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If you’re sitting on a beach holding a coconut drink topped with an umbrella, odds are you’re drinking rum. And while we won’t deny that rum is a great base for cocktails, there is more to it than piña coladas and daiquiris.

Rum is made from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice. Since it is one of the world’s most ill defined spirits, its standards differ drastically from nation to nation. These lax regulations have led to a vast variety of rums produced throughout the world, although the majority of rum production occurs in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Despite these variations, the following are frequently used to describe different types of rum:

  • Light Rums (also known as silver or white rums) are colorless and generally have a light flavor. However, colorless does not always mean un-aged or uninteresting; some are barrel-aged and charcoal-filtered, which gives the heft and body of dark rums without the oaky taste.
  • Gold Rums (also known as amber rums) are medium-bodied rums that are commonly aged several years in wooden barrels, giving them their darker color. They have more flavor and a stronger taste than light rums.
  • Dark Rums (also referred to as black rum) are generally aged longer than gold rums. The barrels used to mature them are often heavily charred which imparts much of the wood’s strong flavors.
  • Spiced Rums are aged for about the same length of time as dark rums, however spices and caramel coloring are often added to give them a distinguishable “spicy taste.”
  • Overproof Rums are simply rums that are over 50% alcohol. U.S. regulations prevent rums over 155 proof from entering the U.S. (under most circumstances) so many manufacturers produce rums in the 150 proof range.
  • Navy Rums refer to the traditional dark, full-bodied rums associated with the British Royal Navy. In the mid 1600s, the Royal Navy “adopted” rum because it improved as it aged in barrels aboard ships while grape-based spirits went bad in the heat of the tropics.
  • Flavored Rums are infused with fruit flavors and are generally less than 40% alcohol.
  • Premium Aged Rums are aged in oak barrels for years and generally blended to achieve a superior flavor profile. Their interaction with the wood increases the smoothness, the richness and the subtle flavors of the rum. 

So that’s rum in a nutshell. Now you can get back to drinking that umbrella drink on the beach.