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The Sensory Characteristics of Rum

Produced across the Caribbean and Latin America, rum is a versatile spirit distilled from sugarcane or molasses. There are many variations of rum in the world. The location where the rum was produced is the basic influence of rum taste.  Let’s look at some of the sensory characteristics of rum and what sets them apart from each other.

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Dark rums, also known by their individual color, such as brown, black, or red rums, are usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses. They are generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels, giving them much stronger flavors than either light or gold rums, and hints of spices can be noticed, along with a robust molasses or caramel overtone. They commonly provide body in rum drinks, as well as color. In addition, dark rum is the type most commonly used in cooking. Most dark rums come from areas such as Jamaica, Haiti, and Martinique.

Flavored rums are infused with flavors of fruits, such as banana, mango, orange, citrus, coconut, starfruit or lime. These are generally less than 40% ABV [80 proof]. They mostly serve to flavor similarly themed tropical drinks but are also often served neat or with ice.

Gold rums, also called “amber” rums, are medium-bodied rums that are generally aged. These gain their dark color from aging in wooden barrels (usually the charred, white oak barrels that are the byproduct of Bourbon whiskey). They have more flavor and are stronger-tasting than light rum, and can be considered midway between light rum and the darker varieties.

Light rums, also referred to as “silver” or “white” rums, in general have very little flavor aside from a general sweetness. Light rums are sometimes filtered after aging to remove any color. The Brazilian cachaça is generally this type, but some varieties are more akin to “gold rums”. The majority of light rums come from Puerto Rico. Their milder flavors make them popular for use in mixed drinks, as opposed to drinking them straight.

Premium rums, as with other sipping spirits such as Cognac and Scotch, are in a special market category. These are generally from boutique brands that sell carefully produced and aged rums. They have more character and taste than their “mixing” counterparts and are generally consumed straight.

Spiced rums obtain their flavors through the addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in color, and based on gold rums. Some are considerably darker, while many cheaper brands are made from low-cost white rums and darkened with caramel color. Among the spices added are cinnamons, rosemary, absinthe/aniseed, or pepper.

Interesting side note, in the old day’s pirates and the sailors of the British Royal Navy used rum for more than recreation. Ships typically stored three types of liquid: water, beer, and rum. Water was of course the most popular choice, but it would quickly go rancid, so before long they would turn to beer—which has a longer shelf life. Guess what they would drink when the beer ran out? Rum! The ship supply of rum could sit in the belly of the ship for the longest time without spoiling. Of course, there’s an obvious drawback, it causes strong intoxication. No wonder pirates were jolly.


This article is free information from Contract Testing Inc., an established leader in sensory product research and consumer product research for the food, beverage, and (QSR) quick service restaurant industries throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more about the complete scope of product research services, please call 1-905-456-0783 or visit us online at www.contracttesting.com.