It was 10am in Wellington, New Zealand when we met up with Ray for our virtual History of Rum class. Of course here it was dinner time so we set up some cheese and crackers to go along with our drinks. Ray works for Agostura, a brand of Rum and bitters. He also owns a bar/restaurant in Wellington called Roxy, which is where the class took place. To join the class for yourself click here. We highly recommend it.
History of Rum
During the 16th and 17th centuries inhabitants grew sugarcane in the Carribean. European settlers colonized these islands mainly for the sugar cane. Prior to this they had to get sugar from spice traders from Asia which made sugar expensive. This sugar cane was considered liquid gold which is why pirates came to the area to follow the wealth the sugarcane created.
The sugarcane, a relative of bamboo, takes 3 months to grow from seed to maturity. Workers harvest it by hand. After the sugar is processed molasses is left over as a waste product. The natives would ferment the molasses to make rum. The name rum comes from the Latin work sacrum meaning sweet. They would then reintroduce the waste products from the distilling process back into the soil as fertilizer.
Distillation Process of Rum
There are two main types of distilleries, the pot still and the column still. Each has its pros and cons. I am giving you a brief summary, but Ray goes into a lot more detail. I advise you to take his class if you want to learn more. He is very entertaining and personable. The experience was like hanging out with an old friend. I guarantee you will have fun.
Pot still distillation makes smaller batches of rum. After each batch you need to add new ingredients to start the process again. If you are a distiller that likes to test out new recipes therefore changing the flavors, this is for you. However, because the pot still makes smaller batches, it is hard to maintain consistency and have stable results.
On the other hand, the column still is preferable for large production. Batches are made continuously, therefore providing consistent results. However, if you want to change the recipe it takes approximately three months to stop the process and restart again so you are losing a lot of production time. Ray says that this type of distillery looks like an oil refinery.
History of Rum Aging
The age of the rum gives it very distinct flavors. Between 0-3 years you will get a light, sweet and smooth taste. Distillers filter the liquor through charcoal to make it clear. This is the aging process used for flavored rums as well. Between 4-5 years the rum takes on more of a brown sugar, caramel flavor. Then between 7-8 years it becomes more smoky. Ray likened it to good cigars. After 8 years the rum becomes much more concentrated giving more of a rich fig or prune taste.
You can play around with infusing flavors into your own rum at home. My husband and I like mojitos. Ray suggested we infuse some light rum with mint leaves to enhance the flavor. We are looking forward to trying this once our mint plant grows some more.
Blended rums are a mixture of several different ages of rum. The distillers mix the different ages to get a unique combination of flavors. The distillers then age the rum an additional 6 months to blend the flavors.
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We made these drinks during Ray’s class.
Dark N’ Stormy
We actually used light rum in this drink. If you don’t have ginger beer you can substitute ginger ale, sprite, or coke. Each will give a unique flavor. When possible, always squeeze fresh lime juice rather than using juice from a bottle.
To make simple syrup first boil one cup of water. Remove from heat and stir in 2 cups of sugar until dissolved. You can store simple sugar syrup indefinitely in a glass jar in your refrigerator. Depending on what you like to drink you can add ingredients when boiling the water such as mint, ginger, etc. Just make sure you strain the liquid before using.
For a summer variation you can freeze some fruit and blend it with the ingredients in the blender. Make sure to use light or flavored rum and leave out the bitters.
Queens Park Swizzle
What are bitters anyway? Bitters are alcohol that is infused with extra herbs. The flavor is very concentrated so a little goes a long way. One uses bitters to give an additional flavor to drinks.
Ray gave us an additional piece of advice when buying rum. Check the label for the history of the rum. If the rum is made some place other than the Caribbean, you will likely pay a higher price since the original ingredients had to be transported from the Caribbean. He advised that lesser known brands are often cheaper and just as good if they are coming directly from the original source.
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