Traditional Rums

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Traditional rums are made very differently, and have a much stronger flavor and darker color. Most come from Jamaica and the French-speaking Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe). They were once fermented for up to two weeks with a spontaneous group of microbes, and often by adding the already strong-flavored lees of one fermentation to the next vat. Today, most traditional rums are fermented for a day or two with mixed microbial cultures dominated by an unusual yeast (Schizosaccharomyces) that excels in ester production. They’re then pot-distilled to a much lower alcohol content, and therefore end up with four to five times the quantity of aroma compounds that light rum has. Finally they’re aged in used American whiskey casks, where they get most of their color. Caramel can be added to deepen the color and flavor, a procedure that seems appropriate since rum is made from sugar in the first place.