Rum and Sugar


Rum and Sugar. The association of rum being sweet is one of the biggest misconceptions and injustices to the spirit. Whiskey and spirit drinkers may scoff at rum, noting its sweetness as a turn off, and cocktail aficionados may write off rum as something reserved only when you want a sugar high. There are reasons for these associations, but let’s set the record straight.


Rum is a distilled spirit just like whiskey and vodka and brandy. To produce a distilled spirit, you need a starting ingredient that has sugars, whether that be from grains (whiskies), fruits (brandies), agave sap (mezcals), sugarcane (rums), or any other carbohydrate-containing substance (vodkas). In the distillation process, it’s broken down into sugars, and yeast is added to convert the sugars to alcohol. Distillation then concentrates the alcohol by separating it from the rest (water, remaining solids, etc). The resultant product has NO RESIDUAL SUGAR, regardless of the starting ingredient.


So then what makes people think rum is sweeter than other spirits?

  1. Many rums marketed as ‘premium sipping rums’ tend to have lots of ADDED SUGAR post distillation. This can create an illusion of being ‘smoother’ (whatever that means), and unfortunately is abused much more in rums than other spirits
  2. Similarly, many lower quality or younger rums may also add sugar or other additives to mask its actual flavors
  3. Rums are often mixed in poorly constructed fruity drinks that employ high doses of corn syrup or other artificial ingredients


I’m not saying that sugared rum is always *bad* and low quality (sometimes it’s actually very good, like one of my favorites – El Dorado), but you should know what you’re drinking to select a bottle to suit your mood and palate. How would you feel if you bought a bottle labeled as bourbon and instead got something like honey whiskey? Yeah, exactly. And if you’re looking for unadulterated non-sugared rum, select a bottle made in Barbados, Jamaica, or Martinique, which all have national regulations that prevent additives. There are others of course that are non-adulterated, but you can’t go wrong with anything from those countries.


See the next Rum Series topic: Rum and Color