Cane spirits are a family of spirits made from distilling fermented sugar/molasses and water. The most well known example is of course Rum. The first production of a Rum like spirit date back to ancient China and India, where beverages made from fermented sugarcane were drunk. Sugarcane was spread by Chinese traders to India and then on into the Middle East. The European nations first discovered sugarcane during the Crusades in the 11th Century and the Spanish and Portuguese planted it in the Canaries and Azores. Christopher Columbus transported cuttings to the Caribbean and it is here that the climate seems ideal for growing and harvesting sugarcane. The massive demand for sugar from Europe led to the establishment of huge plantations and mills in various colonies. The sugarcane was harvested and crushed to extract the juice. The juice was then boiled and chunks of sugar would crystallize and were harvested. The remaining juice was called melazas (Derived from Spanish and French word “miel” for honey ). This was of course converted to the word we know in English: Molasses. People noticed that if this sticky syrup was mixed with water and left in the sun then it would ferment to produce an alcoholic beverage which could be distilled into a spirit. In the colonies it was thought to have medicinal properties and was called rumbullion. This was shortened eventually to Rum (Rhum in French, and Ron in Spanish) The huge trade in the Caribbean brought the attention of many pirates and various rum-runners who were keen to make a profit. Mill and plantation owners would sell the Rum to naval ships at a discounted rate to encourage their presence and hopefully fend off anybody intent on damaging business.
The British navy adopted a daily rum ration which was soon adjusted to be a mixture of equal parts water and rum which became known as Grog.The grog ration was a still part of British naval law until as late as 1970. The trade of Rum in the late 1600s was a massive business. The British navy shipped Rum to England where it was made into punches. It was also traded with the British colonies in America and infamously this trade in Rum and molasses was the first leg in the slavery triangle. The production of Rum in Massachusetts was one of New England’s largest industries at this time. Smuggling, piracy, and corruption were rife in these times. The American Revolution caused massive disruption in this trade and as a result the dominance of Rum waned. It was replaced by whisky in the US, and by gin in England. Many plantations closed and Rum production became localized in the regions where sugarcane was grown. Modern tourism and an increase in the nostalgic interest of classic cocktails has seen a rise in the production of rum. Aged Rums are gaining popularity and the subtle differences of different countries are being explored more widely.
- Light Rum/White Rum is usually light in body. They are generally aged in stainless steel tanks if at all. These Rums are used primarily as mixers in cocktails.
- Gold or Amber Rum is generally aged in oak casks for a period of time which smooths out their taste profile and gives a more mellow flavor. They can be sipped or mixed.
- Dark Rum is aged for extended periods of time in oak casks and are full-bodied and rich in flavor. These Rums are almost exclusively produced from pot stills and are meant for drinking straight-up. There are also some dark Rums which are age dated or vintage dated. These are premium Rums to be savored much like top Cognac.
- Spiced Rum can be any variety of Rum, although generally white or amber which has been infused with spices for flavor.
- Barbados Produces lighter styled Rums. The famous mount Gay distillery was founded here in 1663.
- Guyana Famous for the heavy Demerara Rums which are aged for long periods and produce a rich style of Rum.
- Haiti The Rums here are made in the traditional French style using oak aging and pot stills to produce full-flavored Rums.
- Jamaica Traditionally produced in pot stills, this country produces full flavored Rums with very notable aromatic qualities.
- Martinique A French island with the only AOP for Rum. These Rhums are aged for extended periods of time and are often compared to high quality brandies.
- Puerto Rico This large island is known for light styled Rums which are primarily used for mixing in cocktails.
- Brazil Produces a Rum known as Cachaça.