Classifying rum by ‘style’

14 Mar. 2018
Styles of rum refer back to the European powers who colonized the Caribbean islands where rum was first produced. The British, French and Spanish all planted the islands with sugar cane, rum’s raw material. Distinct kinds of rum evolved from the different islands’ methods of producing rum, which can be vaguely grouped into British-style rum, French-style rum and Spanish-style rum. So what does this mean today?
British-style rum

British-style rum is molasses-based and is heavier in body and flavour than the other styles. In Jamaica or Barbados much use is made of traditional, copper pot stills, meaning smaller batches and powerful rums. They have a lot of congeners and esters (components that give alcohol its flavour). They also tend to have a longer fermentation, giving the cane wine (the fermented molasses) a more intense flavour.

Spanish-style rum

Spanish style rum is also molasses-based, but with a shorter fermentation (so the cane wine is lighter), and distillation in column or multi-column-stills, which makes for a more neutral base spirit before ageing. Because of this, ‘Spanish’ rums are often linked to the light rum style. Cuban rum would fit into this category, although, as we’ll see below, it’s pretty much its own beast.

French-style rum

Instead of using molasses, ‘French’ rum, usually called rhum agricole, is made with fresh sugar cane juice and it is often released un-aged (though, increasingly, agricoles are being aged). Agricoles tend to give out more flavour of the sugarcane. They’re grassy, vegetal, and herbaceous, with more ‘terroir’ notes.

What’s wrong with rum classification by style?

Rums are not just produced in the Caribbean former colonies, but the main problem with this classification is that it is too simplistic for today’s rich variety of rum styles. British-style rums are produced with a mix of pot still and column still distillates. Not all ‘French’ rums are agricole. As for Spanish-style rums, there are huge differences between Cuban rums and rums from Venezuela or Guatemala.

Find out more about Cuban rum