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Here is a recipe for authentic, molasses rich, rum, made just like they did in the colonial Caribbean islands. This tutorial on how to make rum will focus mostly on using a pot still to distill a rum mash made from traditional cane and molasses. But we'll touch on some other methods as well.
What is Rum
According to the United States TTB Beverge Alcohol Manual, Chapter 4, there are actually a few different types of rum. Here are definitions for the two primary types of rum: traditional rum and flavored rum.
The TTB's BAM states that rum is traditionally defined as, "Spirits distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane by-products at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)." Purists looking for the least adulterated version of rum will prefer this version of the spirit. It's made with water, cane sugar, molasses. However it may also contain natural flavor and color additives totaling up to 2.5% (of the volume of the finished product.
Flavored rum is, "Rum flavored with natural flavoring materials, with or without the addition of sugar, bottled at not less than 30% alcohol by volume (60 proof)." This means that color and flavor additions may exceed 2.5%. Furthermore, Chapter 7 of the BAM states that flavored rum may include natural as well as artificial flavors.
Is it Legal to Distill Rum at Home
Making your own rum cocktails at home is perfectly legal. Making rum mash with sugar cane, molasses, and fermenting it with yeast is also legal. However, distilling rum at home is a different story. Distilling alcohol, including rum, is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits.
Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.
Now that we've defined rum and explained the legalities associated with it, it's time to discuss how it's made. Rum is made using a 5 step process:
- Creating Molasses
Step 1: Creating Molasses
During the process of making sugar, sugar cane is juiced and then dried. The drying process causes the formation of sugar crystals. Once the crystals are removed, the liquid remaining is called molasses.
Molasses is a thick, syrup-like liquid produced while refining sugar from sugar cane. It's also a key ingredient in rum. Whether light molasses, dark molasses, or blackstrap molasses is used is up to the distiller. Each type will make a unique spirit.
Distilleries generally do not need to process their own cane to make molasses. The sugar industry offers all variety of cane juice, cane sugar, and molasses that distillers are able to purchase.
Step 2: Fermentation
This recipe is for an authentic "old world" Caribbean rum. By that we mean the ingredients will be limited to what would have been available to traditional rum distillers on Caribbean sugar cane plantations.
- 12.5 pounds raw cane sugar
- 9 gallons water
- 160 oz. unsulphured molasses
Mash / Fermentation
Heat water to 120 degrees Fahrenheit stirring sugar in a pound at a time. Add molasses, a jar at a time, once most of sugar has been dissolved. Stir thoroughly while adding so molasses does not burn. For a more mellow, smoother finished product, allow to cool to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and add bread yeast. Aerate, then transfer to carboys. For a higher yield (but a more unpredictable finish) use "Super Start" yeast and ferment at 90F. Install air lock and allow to ferment for at least 2 weeks.
Step 3: Distilling
We'll be using old-style equipment. Instead of using a column still, we'll use a pot still. Pot still distillation creates wildly different characteristics than column distillation because more of the original mash is carried through to the final product. The recipe below is also scaled down to 10 gallons for the purpose of commercial testing on a 10 gallon pilot system.
The distillation process consists of transferring fermented wash to a still (preferably a copper pot still or a stainless steel still with pure copper mesh packing) and heating it until ethanol begins to boil out of solution. It's then turned back into a liquid in a condenser and drips out of a still into a collection vessel. However, not all distillate is created equal!
Different chemical compounds will vaporize at different temperatures during the run. Some of this liquid will be discarded, some will be collected for consumption and the rest will be saved for distillation in future runs. Here is a summary of process of making distillation cuts.
Foreshots (methanol) will begin to evaporate and flow once the liquid temperature reaches 148.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Foreshots are poisonous and should be discarded.
Ethanol will begin to evaporate at 173 degrees Fahrenheit. However, distillate produced early in the distillation process is more likely to contain acetone, acetaldehyde, and acetate. This stuff smells bad, tastes bad, and will definitely cause hangovers! However, it does contain some (desirable) ethanol and should be set aside to mix with future runs.
In making alcohol, the "hearts" is the name for the best distillate produced from a still, which happens after the heads but before the tails. The hearts contain ethanol and the most desirable flavor and aroma compounds as well as the least amount of the undesirables. In other words, the hearts portion of the distillation run smells and tasted the best and is the stuff that distillers keep to drink or age.
The smoothness and richness of the distillate will begin to fade and begin to become weak and oily. This is how a distiller will know that the "tails" portion of the distillation run has begun. Tails, like the heads, are set aside for mixing with future batches of wash. Again, The tails contain a mix of good and bad and can be purified in later distillation runs.
Step 4: Aging
Rum can be drank unaged, but is best consumed after it's stored in used Bourbon cask for at least a year or more. This will provide the most mellow drinking experience.
Step 5: Blending
The process of blending rum barrels is a meticulous art form often overseen by master blenders, who combine different types of rum from various barrels to achieve a desired flavor profile, aroma, and mouthfeel. Typically, rums of different ages, distillation methods, or even origins are sampled and then carefully mixed in specific ratios. Once the blend is decided upon, the selected rums are combined in a large blending vat, where they are allowed to mingle for a period of time to harmonize the flavors. This blended rum may then be further aged or go through additional filtration or treatments before being bottled for consumption. The aim is to create a consistent, balanced, and high-quality final product that embodies the distillery's unique style and character.