Does rum need a new categorisation system?

As rum continues its unstoppable voyage towards premiumisation, there’s a growing school of thought that the old method of ‘white’, ‘gold’ and ‘dark’ labelling by colour is often meaningless when it comes to determining what’s in the bottle. A multiplicity of factors can influence colour, after all, imparting wildly varied flavour profiles to liquids with identical hues. Some people believe that even widely accepted, classic styles such as ‘Jamaican’, ‘English’, and ‘Spanish’ are obsolete, due to the vastly different rums some of these countries of origin have come to produce.

The trade’s response to the issue has been to raise a call for new categories. But that’s easier said than done. Recent attempts, including that proposed in 2015 by entrepreneur and rum guru Luca Gargano, have enthused only relatively few, and failed to convince a sufficient number of producers to make the suggested categories relevant. Undeterred, we at Imbibe decided it was time to pick up the baton and find out which features best determine the taste and style of the final product.

For this tasting, we focused on two crucial components of rum production: the type of still used (pot or column) and the raw material (sugar cane or molasses). The aim was to see whether tasters could distinguish which had been used and, therefore, whether they should be indicated on the label. Within the results, we’ve recorded how each rum is distilled and what it is made from, plus the number of judges who guessed these elements correctly.

How it works

We collected a range of rums, varying in style, colour and country of origin. They had to be either pot or column distilled, and made entirely of either sugar cane juice or molasses. The panellists also tasted a small number of molasses rums made with a blend of column and pot distillations – they were asked to guess the raw material of these samples. Rums had to be available to the UK on-trade. Samples were tasted blind, with panellists only aware of rough age (under or over 6yo). Scores were collated to give percentages, with all rums scoring below 60% listed as Also Tasted. All prices listed are RRP.


Adam Binnersley, Mojo, Leeds; Andy Hayward, The New World Trading Company, Manchester; Lee Jones, Sandanista, Leeds; Conor Knowles, Cottonopolis, Manchester; Hannah Lodge, Smugglers Cove, Liverpool; Jacopo Mazzeo, Imbibe; Adam Wilson, Liars Club, Manchester


Under 6yo

80 Barceló Gran Añejo, Dominican Republic Column still (5/7); sugar cane juice (1/7) ‘The nose displays notes of lemon, while vanilla and butterscotch are more evident on the palate. The finish reiterates the vanilla, plus a bit of cedar wood,’ AH. ‘Well-rounded rum, with a big punch of fudge aromas. In the mouth it’s really enjoyable, displaying classic flavours from the maturation in oak such as vanilla, fudge and caramel. Big gold star for me,’ AB. 37.5% abv, POA/70cl, Amathus Drinks

80 Bayou Select, Louisiana, US Pot still (6/7); molasses (6/7) ‘A creamy and delicate interpretation; its silky texture really stands out,’ HL. ‘Nice appealing red-brown colour; well balanced both on the nose and the palate with some burnt notes, a little sweetness and long finish,’ AW. 40% abv, £28/70cl, Cellar Trends

80 Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry, Jamaica Pot still (5/7); molasses (6/7) ‘It definitely tastes Jamaican to me, with its nice spiciness, intense flavours and lots of vanilla,’ AB. ‘Very unique scent; ripe, it reminds me of candies. Quite sweet on the palate,’ HL. 43% abv, £32.95/70cl, Identity Drinks Brands

76 Clément Canne Bleue NV, Martinique Column still (5/7); sugarcane juice (7/7) ‘Certainly an agricole rhum. Hints of grass and vanilla on the nose. On the palate it shows citrus and vanilla again, and is pleasantly creamy. The finish is long and dry,’ AH. ‘Pear and pear drop aromas dominate the nose; the body is full, creamy, with little hints of liquorice and a crystalline herbaceousness on the finish,’ JM. 50% abv, POA/50cl, Amathus Drinks

77 Clément VSOP, Martinique Pot still (3/7); molasses (6/7) ‘Fragrant orchard fruits on the nose, herbaceous, elegant. The body is full yet balanced by more garden flavours such as crushed peas and runner beans. Stylish,’ JM. ‘This rum boasts a bright, fresh and juicy nose, with vegetal hints and a palate that pushes it close to a cognac,’ AB. 40% abv, POA/70cl, Amathus Drinks

75 Issan Distillery/That Boutique-y Rum Company, Thailand Pot still (2/7); sugar cane juice (4/7) ‘The nose is intense with an almost rustic character that reminds me of earth and mushrooms. On the palate it is light and slightly bitter, with flavours of coconut,’ AB. ‘The aromas are intriguingly unusual, with strong grainy, ricey and yeasty notes. This yeasty character is found again on the palate and the finish, with marked flavours of bread crust and toast,’ JM. 40% abv, £38.95/50cl, Maverick Drinks

70 Rathlee 3yo, various provenances Column still (5/7); molasses (5/7) ‘Very light and delicate nose, but deliciously creamy in the mouth,’ HL. ‘Very balanced aromatic profile, certainly made with a column still,’ CK. 40% abv, £35/70cl, Rathlee Distilling

70 Havana Club Añejo 3, Cuba Column still (5/7); molasses (5/7) ‘Elegant nose, with hints of hay, honey and citrus peel,’ AW. ‘Fresh and well rounded, with a very clean finish,’ AB. 40% abv, £18/70cl, Pernod Ricard

70 Pusser’s British Navy Original, Guyana Pot still (6/7); molasses (6/7) ‘A full-bodied rum, with rich toffee, liquorice and tobacco aromas,’ LJ. ‘Excellent complexity, with notes of sour cherry, dried fruit, toffee and oak, with a touch of spice,’ AH. 40% abv, £38/70cl, Cellar Trends

65 JM VO, Martinique Column still (3/7); sugar cane juice (3/7) ‘The aromas are of orchard fruit, vanilla and liquorice. On the palate it’s grassy and a little bready. Drinkable on its own, but great in a cocktail too,’ JM. ‘Very elegant nose, with vanilla and cocoa beans. The palate is more herbaceous, balanced and harmonious,’ CK. 43% abv, POA/70cl, Amathus Drinks