given to warriors to enhance their courage. Soma, a drink with beneficial properties, was reserved for the aristocracy. In the second case, there is no clear data that can tell us which methods or ingredients they used to prepare it, but both fermented drinks were primarily used for medicinal purposes.
Moreover, Vagbhata, an ancient Indian writer and Ayurvedic physician in the seventh century, mentioned two types of liqueurs called “Āsava” and “Ariṣṭa”. The former was prepared from wood-apple extract, sugar cane juice, and honey; the latter was made of soapberries and molasses.  “Shidhu”, produced by fermentation and distillation of sugar cane juice, is also a liquor described in other Sanskrit texts.
Antigua’s local rum is called Cavalier (my uncle grew up on the stuff, and my Grandfather drank a lot of it). The only Antiguan rum you’ll find for export is made by the same folks, but is called English Harbour. The Antiguan style is light and fruity, but with a noticeable bottom end that rounds things out nicely. Antigua is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
Barbados may well be where it all began for rum. The medium-bodied Bajan style is known for being both flavorful and approachable, and frequently blends rums from both column and pot. Notable rums from Barbados include Mount Gay, Foursquare (maker of Doorly’s, R.L. Seale and The Real McCoy), and Cockspur. Microdistillery St. Nicholas Abbey is the newest player in the market. Barbados is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque. WIRD (West Indies Rum Distillery), owned by Plantation Rum, makes rum for famous brands like Plantation Rum, Stades, and Cockspur. (edited 9/16/22 by TRL)
Bellize is a rum producing nation that does not spring to mind for most folks, but Traveller’s Liquors would love to change that. They are the makers of One Barrel rum, a tasty budget rum that is light and a touch sweet. This one is made for mixing, but Tiburon rum is a higher end expression that can be sipped.
No rum is distilled on Bermuda. The Gosling family buys bulk rum and blends it there, however. They will threaten to sue you over their trademarks, so beware when speaking about rum and ginger beer combinations. I do not buy or drink Gosling’s “rum”.
Colombian rums tend to be sweet and smooth. The brand most easily found in the States is Dictador. Known for their flashy black bottles, Dictador has a distinctive nutty note from Sherry finishing.
Like other rums from the region, Costa Rican rums are smooth operators designed to delight all types of rum drinkers. Smooth and sweet, brands like Centenario are good jumping off points for those brought into the fold by Zacapa and Zaya.
Similar to Puerto Rican rum, Cuba’s rums are light bodied and very crisp. As is the case with most light bodied rums, they do not necessarily lend themselves to extended aging (with negligible congeners in the rum, there are few acids and esters to recombine into new and interesting flavors). Havana Club (marketed by French drinks giant Pernod-Ricard) is the largest selling brand, but there are others worth noting including Ron Cubay and Ron Santiago de Cuba.
Occupying roughly two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic is home to a number of famous rums including Brugal and Barcelo. With the exception of Brugal, most Dominican blends tend to be on the sweeter side (particularly Atlantico and Matusalem). Brugal is drier and markets its rum as such. Sugar aside, the flavors are typical of the Spanish style: light bodied and fairly neutral, but comes together nicely in used Bourbon barrels. Brugal and Barcelo are party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
Fiji is home to one distillery, and none of its rums are directly exported to the States. The local brand is Bounty Overproof Rum, and it’s bottled at 58%. You can, however, find private labels from noted sellers of boutique rums including Berry Brothers and Rudd, Blackadder, and Duncan Taylor. My thought on the matter is that these good folks are after an amazing Fijian holiday, and buy a few barrels of rum to keep the tax man happy, because I’ve yet to meet anyone that actually enjoyed Fijian rum. Paint thinner is a recurrent theme in the tasting notes, so this is definitely one style to try before you buy.
Just over 100 miles north of Martinique lies Guadeloupe, home to one of my favorite rum styles. Grassy and earthy with a subtle roundness, Guadeloupe’s rums are dynamic and thought-provoking. Free of the AOC rules found on Martinique, Guadeloupe makes both can juice and molasses based rums, and often combines a bit of the two to create a style all their own. Damoiseau was recently introduced to the States, and other products from brands like Bielle and Pere Labat can be found throughout Europe.
Guatemala is home to the rum that brings many to the fold: Zacapa. Once a delicious rum, its popularity has rendered it a shadow of its former self. Also from Guatemala is Ron Botran, which represents a better representation of the style today. The Guatemalan rum style typically involves a solera blending process and a smooth, sweet, Sherry finish.
Guyana is home to just one rum producer today, Demerara Distillers Limited, makers of El Dorado rum. The Guyanese rum style varies with the type of still used, and DDL has a lot of them, including wooden pot and column stills. This working museum turns out some amazingly flavorful rums that are known for their rich, earthy bottom ends that have a thread of freshly churned butter woven through them. Guyana is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
Haiti is home to thousands of clandestine distilleries that make the local cane spirit called Clairin, but the only distillery operating at scale on this side of the island is Barbancourt. The former French colony shares a border with the Dominican Republic, but their rum styles are as different as their languages. Made from cane juice, Barbancourt is an agricole style rum, but has a roundness not found in Martinique or Guadeloupe’s rums. At just over $40 US, Barbancourt’s 15-year expression is one of the best values in aged rum today. Barbancourt is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
India is one of the world’s largest rum producers of rum, but many would be quick to counter that the product they produce is more akin to a flavored vodka than rum. Made from cane juice, but usually distilled to ethanol’s azeotropic limit, the resultant spirit contains no flavor. The ethanol is then aged (or not) and doctored up with a variety of flavors and colors to make it resemble aged or dark rum. Old Monk is the only brand you’re likely to find in the States.
