How Rum is Made: Ingredients and Distillation Process

Everything you need to know about the Rum making process

Rum is a delicious, popular spirit with a long and rich history. The sugarcane-based alcohol inspires fans from all corners of the world. Rum is such a pivotal part of most bar carts many of us fail to consider its origins and the process used to produce the spirit.

Rum is made by a multi-step process, including harvesting, sugar extraction, fermentation, distillation, aging, blending, and bottling.

The spirit uses either of two distillation processes: pot still distillation or column still distillation.

This article discusses the ingredients needed to make rum, as well as examines the production process. We also dive into the various available types of rum.

We’ll answer some frequently asked rum questions, providing you with a thorough and comprehensive rum education. 

What Is Rum?

Rum is sugarcane-based alcohol. Distillers ferment sugarcane juice or sugarcane molasses. Producers create a thick, sweet syrup and ferment it. The lyric is then distilled and aged in oak barrels.

Rum is the world’s oldest commercially produced spirit. This alcohol started life in the West Indies. Written records from Barbados dating back to 1650 mentioned rum under its original names. 

Rum was originally called “rumbullion” or “kill-devil”. The spirit became “rum” only after it began exporting out of the West Indies and to other parts of the world. The name change occurred in 1667.

Most countries that grow sugar produce rum. Distillers in the Caribbean, South America, the Philippines, and Taiwan all craft rum. 

Types of Rum

There are a wide variety of rums available. The spirits come in different colors, flavors, ages, and proofs. 

Spiced Rum

As the name suggests, spiced rum blends several spices into a rum base. Like dark rums, spiced varieties spend several years aging in oak barrels.

Spiced rums feature cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, aniseed, and pepper. 

Gold Rum

Gold rum is also called “pale” or “amber” rum. The medium-bodied spirit is aged longer than white rums. The process occurs in wooden barrels. 

Gold rums are smooth and a bit sweet. They taste of vanilla, molasses, cocoa, and butterscotch

White Rum

White rum is a clear variety also called “clear rum”, “light rum”, and “silver rum”.

White rum is a youthful rum, aged under a year before bottling. Charcoal filtration removes any hint of color from the aged liquid.

Dark Rum

Longer fermentation periods give dark rum a strong flavor. The spirits age for considerable periods in charred oak barrels. This aging process provides the rum with both flavor and color.

Dark rum is also called “black rum”, a reflection of its deep coloration. 

Premium Aged Rum

Premium-aged rum costs a bit more than other varieties, but it’s worth the elevated price tag. The spirit spends at least two years aging in oak barrels.

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Also referred to as “mature” or “sipping” rum, premium-aged rum has an intense and distinctive flavor. As such, the spirit is ill-suited to mixing and is best enjoyed over ice. 

Overproof Rum

An overproof rum has a higher alcohol content than most of its cousins. The spirit contains 50 percent alcohol by volume or higher.

Overproof rum is highly flammable, making it a perfect option for flaming beverages, as well as a fire hazard. 

Rhum Agricole

Rhum Agricole needs at least 40% ABV to earn the moniker. Distillers make the spirit from sugar cane juice instead of molasses. 

Rhum Agricole is made in the French Caribbean Islands, Hawaii, Thailand, Mauritius, and Australia. The spirit is smooth and fruity. 

Navy Rum

Navy rum is a powerful spirit. The alcohol weighs in between 54 to 57 percent alcohol by volume. The spirit originally served as rations for sailors and the extra alcohol helped preserve it. 

Navy rum is a dark variety. 

Ingredients: What Is Rum Made From?

Sugar cane is rum’s foundational ingredient. Most rums use molasses, but countries with scarcer sugar cane supplies rely on sugar cane juice.

Molasses or sugar cane juice create rum’s flavor. 

Yeast begins the fermentation process. The grain triggers the process by converting the sugars into alcohol. This greatly impacts the rum’s taste. Different yeast strains eat different levels of sugar.

Water rounds out the recipe, tying the two ingredients together. 

Production: How Is Rum Made?

Rum production is a multi-step process. Distillers produce the beverage by harvesting sugar cane, extracting sugar, fermenting the ingredients, distilling, aging the liquid, blending vintages, and bottling the rum.

While the fundamental steps remain constant for every rum varietal, modification of the process creates different flavors and types of rum.


Harvesting provides rum makers with the sugarcane necessary to produce the spirit.

The Caribbean traditionally harvests one sugar cane crop annually. South American sub-tropical areas reap their sugar cane twice a year. 

Harvesters collect the sugarcane by cutting the stalks close to the root, usually with a machete. The cane segment closest to the ground has the highest sugar concentration. 

Rum makers wash the cane and chop it into small pieces. The green tops are removed. 

Machines now harvest most of the sugar cane, though initially, it was people with machetes. 

