Moving Beyond Rum Categories – A Modest Proposal

I’ve been thinking a lot about rum categories lately, even dropping a rant or two along the way.

As I’ve written in previously, the problem with most categorization schemes is that they’re not useful in all situations. A masterfully designed categorization based on technical production parameters is likely not useful to a bartender looking for a “funky” rum.

Rum is an extremely complicated spirit, so we rum enthusiasts struggle with existing categorizations like color, e.g., white, gold, and dark. Part of the problem with rum categories is that they aim to wrap up several important aspects regarding a rum under a single category. But like trying to place an octopus in a string bag, there’s always a loose arm; or in rum, the “But what about…” question.

Another challenge with rum categories is that if they’re simple enough for a consumer to understand (e.g. “gold rum”), they’re not particularly useful for us enthusiasts. And vice versa.

It seems to me that there could be an alternative path.

I’m putting what follows out into the world as a modest proposal for discussion. I make no claim it’s bulletproof, without flaws, or couldn’t be morphed into something even better. It’s just a starting point for discussion.

The reality is that the casual consumer probably doesn’t care much about categorizations. They’ll keep buying ye’olde gold or dark rum regardless of anything we enthusiasts/professionals dream up. So, let’s not try to change that — at least not at this stage of the game.

What we can do is create a consistent set of unambiguous production details, not subject to interpretation, that enthusiasts readily understand. In other words, put all the key details on the table, and not lump things together.

The next step is to get a set of enthusiast-favorite brands to share this information in a consistent manner. Ideally this would be on the back label, but at a minimum, on the brand’s web site. A brand that truly seeks transparency and has nothing to hide shouldn’t shy away from sharing any of the details in my proposal.


I propose a simple matrix, with agreed upon terms, and which every brand seeking this level of transparency could put on their label and/or web site.

Technical DescriptorAllowed Terminology
Country of fermentation & distillation‘X’ or ‘Multiple’
Single DistilleryYes/No
Single BatchYes/No
Fermentation SourceCane juice/Cane syrup/Molasses/multiple/other
Primary Yeast SourceCultured yeast/airborne yeasts/both
Distillation TypeBatch/Continuous/multiple
Maximum Distilled ABV‘X’ Percent ABV
Minimum Age in Wood‘X’ Years
Carbon Filtration for ColorYes/No
Blending materials other than E150 caramel, or similar.Yes/No

Of course, there might be other items that could be added, but best to start out small and get buy-in from multiple brands.

Most of these are self-explanatory. Others require a wee bit of explanation.

Single Batch: If yes, this means that all the rum in the bottle is of the same marque, and is of the same approximate age, e.g. no less than 6 months difference. Bourbon’s bottled-in-bond concept is the inspiration for this.

Fermentation Source: The “other” element encapsulates things like panela, brown sugar and other sources beyond the big three: molasses, cane juice, cane syrup.

Primary Yeast Source: The intent is to differentiate fermentations using a cultured, propagated yeast, rather than entirely airborne fermentation, as seen in Jamaica and Haiti, for instance.

Maximum Distilled ABV: The intent is to differentiate rum from a one or two column still at 75% ABV, from a multi-column distilled rum at 95% ABV. If a single drop of rum in the bottle was distilled to 95% ABV, that’s what goes in this field. This is similar to a minimum age statement, but for ABV.

Carbon Filtration for Color: This would be “Yes” if the Carbon filtration is used to noticeably lighten the color of the rum, e.g. make it a “white rum”.

I believe that from the above ten parameters, the vast majority of available rums can be readily differentiated from each other. Of course, this proposal does not attempt to describe flavors. That’s an entirely different ball of wax. But for us enthusiasts craving transparency so as to know what we’re buying, the details provided could go a long way towards meeting those desires.


Here’s a few real-world examples:

For an unaged Martinique AOC Rhum Agricole:

Country of fermentation & distillationFrance (Martinique)
Single DistilleryYes
Single BatchYes
Fermentation SourceCane juice
Primary Yeast SourceCultured yeast
Distillation TypeContinuous
Maximum Distilled ABV70% ABV
Minimum Age in WoodN/A
Carbon Filtration for ColorNo
Blending materials other than E150 caramel, or similar.No

For an all pot stilled, aged Jamaican rum:

Country of fermentation & distillationJamaica
Single DistilleryYes
Single BatchNo
Fermentation SourceMolasses
Primary Yeast SourceAirborne yeast
Distillation TypeBatch
Maximum Distilled ABV75% ABV
Minimum Age in Wood8 years
Carbon Filtration for ColorNo
Blending materials other than E150 caramel, or similar.No

For a lightly aged, Cuban “White” rum:

Country of fermentation & distillationCuba
Single DistilleryYes
Single BatchNo
Fermentation SourceMolasses
Primary Yeast SourceCultured yeast
Distillation TypeContinuous
Maximum Distilled ABV95% ABV
Minimum Age in Wood2 years
Carbon Filtration for ColorYes
Blending materials other than E150 caramel, or similar.No

For a multi-country blended rum made from aged and unaged rums:

Country of fermentation & distillationMultiple
Single DistilleryNo
Single BatchNo
Fermentation SourceMultiple
Primary Yeast SourceMultiple
Distillation TypeMultiple
Maximum Distilled ABV95% ABV
Minimum Age in WoodN/A
Carbon Filtration for ColorYes
Blending materials other than E150 caramel, or similar.Yes


Again, the above is just a proposal. Nothing is sacrosanct. If fewer or more fields are agreed upon, that’s fine. If the wording needs to change, that’s dandy too.

