How to Choose the Right Rum for You?

The Whisky Exchange has been working on a new rum classification system to provide more information about each bottle. I spoke to Billy Abbott from The Whisky Exchange to get a better understanding of their new terminology and to see how they hope these will improve the rum category.

The new descriptions aren’t based on colour but on production method and flavour profiles. On The Whisky Exchange website you can also find out whether sugar or other flavourings have been added and where the rum has been matured. This should make it easier for you to find new rums that match the style you normally like or if you’re complete novice, these can guide you through the choices in the category.

If you aren’t comfortable with the distilling methods, you can always look for rums based on the flavour profile you normally like. See the new categories below.

Flavour Camps by The Whisky Exchange:

Light & Uncomplicated
Perfect for mixing.

Herbaceous & Grassy
Rums with green, herby and grassy notes. 

Tropical & Fruity
Rums with juicy notes of tropical fruit.

Fruity & Spicy
Rums with rich notes of dried fruit and aromatic spice. Some call it classic rum flavour. 

Dry & Spicy
Rich and warming spices without the sweetness. 

Rich & Treacly
Full-bodied rums with rich, sweet notes. 

When you combine the flavour with the production method it can really help you to understand the category and to make finding new rums easier. Below you can find the new rum classifications based on distilling methods.

The new rum classification system:

Single Distillery Rum:

Single Tradition Column
Rum distilled at one distillery in traditional column stills.

Single Traditional Pot Still
Rum distilled at one distillery in traditional pot stills.

Single Traditional Blended
A blend of traditional pot still and traditional column still rums from the same distillery.

Single Modernist
Rum made at a single distillery using modern multi-column stills.

Multi-Distillery Rum:

Blended Traditionalist
A blend of rums from multiple distilleries that only includes traditional column and/or pot still rums.

Blended Modernist
A blend of rums from multiple distilleries that includes single modernist rums.

Distilling methods

I know what you’re thinking. Sounds a bit complicated with all the production methods. You might feel overwhelmed at first if you hardly think about these things when buying rum, but once you read the categories slowly and focus on them for a second, it all fits into place and totally makes sense.

To feel more comfortable with these rum classification terms, it helps to understand a bit more about the various production methods.

Pot (alembic) stills are normally made from copper. Rums from pot stills are aromatic, heavy and oily and often require maturation before bottling. The lower part of the still, the kettle, is heated until the alcohol vaporises and the vapour travels up the neck of the still to be cooled down by cold water. Once it is at the right temperature, the vapour turns back into liquid. This is then collected in a separate chamber. Normally, the spirit is double distilled. A pot still is often preferred when rum, whisky or cognac is being distilled as it is the impurities in the spirit that add to the flavour.

Stills at Lindores Abbey
Column stills at Arbikie

A column (Coffey) still creates light, milder rums. The still is made from stainless steel, although many have copper heads or copper panels. Unlike with pot stills, the distillation doesn’t stop between batches and the stills can run continuously. Conveniently, a column still is also known as a continuous still. The more plates the stills contain, the ‘cleaner’ the alcohol will be. The steam comes from the bottom of the column and vaporises the liquid falling from the top through each chamber, sending it back up. Only the alcohol will make it to the top and the leftovers will end up at the bottom of the chamber, where they turn into steam, which will help to vaporise the next batch.

Flavoured and spiced rum

Both flavoured and spiced rum can be made from a mix of rums, which is then infused with various flavourings, spices or fruits. As these flavours mask the style of rum used, both categories are kept out of the new classification system. It simply doesn’t make sense to add them as it is the flavour (spiced, pineapple, banana…) that people will look for when choosing rum. You can still find both on The Whisky Exchange website under Spiced/Flavoured.

Pineapple rum

Local regulations

The problem with the rum category is mislabelling or lack of information when it comes to some rums. Each country has its own regulations, which can create confusion. The new categorisation system will make things much more straightforward for the consumer. Before a new product is added on The Whisky Exchange website, they request all the information from the producer, anything from potential allergens to added colourings. This will ensure that the data on the site will be kept consistent no matter what the local regulations are.

Billy accepts there will always be misinformation about rum until producers or the government of each country puts regulations in place. The Whisky Exchange keep pushing for more transparency in the industry in general and are strongly supporting movements like the recent approval of a Geographical Indication for rum made in Jamaica.

The Future

When I asked Billy whether they hope the old colour-based categorisation will eventually fade away, he told me that even within The Whisky Exchange, opinion is very split. The point is to help consumers learn more about rum and make it easier for them to find the styles they are most interested in.

When it comes to making these regulations more official, Billy explained they are looking into engaging with the EU and other regulatory bodies, but this is a long-term project. Rum is a global category and each country has its own regulations, but trading blocs may have their own definitions that imported rums must meet. At the same time, you don’t want to make things too strict, as it is the wide array of rums available that makes the category so exciting!

So, is rum the next big thing?

‘Drinkers are becoming more adventurous and are pushing the boundaries of what they’re trying. This has helped safer categories like gin and is now propelling higher-end rum. It may not hit the top immediately, but it’s definitely on its way.’

What do you think about these rum classifications? Do you like the old colour descriptions?

*Some of the links used are affiliate links. If you buy through the links I may receive a commission for the sale. This has no effect on the price for you.

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