An Open Letter to Authors Writing About Rum

Hey there! I hear you’re working on an article about rum for a beverage/food/lifestyle magazine/blog/podcast. Rum has certainly become one of the “it” things to cover, so welcome to the party!

There are many folks who are passionate about rum, including a few of us rum-focused writers. We all love rum and are working in the service of elevating rum’s presence and perception on the world stage. So, thank your for helping us out with your coverage and expanding rum’s potential audience.

As you’ve probably learned from your research, rum is a pretty complicated topic. So many styles from so many countries, each with their own tradition! It’s quite a challenge to wrap your head around. There’s an enormous amount to geek out over, and many writers doing just that. However, I understand your readers may not know the difference between rum and whiskey, much less the difference between molasses and cane juice rums. Let’s not even get into solera aging.

I totally get it. You’re just trying to give a gentle introduction to your readers, and maybe list a few bottles to try.

So, with that in mind, a small request. As I mentioned, a lot of us work hard to educate consumers about rum. Much of that is dispelling myths and misconceptions. One thing we’ve learned is that the traditional, “old guard” language about rum does it no favors. It reinforces negative stereotypes and hinders real understanding.

What do I mean? Let’s start with the most egregious offense: Categorizing rum as White, Gold, Dark, Black.

If you take just one thing away from what I say, let it be this: Categorizing rum based on color makes no sense. Color has absolutely no bearing on the quality or taste of a rum.

The range of white rums is just as broad as the variety of fruits growing on trees. There’s a staggering array of wildly different flavors in what’s labeled as “white rum”. Blind taste a Puerto Rican “blanco” rum next to a Jamaican overproof and a Martinique rhum agricole. Very different! In fact, most people wouldn’t identify them as the same spirit.

White rum is often categorized as unaged, cheap stuff. The reality is that the vast majority of Caribbean “white rum” undergoes at least a year of aging, and often much more. Want to know more about the vast panorama of rums, sans color? Start here.

Now, let’s talk about gold and dark rum. It’s an easy mistake to think that the darker the rum, the longer it’s aged. That makes it better, right?

Not so much.

Where a rum is aged, and what types of casks are used makes an enormous difference. Many of the rums coveted by the rum illuminati are relatively light in color, despite a decade or more in a cask.

Another reality is that many rums are color adjusted with caramel to meet consumer expectations. Sometimes it’s with a very light touch to ensure color consistency. Other times, substantial amounts of caramel go in.

Think about some of the very dark or black, rums out there, like Goslings, Bacardi Black, and Coruba.  Do you really think they’ve spent 15 or 20 years in a barrel while still selling for less than US $20? That’s caramel, my friend.

Truth be told, there are popular gold and dark rums that are entirely unaged. The color comes entirely from caramel. Can you now see why darker doesn’t mean older or better when it comes to rum?

Want to know more about colored rum? Start here

So, if white/gold/dark/black aren’t the right terms, what should you use? Some descriptors I might use to define age or perceived quality include:

  • Unaged
  • Lightly aged (say… up to 3 years)
  • Aged/Filtered (Lightly aged, then carbon filtered)
  • Moderately aged (4 years more)
  • Long aged (8 years or longer)

Of course, not all rums fit neatly within those descriptors. They’re just starting points for consideration. And of course, there’s the whole topic of tropical vs. continental aging that I won’t get into here. But if I can guide you away from white/gold/dark/black, that’s enough.

Since I still have your attention, I’ll also suggest that overproof is also a terrible, nonsensical category. Read more about why I say that here.

If you desire a deeper understanding of rum categories, good and bad, this story dives deep on it.

One more thing: You may be thinking to lead off your piece with a paragraph evoking some combination of sun, beaches, pirates, and drunken college exploits. Believe me, it’s been done. Many, many times.

In the same way that not every article about Scotch whisky doesn’t need to evoke leather chairs, cigars, and a roaring fire in a Scottish castle, rum also deserves more than the usual, overused tropes.

Speaking of tropes: The “rum has no rules bit”? Not true. Ditto for “Rum is naturally sweet because it’s made from sugar cane.” It’s not.

Again, thanks for helping educate consumers about what an amazing spirit rum is!

Matt Pietrek

p.s. Should you wish to explore the deeper end of the pool, my rum-writing is categorized here.

Author: Matt Pietrek

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