Jamaican rum represents a delightfully unique style that puts a premium on flavor and is notable for its signature “funk”. The funk is the result of open fermentation, the inclusion of backset from previous distillation runs, and in some cases, the presence of bacteria from a dunder or muck pit (bacteria-rich outdoor pits that contain backset from previous distillations). The strong flavors that result from the long fermentation are concentrated by the pot stills and yield a fruity, earthy distillate that can border on unctuous. The most widely consumed product on the island is J. Wray and Nephew White Overproof Rum, which is bottled at 63%. The most famous brand outside of Jamaica is Appleton Estate, which is now owned by Gruppo Campari. Look for private labels out of Jamaica from Mezan, Hamilton, and Cadenhead’s along with up-and-comers like Rum Fire from Hampden Estate. Jamaica is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
Martinique’s rums are unique for many reasons, but the two primary factors are its use of cane juice, and its AOC. Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is the French equivalent to the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The AOC regulates the way cane must be planted, grown, harvested, crushed, fermented, distilled, and aged. Because of this, many rum (or rhum, as the case may be) aficionados believe this to be the most pure expression of cane spirits. With all the rules, one might think that all Martiniquan rhums would taste the same, but that is certainly not the case. There are some with harsh turpene-like aromas and rubbery flavors, and others that are much more approachable with notes of tobacco and leather. The most widely distributed rhums agricoles in the U.S. are Rhum J.M. and Clement, but there are many others including Saint James, Neisson, Trois Rivieres, and La Mauny. Those who come to cane spirits from the world of Scotch often find these rhums very interesting.
Mexico is far better known for its agave spirits, but by volume, the country actually makes more cane spirit than agave. Much of it, however, ends up in those crappy mixto Tequilas that gave you such bad hangovers in college. After those gems comes Bacardi, which makes a few of its expressions there like Bacardi Black. These rums are basically indistinguishable from their Puerto Rican products. The only other Mexican rum widely available in the States is Mocambo, which is aged in non-traditional woods and tastes, well…non-traditional.
Nicaragua is home to Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, producer of ron Flor de Caña. The rums are crisp and dry similar to Cuban rums. In 2015, William Grant & Sons took over marketing for the U.S. market. “In 2018 it became one of the first global spirits to be Fair Trade certified.” – Edited by FDC
Panama’s rum comes from Destilería Don José and Ingenio San Carlos. The former makes Hermanos Varela’s Ron Abuelo; and the latter makes a variety of brands under the watchful eye of Don Pancho Fernandez. Panamanian rum is another cast by the Spanish die, it’s medium body is clean and crisp with a hint of caramel sweetness.
Peru is better known for its wine and Pisco than it is for rum, but that may be changing because of the delicious Cartavio rums from Destilerias Unidas. The Spanish style rums are aged in both straight and solera styles with full flavor and complexity. The line has something for everyone.
The Philippines (like India) is worth mentioning because of the volume of product produced there. Tanduay is the main brand, which recently launched an export label in the U.S. which is a massive improvement over their domestic products. Many industry experts say that Tanduay is like Old Monk in that it is made from neutral alcohol that is flavored and bottled. Another Filipino brand that has established itself as a leader in the premium rum category is Don Papa Small Batch Rum.
Puerto Rico is known for its dry, crisp, light-bodied rums made in the Spanish style. The most popular brand in Puerto Rico is Don Q from Destileria Serralles, but of course, the largest volume producer is Bacardi. The continuous column-distilled rum must be aged for a minimum of one year before being bottled and sold. Thus light Puerto Rican rums have all been charcoal filtered to remove color and congeners.
Saint Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the longtime home of Cruzan Rum, which is owned by Beam-Suntory. More recently, UK-based global drinks giant Diageo built a distillery there (with huge U.S. government-backed subsidies) to make Captain Morgan rum. Captain Morgan is not really worth talking about from a taste perspective, but Cruzan is a decent rum that is along the lines of a Spanish style rum (despite the island’s Dutch history). It’s got slightly more body that Puerto Rican rums, and the single barrel expression is actually pretty tasty.
Saint Lucia is home to Saint Lucia Distillers, makers of Chairman’s Reserve rum. Untouched Saint Lucian rum is quite funky and full of phenolics (try one of Ed Hamilton’s rums for reference) but the Chairman’s line manages to maintain an intriguing profile while attenuating the punchy notes that might put off the average rum drinker. The “Forgotten Casks” edition is delightful and a bit woodier, and the 1931 anniversary blends (a new one released each year) are phenomenal. Saint Lucia is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
Saint Vincent’s claim to rum fame is its local overproof rum simply called “Sunset Very Strong Rum” which is bottled at an eye-popping 84.5% ABV. The same distillery (Saint Vincent Distillers) makes Captain Bligh XO, which is actually quite a nice fuller bodied rum made in the English style. In the U.S., this one is sold as “Mutineer’s Gold” due to trademark issues with Captain Morgan.
With the closing of Caroni, Trinidad now has just one distillery: Angostura. The maker of the eponymous cocktail bitters has been making its own rum since the early 20th century and sales thereof finally overtook the bitters in 1964. The Trinidadian style is a medium bodied column-distilled rum. The Angostura range has a lot of variety within it with everything from white to 12 years and more. Trinidad is party to the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque.
As most of the rum from the States is made by craft distilleries in small batches, it defies generalization. There is everything from agricole style rums from California and Hawaii, Colonial style rums from Massachusetts, and many more from all over the country.
Venezuela is known for Diplomatico and Pampero rums. These are Spanish style rums similar to those from Guatemala or Costa Rica, with a focus on smoothness and a penchant for sweetness.