Straight up, on the rocks, with a mixer, in a mojito … the possibilities are endless. Rum, both light and dark, is consumed in a huge variety of ways, and the sugary spirit is just as popular today as it was following its creation in the Caribbean in the seventeenth century. Made from byproducts of sugarcane (either sugarcane juice or molasses), many rums continue to be produced throughout the Caribbean because of the abundance of sugar plantations across the islands. Authentic Caribbean rums are considered to be some of the best quality spirits on the market, similar to Russian vodkas or Scotch whiskies.
Although Caribbean rum has become a rather generic term for rums produced throughout the region, the different islands and countries actually produce different types of the spirit, putting their own spin on a traditional recipe. There are three distinct forms produced across the region, so visitors traveling to the Caribbean hoping to sample some of its delights shouldn’t restrict themselves to just one destination. One of the most effortless ways of travelling around is on a cruise, with a western Caribbean cruise offering plenty of time to discover all the different varieties while relaxing and taking in all the sights.
Rum produced in primarily Spanish speaking countries, such as Cuba, is generally light or golden and smooth. It is reminiscent of the rums that are frequently used as cocktail bases rather than those that are consumed neat by connoisseurs. Known as añejo rums, they’re generally well-aged in oak barrels that give them a somewhat charred yet mild flavor. Choose a western Caribbean cruise that visits the port of Havana on Cuba’s northern shore to try out this type of rum.
A second type of Caribbean rum comes from the countries with English as an official language, such as Belize. These dark rums are what are considered to be ‘sophisticated’ spirits that benefit more from consumption in their simplest form rather than being mixed with liquids that could affect the rich flavor. The rums are generally quite syrupy rather than runny like other forms of the drink, and have a very subtle taste. Western Caribbean cruises which dock in Belize City are good choices, with plenty of bars and restaurants surrounding the port.
Finally, French-speaking Caribbean countries produce yet another type of rum known as rhum agricole, or rhum vieux if its been aged. This type of rum is remarkably different, made from sugarcane juice rather than the usual molasses. It is generally considered to be a purer form of more standard rums and is often much more expensive to buy. The charred taste of other rums is replaced with a somewhat spicy flavor, and although this rum is hugely popular both in the Caribbean and in the United States, it accounts for just 5 percent of the world’s rum production. Visitors can sample this in Labadee on Haiti’s north coast.
Another place that’s an absolute must-see for rum lovers is the Mount Gay Distillery in Barbados. Visitors can learn about the history of the popular brand and experience a guided tour around the factory. Visitors can see and smell the rum at various stages during the production process and see how it transforms from sugarcane to drink. The tour concludes with what is often considered the best part: the tasting! There are plenty of rum punches on offer, as well as neat shots to try.
There’s really no better place to sample the world’s best rums than the Caribbean, the birthplace of the popular spirit. With the combination of an abundance of factories with locals who take their rum very seriously, it’s a great place to learn about the different processes, tastes and styles of the different countries. Huge varieties of rum can be purchased from the factories and from stores throughout the Caribbean, providing wonderful gifts and souvenirs to take home from the trip.