Sugar Extraction

Sugarcane’s composition is 63 to 73 percent water, 12 to 16 percent soluble sugar, 2 to 3 percent non-sugars, and 11 to 16 percent fiber. Rum needs water and soluble sugar, and getting it requires some work.

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Rum producers transfer harvested sugar cane to a sugar mill. The factory chops and crushes the cane pieces, drawing out the juices. Distillers boil the liquid, reducing the water and creating a syrup called “wet sugar”. 

Wet sugar is 30 percent sugar, so very sweet. The distillers then clarify the syrup and mix in sugar crystals. Rum producers boil the liquid and then chill it, causing the sugar crystals to grow.

The syrup is spun in a centrifuge, separating the liquid from the sugar chunks. The resulting syrup is called molasses and is rum’s foundation. 


Fermentation is the process that turns sugar into alcohol. Yeast eats the sugar which creates alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide.

Producers add yeast and water to the cane. The yeast used for fermentation provides much of the rum’s flavor. Yeast causes a chemical reaction that creates congeners. Congeners are collections of acids, aldehydes, and esters.

Congeners contribute flavor to a rum. Distillers choose yeast strains that create more or fewer congeners to develop different-tasting spirits. 


Distillation is a rum-heating process. The fermented liquid is warmed to boiling. Alcohol boils more quickly than water, turning into vapor.

Distillers collect the vapors, cool them, and condense them back into a liquid form. The condensed liquid is highly alcoholic.

Pot Still Rum vs. Column Still Rum Production

Pot still rum uses copper kettles to distill the spirit. This method is straightforward. These stills produce rum in individual batches.

Column still rum production allows a steady and continual rum distillation process. Pot stills produce a more flavorful rum. Column stills create cleaner, purer, and stronger distillate than pot stills. 


The aging process gives rum color and flavor. 

Most countries age their rum for at least a year in bourbon casks. Distillers also use different types of wooden barrels and stainless steel tans.

However, American oak casks used to age whiskey are the most popular option. These barrels are abundant, making them easily accessible.

Rums aged in tropical areas taste different than those aged in cooler, dryer regions. Humidity opens the wood’s pores, creating an entirely different aging experience.

The vessel used dictates the rum’s color. Stainless steel tanks produce clear rum while oak barrels make dark rum.


Often rum producers blend older vintages with newer ones to provide more complexity to the alcohol.

The blending process requires art and skill. Rum makers meticulously select vintages to create their desired flavor. 

Solera rums blend to achieve aging. Distillers mix older rums with younger ones. The more mature rum influences the junior vintage, creating a new and distinct flavor.

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Cask blending is very common in rum production. Distillers mix different rums together to achieve a specific taste. If one cask has a desired spicy component, a blender might mix it with a sweeter vintage to craft the perfect spirit. 

The navy blend resulted from the need to provide rum rations to all the British sailors. A continuous flow of the spirit was necessary. The Navy built a still system that continually layered new rum on old, creating a distinctive blend.


Bottling is the final step between rum production and rum consumption. High-quality rums marry before being poured into their vessels. This allows maximum flavor fusion.

Coloration is the final bottling determination. We taste with our eyes and develop expectations about what we’re about to drink based on what we see. Some distillers add caramel to aged rums that are too pale. 

Other distillers charcoal-filter the color out of their rum, creating a crystal clear vintage. 

What is the basic ingredient of rum?

Sugar cane is the primary ingredient in rum. Most distillers use molasses but those without access use sugar cane water. 


We’ve covered a lot of rum territory in the above sections. However, the answers to these frequently asked questions help round out your rum knowledge. 

What is the basic ingredient of rum?

Sugar cane is the primary ingredient in rum. Most distillers use molasses but those without access use sugar cane water. 

How is rum different from whiskey?

Rum and whiskey differ in ingredients. Rum is sugarcane-based while whiskey is made from cereal grains. 

Is Captain Morgan actually rum?

Yes! Captain Morgan produces a line of flavored rums.

Is rum healthy to drink?

Drinking rum provides certain health benefits, including lowered cholesterol levels and diabetes management. 

Final Thoughts

Rum is a beloved spirit with a long and rich history. The spirit crossed seas and sated Navy men. Now the delicious, complex alcohol mixes with glasses of cola to create college students’ favorite drink.

The production process requires several steps, including harvesting the sugar cane, extracting the sugar, fermenting the liquid, distilling the alcohol, aging the rum, blending the liquids, and bottling the finished product. 

Rum comes in several varieties. Fans of the spirit can opt for spiced rum, gold rum, white rum, dark rum, premium aged rum, overproof rum, rhum agricole, and Navy rum. 

Now that you know all there is to know about rum, you’re ready to pick the perfect bottle. Leave a comment telling us your favorite rum brand and ideal rum cocktail. 

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

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