We don't dream of drinking gin on the beach. No one wants whiskey or rye with sand between their toes. These honors go directly, and permanently, to rum: The official spirit of vacationers (and, okay, pirates) everywhere.
But just because it's the base spirit for a host of laid-back cocktails doesn't mean rum is a simple affair. Found in a wide variety of shades and flavors, rum -- one of the first liquors produced in the new world, dating back nearly to Columbus's arrival in the West Indies -- is quite the complex elder statesman. Don't know your white from your dark, or your gold from your spiced? Let our rum rundown light the way.
Unlike much of its alcoholic bretheren, rum's production isn't tightly controlled by law; it can take on any number of regional or artisinal variations and still be called by name. Distilled from molasses (or sugarcane juice), rum begins life clear, and is then fermented and aged in steel or oak barrels or casks -- for different lengths of time -- to effect a variety of colors, flavors, and aromas.
Also known as light or silver, white rum is colorless, and is the spirit of choice for rum cocktails like the mojito. It has a delicate sweet flavor, and is typically fermented in stainless steel. White Cachaça, a Brazilian variation on rum used in the nation's signature Caipirinha cocktail, belongs in this category.
True to its name, golden rums are amber-hued, and typically medium in body; these rums are aged in oak casks, and are appropriate for sipping on their own.
Thick and rich in appearance and aroma, dark or black rums are full-bodied and ripe with caramel and mollasses notes on the nose and palate, characteristics picked up as the rum is aged in charred oak casks. Dark rum is used in cooking, and as a counterpart to white rum in classic cocktails like the Mai Tai and the Scorpion. Want a great cocktail to showcase your dark rum? Order a Dark and Stormy.
Flavored and Spiced Rums
For better or worse, this is often the first category of rum many Americans come across (thanks to Malibu, long a Freshman-year staple). The flavor is typically coconut, though there are many specialty rums on the market with infused fruit or caramel flavors, intended as mixers for tropical drinks.