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What Is an Añejo Rum?

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Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash
Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

What Is an Añejo Rum?
Fermentation, alembic-still distillation, and barrel aging all contribute to making aged rums exceptional spirits—aromatic, full bodied, and full flavored, with long-lasting finishes.
Rums barrel aged for a minimum of three years and up to ten years express aromas and flavors of brown sugar/molasses, caramel/toffee, vanilla, mocha, and citrus rind.

Rums aged in barrels for a minimum of ten years (rhum vieux) and those aged longer showcase some of the same “rum character” aromas and flavors of rhum vieux plus many others, such as dried fruit, apricot, nuts, cured ham, and honey. Many display the complexity and finesse found in the finest Cognacs but with less noticeable acidity and perhaps a softer palate.

The peak age for rum is somewhere between 15 and 25 years.

Rum: From Sugarcane to Noble Spirit

Rum is distilled from fresh sugarcane juice, sugarcane syrup, or molasses. When the harvested sugarcane stalks are crushed and ground, the result is a green-colored sap rich in sucrose, which is referred to as fresh sugarcane juice. “One of the great determining factors in a finished rum is the soil of the region in which the sugarcane is cultivated,” states Richard Arregui, importer of Grand Havana Rum. “Sugarcane grown in Cuba will produce a different tasting rum than that grown in Barbados.”

Most of the rums produced on the French-colonized Caribbean islands are distilled from fresh sugarcane juice and are called rhum agricole. Some rums are distilled from sugarcane syrup, which is derived from boiling and clarifying the cane juice. But the majority of rums are distilled from molasses, which is the final by-product in the production of crystallized sugar. Molasses is a thick, sticky, slightly bitter black liquid obtained after the third boiling of the cane juice. Even after being boiled three times, the molasses still retains a significant amount of uncrystallized sugar, along with other organic compounds that contribute significantly to the bouquet and flavor of the finished distilled spirit.

The Wash

Before distillation, the molasses is fermented to create an alcoholic liquid. A warm, sweet liquid called “wash” is composed of molasses, water, and yeast. The yeast converts the sugar in the molasses into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The quality and taste of the water has a significant impact on the character of the finished rum. The same is true for the specific strain of yeast used to start fermentation.

To create a dark, full-flavored rum, a portion of a previous distillation is added to the fermenting wash. This residue, known as “dunder,” contributes greatly to the finished rum’s bouquet and flavor.

Distillation

In the distillation process, the wash is boiled and the alcohol in the liquid evaporates and is collected as condensate. The traditional alembic, or pot, still is one of the primary types of rum stills. While their size and volume vary, all alembic stills function in the same manner. The wash in the kettle-shaped vessel is heated. As the alcohol vapor rises, it is funneled into the neck and collected in the condenser coils. The condensate is then pumped into a second alembic still to be redistilled, concentrating the flavors and further purifying the spirit.

Aging

Rums distilled in alembics are always aged in wood casks (primarily used bourbon barrels). Aging imparts color and desirable aromas and flavors and tempers the fiery, somewhat edgy spirit that comes directly from the still. In the care of a skilled master distiller, a rum aged to perfection is one of the world’s noblest spirits.

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