We already see some producers putting parts of the above information on their labels, which is great! But no two producers share anything that’s remotely similar to each other, making apples-to-apples comparisons a challenge, even to the informed consumer.

Sure, there’s no regulatory body that would certify that these labels are truthful. There’s no Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for rum. But there’s no reason why brands from multiple countries can’t work together on the common goal of transparency. It’s a relatively simple task and shouldn’t cost much.

Brands that misrepresent the details they state on a label will be called out, just as they are already.

An agreed upon set of elements and descriptors would help make apples-to-apples comparisons much simpler, thus benefiting both brands and consumers. If you agree, perhaps ask your favorite brands what they think of doing something like this.

11 thoughts on “Moving Beyond Rum Categories – A Modest Proposal

  1. I love the idea, but I think there are still a few cases that wouldn’t fit. I think Cuba requires spirits age for 2 year before you can call it a rum and I thought you also needed to filter it after those 2 years. There needs to be a distinction between years aged and years aged as a rum in this case.

    I also would love to see country of origin for the fermentation source, type of cane, and length of time the cane was grown before it was harvested.

    1. I’d love to see all the parameters you mention. But the more things get lumped into the “standard set”, the harder it will be to get multiple producers to agree to “the standard”. When just starting out, focusing on the “low hanging fruit” is best, to help build the consortium.

      And agree, Cuba is somewhat unusual case. But I’m trying to not let “perfect” be the enemy of “better”.

  2. Bacardi, Cruz , Captain Morgan and Meyers are the only brands I am familiar with and aside from the ingredients info maybe there should be a caution about tattoos based on the product name like ” if you drink too much Captain Morgan you will need an eye patch for your drooping right eye ” or ” drinking too much Cruz brand rum may turn you into a cross dresser”. Don’t get me wrong, rum is my favorite mixer for alcoholic beverages but the devil is in the details. I like the idea you propose! Good luck!

  3. Overall love the proposal. These classifications and facts to me make a lot more sense than the Traditional and Pure Single Rum stuff. I’d initially thought that Maximumn Distilled ABV seems secondary, but there’s going to be a signifcant taste difference between something that comes off the still at 95% ABV, and is essentially vodka with a sugar source, and something that comes off the still in the 70% range.

    Primary Yeast Source seems pretty wonky, and like something that would be of interest to 1% of people.

  4. Great start! Something should be done for sure. Even something as simple as what Foursquare does with distillation source, date, still type(s) and disclosure about no additives is a step in the right direction. I like a lot of rums both sweet and dry but there is nothing as irritating as seeing a new brand with no information on it that means anything, dropping $50 on it only to get it home and have another massive sugar bomb greet you in the glass.
    I really like the fermentation source item as I am seeing more and more US ‘craft’ distilleries using turbinado or brown sugars for their source. When I try these rums they are usually, but not always, not very complex and not the best rums I’ve experienced. There are those that stand out but as a rule rums starting with these bases are not to my experience the best products to my palate. I’d probably avoid them if I knew their source beforehand.
    Thanks again for another great article Matt, if we had more people spreading the word with the passion and straight forward facts as you do we’d have better educated rum buyers out there making solid informed choices, which can only lead to better and better products on the shelf. Cheers.

    1. Thank you for the very kind words, Jay.

      I’ve gotten a lot of feedback (and pushback) from the story. I find myself repeating the same key points:

      1) This proposal doesn’t have to be adopted immediately, or by everybody. It should be a grassroots movement among producers who say the value transparency

      2) The producers themselves should definite what parameters to disclose. A producer grouping (formal or informal) could help do this among its members.

      3) An essential element is that whatever parameters get selected, a matching “vocabulary” should be defined. A standard, of sorts. Otherwise, we’ll have all sorts of terminology used for the same concept, e.g. distillation type. One producer might say “column”, another might say “continuous”, and the poor consumer therefore can’t compare apples to apples.

  5. This is a great idea. As a micro rum producer I’m glad these points of difference are available and there is a market for a different product . How would I test for percent congners or ethyl acetate?

    1. Hi Patrick,

      I’m glad to hear you say that. I know there are a many laboratories, especially around wine-making regions, which have labs very capable of doing alcoholic beverage analysis. Gas Chromatography would be the primary methodology, as best I know. It may cost a few hundred dollars, but I’ve not checked recently.

      Be sure you know which compounds they would test for. Something like the EU definition for spirit congeners would be a starting place.

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