White Rum Renaissance
As far as I know, the first one to speak about it was Javier Herrera, founder of the International Rum Conference in Madrid. A few years ago, when giving a conference in Rome, he said that an important role in the future of rum would be played by white rum. A new kind of white rum. Not the neutral distillate which still makes up the main part of rum consumption: almost odorless and flavorless, largely used in the most commonplace mixology to give alcoholic strength to cocktails. An entirely different product: high-quality, rich in aroma and flavor, with a lovely long finish. A rum born to be drunk neat, sipped leisurely, savored.
I confess I didn’t believe him. As we all do, I loved aged rums, their amber color, their aromatic and gustative fullness. I remember thinking that Javier was exaggerating and that the trend he was describing, even assuming it was real, would be something for a handful of connoisseurs, a mere niche.
I was wrong. The facts have confirmed Javier’s intuition: in the space of a few years, many new sipping white rums have reached the market. Now, many white rums are available to consumers. Some are new products, others existed already, but were virtually impossible to find: Clairin, overproof Jamaican whites, white rhums agricole, many pure juice rums, for example from Mauritius, molasses white rums produced in Japan, in Scotland, etc. And this is only the beginning, others will follow.
Some are aged a few months or a few years and then filtered to remove the color, others are not aged at all: producers just let them rest a while before bottling. They are often good: they have a lovely aroma, a rich flavor and a long finish. They already have a share of the market – small, admittedly, but growing steadily.
Of course, a good white rum is not easy to produce. Without the contribution of the barrel, it is all about careful fermentation and then skillful distillation. It takes the right yeasts and a lot of knowledge. But the result is worthwhile: tasteful rums, often smooth, others with a strong note of cane, sometimes a bit rough, but at any rate good and, obviously, less expensive. And, on top of that, difficult to tamper with.
If I may introduce a personal note, I have started drinking them regularly myself and I’m enjoying them more and more; indeed, they interest me more and more. Anyway, the importance of white rum is not an absolute novelty, rather a comeback, a renaissance: White Rum Renaissance, precisely.
To my knowledge, nobody has studied the history of the ageing of rum seriously yet, possibly because until now it was taken for granted that rum had to be aged. However, in the past all rum used to be white and locally used to be consumed young, just distilled. Or it was put into barrels to export it. With time, people realized that the months spent in the barrels, during the long voyages, made it more palatable, healthier; in short, better. And when one knows the rough methods of distillation of the time, that is hardly surprising. But the practice of ageing rum on purpose is relatively recent: it probably started in the second half of XVIII century and thrived commercially around the middle of XIX century, in Cuba and elsewhere.
Even nowadays, in the Caribbean they drink mainly young, white rum. Dark, aged rums appeal especially to European and North-American consumers. So, to please us, many rums have been released which boast many years of ageing, They are dark, full -bodied, and expensive. They are rums for a demanding consumer, it is said, willing to pay a lot for the long, costly years of ageing.
There is nothing wrong in this. There are on the market wonderful aged rums which deserve all the money they cost. Sadly, we know that that is not always the case and that the number of years printed on many labels raise some doubts. Besides, in order to chase after the taste of new consumers, many new aged products have reached the market, and many of them have been successful too, which are far removed from authentic rum because they are meant to be more like whisky, or cognac.
Rum is rum, though, not a bad copy of other spirits. It does not make sense to age it too much. And, without too many years in a barrels it needn’t be expensive. Rum is the joyful child of sugarcane: it must smell and taste like cane, grass, sunshine. So, the new white rums can only be authentic if they want to be good, that is, they must be well fermented and well distilled, that’s all. But there is more. I believe that white rum is the most appropriate for responding to some of the main trends of today’s market, not just of the rum world.
Firstly, because it answers the growing demand for authentic products, made according to traditional methods – natural, genuine products.
Secondly, rum craft distilleries are already an important reality in the US, bound to grow and spread everywhere. And the first products they release are usually young, white rums.
Last, but not least, discerning consumers increasingly want to know what they drink. Rum Festivals, events devoted to rum, masterclasses, lectures, guided tastings, etc... are on the rise. And white rum is easier to look into, explain, understand and evaluate.
All this will increase the appeal of white rum and the perception of its worth, and will boost consumption growth – all that, somewhat emphatically, we have called its Renaissance.
-Article written by Marco Pierini-
My name is Marco Pierini, I was born in 1954 in a little town in Tuscany (Italy) where a still live. I got a degree in Philosophy in Florence and I studied Political Science in Madrid, but my real passion has always been History. And through History I have always tried to know the world, and men. Life brought me to work in tour ism, event organization and vocational training. Then I discovered rum. With Francesco Rufini, I founded La Casa del Rum (The House of Rum),that runs a beach bar and selects and distributes Premium Rums in Italy, www.lacasadelrum.it. And finally I have returned back to my initial passion: History. But now it is the History of Rum. Because Rum is not only a great distillate, it’s a world. Produced in scores of countries, by thousands of companies, with an extraordinary variety of aromas and flavors; it has a terrible and fascinating history, made of slaves and pirates, imperial fleets and revolutions. All this I try to cover in this column, in my FB profile, www.facebook/marco.pierini.3 and in my articles on the Italian webpage www.bartender.it