For all of its flavor and versatility, rum remains one of the most difficult spirits for average drinkers to wrap their heads around. The reason, many say, is the way it’s classified.
Despite efforts to improve the system, rum is still classified by categories of white, gold, dark, British/navy, French/agricole or Spanish.
“The flavor profiles and palate can vary so much in each color category,” says BACARDÍ® global master of rum and cane spirits David Cid. “So calling out the colors doesn’t say much.” Plus, both aging and the addition of molasses can affect the spirit’s color and might account for vast differences in flavor.
Another system that has been proposed, in which rums are grouped by their distillation method (pot still versus column still versus multicolumn still), presents a similar conundrum.
“The distillation method doesn’t tell the average consumer anything,” says Cid. “It can be just as confusing as color.” One way to address the issue is to meet drinkers where they’re most comfortable. “The everyday consumer knows more about flavor than they do the science of distillation.”
BACARDÍ’s approach takes this conceit into account and classifies its rums by age, starting with young rums that have been matured for one year. “Young rums—or mixing rums—are clean and crisp,” says Cid. “They’re not meant to be sipped on their own, but rather blended into cocktails.”
From there, the scale moves to older rums, which generally undergo significant transformation after years in the barrel. Notes of vanilla, for instance, may appear in añejo rums (aged more than four years), while reservas (aged more than eight years) can start to evolve into drier fruit flavors, with more charred oak notes.
Finally, there are extra old rums. “In tropical aging, after 11 or 12 years, you develop more acidity from the barrels,” says Cid. “Due to the high evaporation rates, these rums are scarce and expensive and are often blended differently due to the richness and complexity of the flavors.”
This approach would educate and inspire consumers. “By helping rum drinkers understand our products by the point of aging, we’re helping them to understand the flavor progression, as well.”