Tipsy-Turvy: What is rum, and how do you drink it?


Today is World Rum Day, so get into the spirit of rum with this basic guide on the spirit and how to drink it. - Photo: THE STAR/Darren Teoh

Happy World Rum Day! To celebrate this remarkable spirit, get into the basics of rum and how to drink it.

What is rum?

To put it simply, rum is any spirit that is distilled from sugarcane byproducts – such as the molasses, juice, honey and so on.

However, there is a lot more to this category than you think. Rums can be a very confusing category for the casual drinker, as unlike other categories of spirits like whisky, brandy and even gin, there is no clear definition of the different rums in the world.

There are light rums, dark rums, spiced rums, aged rums, unaged rums, and rums that are made from different sugarcane byproducts.

Rums made in different countries also have their own unique profile – Jamaican rums tend to have a distinct “funkiness” to them, Venezuelan rums like Diplomatico tend to have a sweeter honey-like note, and so on.

Where is rum made?

Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Cuba, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic produce some of the world’s best known rums.

Venezuelan rum (ron de Venezuela) is actually one of only two rums in the world that has a denomination of origin classification.Venezuelan rum (ron de Venezuela) is actually one of only two rums in the world that has a denomination of origin classification.Meanwhile, Venezuelan rum (ron de Venezuela) is actually one of only two rums in the world that has a denomination of origin classification, meaning that any rum that wants to put “ron de Venezuela” on its label has to adhere to a strict criteria – the spirit has to be at least two years old, and producers cannot apply the solera process, or refill those barrels for two years.

The other ‘rum’ that has a denomination of origin classification is actually rhum agricole from Martinique. Rhum agricole is a spirit originally distilled in the French Caribbean islands and made from sugarcane juice. Cachaca, Brazil’s national spirit, is also made from sugarcane juice but is not categorised as a rum.

Other countries that also have their own rum include Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines and Australia.In Malaysia, some of the more common brands available here include Bacardi, Havana Club, Ron Zacapa, Plantation, Diplomatico from Venezuela, Mount Gay (Barbados), Angostura (Trinidad and Tobago), Appleton (Jamaica), as well as Asian brands like Nusa Cana from Indonesia and Phraya from Thailand.

How do you drink rum?

As mentioned before, there are many different sorts of rum, and each one can be enjoyed in different ways.

Let’s start with what is commonly known as ‘light’ or ‘white’ rum. These are basically rum that is un-aged, meaning it is bottled right after it is distilled and diluted to the required alcohol base volume (ABV). Since these are mainly light in flavour, they are usually used for mixing and making cocktails. The same goes for spiced rums like Kraken, Sailor Jerry and Black Tears, which are blended rums that have been flavoured, or ‘spiced’ in some way.

Now, let’s talk about dark rums. This is where things tend to get a bit tricky, as unlike Scotch whisky, rum does not have a clear set of rules to stipulate what is an ‘aged rum’. Also, a dark rum may or may not be aged in the first place, as some could have added caramel colouring in them.

But don’t let that stop you from trying dark rum, especially the genuinely aged ones. Many of these are actually brilliant sipping spirits, made to be savoured neat, like the best whiskies or cognacs.

There are many different sorts of rum, and each one can be enjoyed in different ways.There are many different sorts of rum, and each one can be enjoyed in different ways.

Where do I start with rum?

A few years back, Ian Burrell, the ‘Global Ambassador Of Rum’, told me in an interview that when recommending a rum to a beginner, the first thing he asks is what type of spirits they usually drink.

“If they say whisky, I’d ask what type. I then look for a rum brand or region that has similar types of traits, ” he said. “If they like big, heavy and smoky whiskies, I would then push them towards a big, heavy, robust Jamaican style rum. Or, a big, heavy Guyanese rum, like El Dorado, because those rums have a lot of whisky-like qualities.

“If they do vodka, then they probably don’t like the big taste of alcohol, so I’d recommend a lighter style of rum.”


Michael Cheang thinks that having rum is never a bum deal. Follow him on Facebook (fb.com/mytipsyturvy), Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy) or Twitter (@MichaelCheang).

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