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A Guide to Global Rum Styles

Sugarcane is grown throughout the world—and wherever cane goes, rum and its relatives are sure to be found, too. Colonial powers brought sugarcane to the Caribbean and the Americas, and—in one of history’s more gruesome episodes—forcibly transported and enslaved millions of Africans to the region to work the fields. While European colonizers also had a hand in making rum, today each island and nation in the region has its own distinctive culture, identity, and traditions—of which rum is an integral part. Here’s a quick look at some of the places that play significant roles in today’s rum world.

CUBA Cuba is known for its lighter, blended rums full of layers and character, perfect for Daiquiris and Mojitos, both Cuban originals. Havana Club is the chief export brand (though not to the U.S., unfortunately).

BARBADOS Considered by many the birthplace of Caribbean rum and still making exceptional expressions of the spirit, the island is today home to producers including Foursquare, Mount Gay, and the West Indies Rum Distillery.

GUYANA Guyana’s rich, smoky rums (such as El Dorado, Hamilton, and Lemon Hart) play a big role in tropical drinks, and Demerara rums were a key component in the British navy’s rum rations.

HAITI Haitian spirits typically originate as sugarcane juice, not molasses, and the island’s spirits—from clairin to the widely distributed Barbancourt—have a delicate, demonstrative character all their own.

JAMAICA “Funk” is a term often employed to describe Jamaican rum, with good reason—distillers have perfected methods of fermentation and distillation to create intensely fragrant spirits that make rum fans swoon. Appleton Estate, Worthy Park, Hampden Estate, and Plantation Xaymaca are worth checking out.

MARTINIQUE & GUADELOUPE These French islands are known for rhum agricole (Martinique bears an AOC for the spirit), assertive, complex rums—such as Rhum JM, Trois Rivières, and Neisson— that are alluring with youth, and absolutely captivating with age.

NICARAGUA Nicaragua may not have the lengthy rum pedigree of Cuba or Barbados, but its rums are crisp, dry, and right at home in the cocktail shaker. Flor de Caña is a widely available brand.

PANAMA Panama’s rum history is shorter than that of many of its neighbors, but exports including Ron Abuelo, and rums bottled under other labels, have earned the nation a spot on the rum shelf.

PUERTO RICO Brands like Bacardi, Ron del Barrilito, and Don Q make crisp, light rums familiar to many drinkers, and the island’s aged rums have a gentle, agreeable nature that’s perfect in cocktails.

ST. LUCIA A mixture of distillation methods and production styles gives St. Lucia’s distillers many tools to work with, resulting in rums such as Bounty and Chairman’s Reserve that can be crisp and dry, rich and robust, or anywhere along the spectrum.

TRINIDAD Angostura’s massive multicolumn still is one of the Caribbean’s largest, and while the distillery bottles some rum under its own labels, much is sold in bulk to other bottlers and blenders.

VENEZUELA This troubled nation has a long history of producing rich, delicate aged rums—brands including Diplomático and Pampero are widely available in the U.S.

OTHER GLOBAL RUMS Sugarcane isn’t indigenous to the Caribbean—its origins are in New Guinea, and as cultivation spread around the globe, so, too, did spirits made from the plant. India, Brazil, and Indonesia all have a sugarcane-spirits heritage stretching back centuries. Today, the production of rum and other sugarcane spirits reaches from Massachusetts and Hawaii to Cambodia, Japan, Australia, Cape Verde, and Madeira, continuing rum’s role as an international star.

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