Rum is on the Rise

When Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane cuttings from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, the tropical climate was ideal for the plant to thrive, resulting in a host of sugar-based industries. Thankfully, both Rhum Agricole and Rum Industriel were part of this economic boom.

Rum has seen a rise and fall in popularity throughout the last century and fortunately, thanks to spirit aficionados, cocktail enthusiasts, and great value, it is on the rise once again.

Historically, it is believed that sugarcane originated in New Guinea, and from there it was taken to China, India and South Asia. Continuing its journey west, sugarcane made its way to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and was then introduced to the warm climates of Spain, Portugal and North Africa before travelling across the Atlantic and finally landing in the West Indies.

Some of you are probably wondering what the difference is between Rhum Agricole and Rum Industriel. Rhum Agricole, or Agricultural Rum, is made from fresh pressed sugarcane juice, which is fermented and distilled in Alembic pot stills. Rum Industriel, or Industrial Rum, is made from the byproduct of refining sugar—molasses—and is typically distilled in a combination of both pot stills and column stills. Although it now only makes up approximately 10% of the rum industry, Rhum Agricole was around for more than 250 years before Don Facundo Bacardi decided in the mid-1800s to use molasses rather than the sugarcane juice and inspired other distillers to do the same. If you haven’t yet tasted the two spirits side by side, you really should the next time you sit at a bar that carries both. One is not better than the other; their differences are worth celebrating. Rhum Agricole retains much of the flavour of the original sugarcane and tends to be smooth and light, with floral and herbal aromas. Rum Industriel is much more difficult to categorize because of its wide range of flavours due to very few category-wide legal requirements beyond a sugarcane base and alcohol strength. Rum Industriel can be generally broken down into three colours that are somewhat aligned with style; white, amber/gold, and dark. It is the amber/gold and dark rums that have grown the most in recent years at roughly 14% and 13% respectively, while white rum has seen a slight decline of approximately 0.5%. The premium rums have primarily driven the category rise, now accounting for almost 24% of the sector’s volume share, which is up nearly 18% in the last few years.

It is the amber/gold and dark rums that have grown the most in recent years

When the classic cocktail culture reemerged a couple of decades ago, the bartending community pored over old recipes, trying to replicate history through flavours in a glass. Whisk(e)y, gin, tequila, brandy, and rum all started to peek out from the shadows and move to the forefront of people’s palates. Rum initially had a bit of a slower resurgence while people moved through other spirit categories, but the slow and steady rise of rum has really brought forth some impressive growth.

The beauty of rum lies in the diversity, since there are very few legal restrictions in the production and maturation processes. This yields so many differing styles that the options seem endless. There was a time when many thought only of using rum in tropical drinks and hi-balls, rarely sipping or savouring the complexity of the spirit. Not only are people using rum to replicate delicious classics now, they are also replacing other spirits, making Rum Old Fashioneds, Rum Manhattans, and Rum Boulevardiers, or to sip and savour like any other fine spirits. Substituting the base spirit in traditionally non-rum cocktails is the best way to create converts, giving people a whole new impression of rum’s versatility and depth of character.

Perhaps part of rum’s rise in popularity is due to its value compared to other spirits. It’s a little hard to imagine how 25-year-old rum can be sold for a similar price as a 12-year-old whisky, especially when you consider the annual evaporation rate while maturing in the barrel is between 1-3% for whisky and between 8-10% for rum. We should be thankful that we can currently pick up these rum gems at such great prices because as popularity continues to rise so will the prices.

If you haven’t yet explored the diversity of rum, now is the time to do so—either to sip on, or in one of your favourite cocktails. There is a whole world of flavour complexity that awaits you.