1. “The rum of the Caribbean is as much a part of its history as pirates, palm trees, and white sandy beaches.”
These words, spoken by renowned chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, capture the essence of the Caribbean’s love affair with rum. For centuries, rum has been an integral part of the region’s culture and economy, and its production has become an art form in its own right.
In this 3D animation, we’ll take you on a journey through the process of making rum – from the sugarcane fields to the distillation process and aging in oak barrels. You’ll discover the secrets behind the creation of this beloved spirit and gain a new appreciation for the hard work and dedication that goes into producing every bottle. So sit back, relax, and let us take you on a virtual tour of the fascinating world of rum production in the Caribbean.
2.”Rum is the spirit of the people, the essence of the land, and the soul of the Caribbean.” These poetic words by award-winning author and rum enthusiast, Ian Williams, perfectly capture the magic and allure of this beloved drink. For centuries, rum has been a symbol of the Caribbean’s rich history and culture, celebrated for its complexity and versatility. In this 3D animation, we’ll take you on a journey through the fascinating world of rum production, exploring the traditional methods and modern techniques that go into creating this iconic spirit. From the sun-drenched sugar cane fields to the distilleries where the rum is aged and blended, we’ll uncover the secrets and nuances that give rum its unique character and flavor profile. So, join us on this immersive adventure through the heart of the Caribbean, as we explore the history, culture, and artistry behind the making of rum.
Sugar cane, also known as Genus Saccharum officinarum, is the source material for the production of rum. The plant requires between ten months and two years to mature to the point where its sugars can be harvested and extracted. With many different varieties of sugar cane available, the profile of the resulting rum is greatly influenced by both the type of cane and the region in which it is grown.
In the Caribbean, sugar cane is cut once a year, while in South American sub-tropical climates it can be cropped twice a year. After about six years, a new crop is often planted to reinvigorate the soil, but modern fertilizers can extend cane growth. To prepare for harvesting, the field may be burned to remove leaves and pests. The cane is left standing and is only singed due to its high water content. It must be harvested quickly and milled within 24 hours to prevent sugar deterioration and bacterial infection.
Traditionally, cane is harvested with machetes, with cutters aiming for the base of the stem for higher sugar concentration before removing the leafy tops. A good cutter can cut three tons per day, but machines are increasingly used for mechanised harvesting.In Jamaica, some cutters leave an odd cane or two standing at the edge of the field, tied in elaborate shapes to ward off mischievous spirits called “duppies.”
Sugar cane contains around 75% water, 10-16% sugar, and 10-16% fiber. The harvested cane is washed, chopped, and milled to extract water and sugar juice. Rum can be made by distilling fermented sugar cane juice and is commonly produced on French islands like Martinique under the name “rhum agricole,” whereas rums made directly from sugar cane juice are rare elsewhere.
Most rums are made from molasses and called “rhum traditional,” though rhum agricole producers may refer to it as “rhum industriel.” Some newer rums are blends of agricole and traditional. Cane syrup can also be used to make rum, and “fancy molasses” refers to inverted sugar syrup made by converting sucrose to glucose and fructose with acid or enzymes.
To make rum, sugar cane derivatives such as molasses, cane juice, or cane syrup are fermented with yeast to produce a beer-like “wash” with 5-10% alcohol by volume. Yeast consumes sugar to produce alcohol and compounds known as congeners, which are responsible for flavor. The type of yeast used, the temperature of the fermentation, and the levels of non-sugar dissolved solids all influence the final product. Fermentation can take from 24 hours to a fortnight, depending on the desired flavor profile. The pH of the molasses affects fermentation, and acidic residue can be added to adjust it. Lees left in open dunder pits, known as “dunder,” can also concentrate ester content and acetic/butyric acids.
In sugar production, molasses is a by-product of extracting sugar from cane juice. Most rum is made from molasses, which is fermented and distilled. The first process produces A-grade sugar, the second B-grade, and the third Low-grade sugar which is used to mix with the next batch. Ideally, molasses should have at least 52% sugar content for rum production. The sugar and molasses produced by this process are sold on the world market. The process of making sugar involves boiling cane juice to reduce the water content and produce a syrup known as “wet sugar.” This is then mixed with sugar crystals, boiled and cooled to encourage the sugar crystals to enlarge, and then spun in a centrifuge to separate the crystals from the liquid. White sugar is the result of a further industrial process.
Light or heavy rum
Rum is a spirit that can be categorized as either ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ based on the amount of flavour components present, which are called ‘congeners’. Congeners include esters, aldehydes, and lower alcohols that are produced during fermentation. The amount of congeners present depends on the duration of fermentation and the purity of the distillation process. When alcohol is distilled, congeners are reduced, resulting in a lighter rum. Heavy rums are distilled from pot stills or single distillation columns, while multiple-column stills produce both light and heavy rums. Light rums usually have a shorter fermentation time and fewer impurities than heavy rums, resulting in a more subtle and refined taste. Light rums come from Spanish-colonized countries, such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Heavy rums come from former French and English colonies, including Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Barbados, Guyana, and the Virgin Islands. Some distilleries blend light and heavy rums to create a rum that combines the characteristics of both.
