Matt Pietrek
Director of Rum Curation and Education

It all starts with the sugar cane, which grows in the tropics.

path going through sugar cane field

The tall sugar cane grass is often cut by hand, especially on hilly soil. Until the mid-1800s, this brutally difficult work was done by enslaved people.

person cutting down sugar cane in the field

Or (thankfully) with modern agricultural equipment.

tractors harvesting sugar cane

The freshly cut cane arrives at the sugar factory to be milled.

tractors dropping off sugar cane to be processed in a tall structure

In the old days, windmill-driven rollers crushed the cane to extract the juice.

an old windmill

Today it passes through several specialized rollers that squeeze out more juice.

rollers passing through and processing sugar cane

The cane juice is boiled, and the sugar crystals that form are skimmed off. What remains is molasses, which will become rum. It may be used locally or shipped around the globe, enabling distillers in non-tropical climates to make rum.

large tank of molasses

The molasses arrives at the distillery. This distillery in Martinique uses cane juice rather than molasses. But it’s still rum, aka rhum in French.

red building amidst a tropical landscape

The molasses is stable, so can be stored in giant tanks for many months before it’s used.

large tanks with small people next to them for scale

Molasses, yeast and water are combined in giant fermentation tanks.

concrete vats filled with fermenting liquid

The yeast converts the molasses sugars into alcohol and flavor compounds, over several days.

close-up of molasses in a tank

Giant pots stills boil the fermented molasses and collect the vapors, concentrating the alcohol and flavors.

pot stills

Alternatively, a column still can also be used to concentrate the alcohol and flavors.

column stills

The rum is ready for bottling or may be aged. The rum coming from the still is clear, and around 70-95% alcohol.

clear rum in small tanks

Most rum is aged in barrels previously used for whiskey. The inner walls of the cask are usually toasted or charred to enhance flavor development.

endless rows of barrels outside next to buildings

During aging, more flavors are created, and harsh flavors removed. Rum aging in hot climates like the Caribbean ages faster than spirits aged in cooler climates. The usual range for rum is 2 to 15 years.

stacks of barrels indoors

The master blender selects which barrels go into the final, bottled product to make it consistent, time after time.

distillery workers gathered around a barrel

Some rums are bottled at the distillery, others are sold as bulk rum for export.

bottling room

Rum is made around the globe, but the origin of rum’s cultural heritage is the Caribbean.

various rum bottles