You don’t need a Ph.D. in booze to understand that spirits change as a result of aging. Generally speaking, a little time in a barrel affects everything from the color to the flavor to the price of your favorite bottle.
Rum is no different. A great majority of the rum you see on the market today has at one time rested in oak. But how, exactly, it rests depends on the producer.
One popular method is what’s known as the solera system, a Spanish aging style in which rows of vertically stacked barrels are continuously topped off with younger rums, creating a trickle-down effect that can result in a consistent spirit.
“When done right, disturbed aging can produce beautiful rums,” says David Cid, BACARDÍ’s® global master of rum and cane spirits. “From a production standpoint, one of the benefits of this method is a higher yield at the end of the aging period. By topping off, you reduce the headspace, which may in turn reduce your evaporation loss over time.”
But what happens when you put the rum in the barrel and just leave it alone—in other words, let it age undisturbed?
“For one, you can have more control over the finished product,” says BACARDÍ maestro de ron Juan Piñera. “If you’re topping off older casks with younger ones, the spirit runs the risk of getting diluted.”
Allowing spirits to develop on their own can sometimes lead to surprises. Taking into consideration other factors, like barrel condition, placement in the warehouse and ABV of the spirit when placed in the barrel, the same rum could develop in different ways. “This could be very useful in the development of new blends” says Cid.
As an example, if you were to take two barrels—one newer, one older—and fill these with the same rum at the same distillery, then opened them four years later, each would be a little different depending on the interaction they had with the barrels. For instance, one might have more pronounced banana notes, while another may have more oak notes.
The type of undisturbed aging that BACARDÍ practices is undoubtedly more expensive, because more rum evaporates during the process. Still, Piñera feels it helps him to craft a world-class spirit.