Distillation of rum
In distillation, alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, allowing for the separation of alcohol and water in a mixture. The process is complex and influenced by various factors, including the boiling points of different alcohols and flavor compounds. The distiller’s skill is in using distillation to collect desired alcohols and flavor compounds while avoiding harmful ones. The ‘cut,’ or proportion of the run used to make the finished rum, is typically the less volatile ethanol alcohol and other desirable compounds. Fusel oils, the heaviest and oiliest congeners, come off the still last. Pot stills tend to produce heavily-bodied rums with more congeners, while column stills can produce both light and heavy rums.
Pot (alembic) still rum production
Pot stills, the original and simplest type of still, are essentially copper kettles used to make malt whisky in Scotland and cognac in France. The wash is heated until it boils, and the first vapours, known as the “high wines” or “heads,” are discarded. Next comes the “cut,” the desirable part of the run that produces the distillate. Pot still rums are often double distilled, with the distillate from the first run being in the low twenties and the second run producing a distillate that is typically over 70% alcohol by volume. The distiller must determine when to make cuts during distillation to control which congeners are retained and discarded, using simple or more complex stills with various controls.
Retorts are common additions to pot stills in rum making. The distillate from the pot still is directed into the first of two retorts. The first retort, called the ‘low wine retort’, is filled with low wines from the previous distillation diluted with water. The hot vapour causes the liquid in the ‘low wine retort’ to boil, concentrating the strength of the vapour, which then moves on to the second retort. The second retort, called the ‘high wine retort’, is filled with high wines from the previous distillation, diluted with water to a higher strength. As in the first retort, the vapour causes the liquid to boil, and the alcohol strength of the vapour is boosted a second time. The liquids placed in the retorts will have a dramatic effect on the finished distillate. Some distillers use chilled heads on their retorts, which condense the vapours as they rise up, causing them to fall back into the chamber. This is called reflux and it effectively raises the boiling point, producing a lighter distillate.
Column still rum production
Column stills are highly efficient for producing rum due to their continuous operation and ability to produce high concentrations of alcohol. They consist of two columns: the analyzer column and rectifying column. Perforated copper trays in each column allow for the distillation of heavier compounds, with lighter compounds rising to the top. The taller the still, the purer the alcohol produced. Modern column stills use cooling jackets and vacuums to increase reflux and reduce boiling points, respectively. This technology allows for the efficient and inexpensive production of light and extra-light rums.
The style of rum is influenced by its origins and terroir, including the micro-climate, production methods, and location of aging warehouses. This results in unique styles of rum for each island or country. The native population typically prefers the style of rum they grew up drinking. As a result, Trinidadian rums, Jamaican rums, and Martinique rums all have distinct flavors.
Rum, like all distillates, is clear after distillation regardless of whether it’s distilled in pot or column stills. The colour comes from ageing in oak casks and the addition of caramel colour. American oak casks previously used for bourbon are most commonly used for ageing rum due to the rules of bourbon dictating that the whiskey must be aged in new white oak casks. The inside of these casks is charred at the cooperage when first made, caramelising natural sugars on the wood’s surface and increasing the vanillins. The quality of these casks and their treatment dramatically affects the character they impart to the rum stored within them. Ageing spirits in the humid/tropical climatic conditions typical of the Caribbean and South America will have a very different effect than ageing in a colder climate like Scotland. Losses in volume due to evaporation are also more exaggerated in hotter climates, around 6% per year as opposed to 3% in Scotland. High humidity can mean an almost equal loss between alcohol and water, meaning that although the volume is lost, the strength remains fairly constant. To prevent casks from gradually emptying over the years, it is common for them to be topped up with rum from other casks in the same batch.
Charcoal filtration of rum
Charcoal filtration is a key step in producing light rums, which was popularized by Don Facundo Bacardi. This process removes harsh and undesirable elements from the rum. Different types of charcoal can be used to target specific substances and “smooth” the rum. Bacardi uses a proprietary blend of tropical woods and coconut shells for their charcoal filtration. This process can also remove the color that aging imparts on rum, resulting in a clear product. Charcoal filtration can occur before and after the aging process.
Blending is the final step in altering a rum’s character, often using a mix of light and dark rums of varying ages. Some blends may include only 5% or less of pot still to enhance flavor. However, there is a lack of regulations and governing bodies when it comes to age statements and additives in many rum-producing nations. Some producers take advantage of this by using additives like prune wine, chaptalized fruit juice, boisse, sugar, spices, and flavorings to enhance the rum’s flavor. Age statements can also be misleading, with some representing the youngest rum in the blend and others just indicating the average age.
In the world of rum, looks can be deceiving. Caramel is often added to give aged rums a darker color and sometimes to make them appear older than they really are. On the other hand, some aged rums are filtered to remove all color, leaving them crystal clear. Aged rums are blended from different rums of various ages and types, and before they are bottled, they are left to marry in tanks. This blending process allows the different flavors and aromas to meld together into a harmonious whole.Top of Form