Rum 101: How To Get Started With Rum

by Matt Robold on June 1, 2009

Rum 101If I wanted to get started with rum, how would I do that?

I guess it’s not too surprising that this is a question I field rather frequently.  People find out that you run a rum blog, hang out in virtual communities like the Ministry of Rum Forums, attend rum conferences, and boast a personal collection of over 120 different rums and they seem to expect that you might have a pretty good idea about which rums are essential to start a good home bar.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of actually putting together a guide of some sort for over a year now.  Finally Marleigh over at Sloshed! informed me of her work on a post about starting a home bar, and asked me if I might want to write a similar piece, but focusing entirely on rum.

Rum is one of the most varied spirits in the world.  There are white rums, gold rums, aged rums, and spiced rums.  There are Latin rums, French rhums, British rums, American rums, Brazilian rums, and Asian rums.  Rums can be made from molasses, or they can be made from sugar cane juice.  They can even be made from sugar cane honey.  Once you start looking in to rum, the world can get quite confusing.

For anyone looking to get started with rum, you really need a few key ones for some of the more common (and great) cocktails, and maybe one or two for enjoying on their own (or possibly with a great cigar).  What follows below is a list of the rums that I think any home bar needs to have.

White RumFlor de Cana Extra Dry

The most commonly thought-of rum drinks are drinks made with white rum.  Whether you’re making a daiquiri (a real one, not one of those blended monstrosities) or a mojito, you’re probably reaching for a white or silver rum.  The Flor de Cana white rum is made from molasses and then aged for 4 years before being charcoal filtered (to remove the color picked up from the barrels) and bottled.  This rum has a decent molasses taste without being too sweet, allowing you to use normal amounts of sugar in your mojitos and daiquiris without worrying about making the drinks cloying.  There are better white rums out there, to be sure, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one with the same intersection of  quality and value.  Besides, this is a beginner’s course, you can sign up for the advanced course later.

(Runners Up: Cruzan White, Matusalem Platino)

Gold RumMount Gay Eclipse / Appleton Estate V/X

I know, I know – that’s TWO rums.  The problem here is that I can’t think of any way to choose one over the other.  Both of these rums can be had for less than $20 (for a 750 mL bottle), and both are excellent options for any recipe calling for gold rum – be that an El Presidente or a simple rum and coke.  The styles of these two rums are quite different, with the Appleton being a typical Jamaican rum with peppery spice notes mingled with flavors of citrus, while the Mount Gay Eclipse is much rounder with a touch more sweetness and a nice, clean finish.

(Runner Up: Cruzan Gold)

Spiced RumSailor Jerry Spiced Rum

Spiced rum is probably the spirit most people actually think of when they think of rum.  Because of this, I agonized over what to recommend to get someone started.  To be honest, my first impulse was to say that there are only two spiced rums on the market that are worth your hard-earned pennies: Foursquare Spiced Rum and Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum.  Both are superior to every other spiced product that I’ve been able to find in the US.  The problem lies in the fact that they aren’t universally accessible.

Sailor Jerry on the other hand, is readily available.  The product is still fairly sweet, but the chemical flavor that most people notice on other spiced rums isn’t quite as pronounced.  As an added bonus, the spirit is 92 proof (46% abv) vs. the more standard 80 proof (40% abv) for the same amount of money!

Take your spiced rum and use it in a simple highball like a rum and fruit juice of your choice or make yourself a rum punch.  If you’re feeling especially Tiki, use your new spiced rum in one of JenTiki’s Mrs. Howell’s Spicy Sides.

(Runners Up: Foursquare Spiced, Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced – but actually buy these instead if you can)

Aged RumAppleton Estate 12 Year Old

While I did agonize over the spiced rum, the hardest decision for me was the ONE rum to start people off with for aged rums.  I very nearly issued another tie here (with Mount Gay Extra Old), but in the end if you’re getting started with rum, you’re going to want to make Mai Tais – and the Appleton Estate 12 Year Old is the one rum you cannot be without if you aspire to make truly great Mai Tais.  Furthermore, it’s a wonderfully complex and yet immediately approachable sipping rum that can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.  Smokey, spicy, and with nice notes of sweet and tart citrus, this is a wonderful and pure Jamaican rum.

(Runner Up: Mount Gay Extra Old)

So there you have it, my recommendations on getting started with rum for your home bar.  Do you have any favorites or must-haves that you see missing?  What rums do you think someone should use to start the rum side of their bar?

This post is part of the new Rum 101 series of posts

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