Rum and Color. This is a topic that is super important to understand in this world of marketing deceit. Rum is a spirit made from sugarcane and its derivatives (raw sugarcane juice, cooked sugarcane syrup, molasses), and can be either bottled directly after distillation, or aged in barrels. Before bottling, the rum can be blended with other rums, and also is often tweaked with select other ingredients. One of these is color (for more on sugar additives, see Rum and Sugar).
There is only one natural way for rum to take on color, and that is through barrel-aging and getting its color from the wood. No matter how long it ages, it will never get darker than a shade of gold/amber. However, color can be added in the form of caramel coloring, spices, molasses, and other random add-ins, to change the look (and sometimes mouthfeel and taste) of the finished bottled product.
In this photo, all the rums are similarly aged no more than a few short years max, but the colors vary significantly. So, please don’t judge a rum by its color; it’s like judging an M&M by its colored shell.
There are different reasons and goals (not all deceptive) for coloring rum, achieved thru various means. A few common ones:
- Spirit caramel – potent coloring agent that generally has trivial effect on taste and sweetness. It’s often used to ensure a consistent-looking product batch after batch since barrel-induced coloring may be inconsistent, which can make consumers wary. Coloring added for this reason is so insignificant that it’s generally not considered an ‘additive.’ However, it can also be used purely for aesthetic reasons, and in some cases, to make younger rums appear older.
- Molasses/spices – these coloring agents will change the flavor of the rum and is also often accompanied by added sweeteners. Often found in spiced or “dark” rums.
- Charcoal filtering – this STRIPS out color from rums that might have been barrel aged. Employed to achieve a clean, crisp color, usually for aesthetic reasons.