Rum, Cachaça, Rhum Agricole: THE CRASH COURSE

Rum, Cachaça, Rhum Agricole, what the hell is the difference you ask?

There aren’t a lot of differences, but, at the same time, a whole lot. For now, we’re just going to say it’s all distilled from sugar cane. Rum is shrouded in a ton of history to say the least.

It is produced mostly in the Caribbean, but made all over the world. History suggests that rum was first distilled in the Caribbean, a document found in Barbados circa 1651 that stated:

“The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor.”

Then history notes in 1655 that the British Navy began issuing daily rum rations known as “tot” to their officers. They thought this was a good idea to do for about 300 yrs. And I don’t blame them either. It is a bit of historic argument as to the “who what when where and how” of where rum was first made in my opinion. Whatever… We just want to drink it!

However, there are also records about rum circa 1620 in Brazil. Portuguese sugar production was once on the island of Madeira. They were distilling something they called Aguardente de Cana circa 1532. It is a fact that those same pot stills that made Aguardente de Cana in Madeira, were brought to Brazil to make what we call Cachaça today. So, it looks like the Portuguese distilled rum 1st. If you’re Portuguese brush the dirt off your shoulder! There are also records dating back to the early 1600’s in Guyana referencing rum distillation. There my good friends at Demerara Distillers, benefit from being able to operate the last two original wooden pot stills (one single and one Double) in the world. It is over 275 yrs old! They also benefit from a wooden continuous Coffey Still, it is the last fully working example of its kind! It is very similar, if not identical, to the very first continuous still made by our hero, Aeneas Coffey. It has been active since 1880.



Rum was America’s drink before Bourbon was created. I love Bourbon too. The first Rum distillery in the American colonies was started in 1664 on Staten Island. New England was once a distilling hub for Rum during colonial times, because of the availability of lumber & metal for barrels. Rum is likely what Paul Revere did a shot of before his famous ride to warn that the “red coats are coming”. Sadly it did have a huge impact on slavery, but we’re not going there. I must admit, rum takes time to get an understanding of and there is always more to learn. But it is a good time!

The differences among Rum, Rhum Agricole & Cachaça makers are endless. Especially when it comes to soil, barrel aging, sugar cane varietals & yeast strains in their production. There are no aging requirements or regulations on new or used barrels to age rum or even the type of wood used for the barrels in most cases. In my opinion, this and the course of history is why rum, rhum agricole & cachaça have such a huge spectrum of flavor profiles.



Rum, and its country cousins, rhum agricole & cachaca are made by distilling fermented sugar, water & yeast. This sugar comes from sugar cane and is fermented from cane juice, concentrated cane juice, or molasses. Molasses is over 50% sugar, but it also has minerals and elements, which contributes to the final product.

Rhum Agricole & Cachaça are made from sugar cane juice instead of molasses and are made primarily in Haiti, Martinique, Guadalupe, and Marie Galente. In the case of Cachaça, it is produced primarily in Brazil. They generally have a naturally smooth palate and are more vegetal in complexity than Rum distilled from molasses.

NOTE *** Cane juice rums specifically from Martinique are as labeled “AOC Martinique Rhum agricole” because French and European law allow a designation called “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (protected designation of origin) for rums produced on the island of Martinique that meet certain local standards. This designation is unique to Martinique. It just causes more confusion for you and me and does not define the category of cane juice rum or rhum agricole. Also in French the words “rhum agricole” translate to “agricultural rum” FYI. ***

That’s the big difference; they’re using a more expensive raw material to begin with. Molasses is a by-product of sugar production. You make loot twice as a sugar cane producer when you sell the molasses to rum distillers or make rum yourself. Depending on the recipe, or “wash” (cane juice, or molasses and water) is fermented, using either cultured yeast or wild yeasts, for a period ranging from 24 hours for light rums, up to several weeks for heavy, full varieties. The choice of stills will have a significant effect on the final character of Rum just like any other spirit. All Rums come out of the still a clear, colorless spirits, like all other spirits. Barrel aging and the addition of caramel determines the final color. Lighter Rums are highly purified, blended, and are produced in column or continuous stills, after which they are, in some cases, charcoal-filtered and aged in old oak casks for a few months to add a degree of smoothness. The hot humid climate in the Caribbean is ideal for barrel aging. Most light Rums have minimal flavors and aromas, and are very similar to vodka, particularly those brands that have been charcoal-filtered. Heavier Rums are usually distilled in pot stills; similar to those used to produce Cognacs and Scotch whiskies. Pot stills are very different from column stills. All you really need to know is that some congeners are carried over with the alcohol in pot stills. This adds to the complexity and flavor profile of the final product.



Now Let’s “Kill Divil” all this confusion and break down the main categories.

Rhum agricole & Cachaça (pronounced Kah-sha-sa) begins with only freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice and not the cheaper molasses by-product of the sugar making industry. And since Rhum agricole & Cachaça (artisanal) can be made only when the sugar cane crop is at the peak of maturity, production is limited to 2 short tropical seasons.


As previously stated, Cachaça is mostly produced in Brazil. Cachaça is the product of the distillation of fermented sugarcane juice, with its a.b.v (alcohol by volume) anywhere from 38% to 48%. Homemade Cachaça can be as strong as the distiller chooses. Cachaça differs from rum in that most rum is made from molasses. Cachaça can be sort of classified as a “rhum agricole” which is rum produced directly from cane juice. (I apologize & understand if that last sentence upset you.)

One of my favorite producers of Cachaça is Avua out of Carmo, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. They produce a breath taking expression of this spirit. I love shots of this neat with cold beer. And this fact about me has been documented on social media outlets. Stay tuned for a follow up article on Cachaça.

You can buy it on their website.

White Rums are generally light-bodied. However, there are a few heavy-bodied, white Rhums available in the French islands. They are usually clear and have a very subtle flavor profile. Some are aged to create a smooth palate; they are then usually filtered to remove any color. White Rums are primarily used as mixers and blend particularly well with fruit flavors. I recommend Cana Brava Rum from Panama Bottled by 86&CO in Ukiah Ca. This Rum is a 3yr white Rum blended with older Rums. I like it with tonic water & fresh/ lime.

Golden Rums, also called Amber Rums, and are generally medium-bodied. Most have spent several years aging in oak casks, which give them smooth, mellow palates. I like Smith & Cross. It is bottled at Navy Strength 57% a.b.v 114 proof (the proof required by the British Navy) and barrel aged in London. Fun fact, gunpowder will ignite if Navy Strength Rum is spilled on it. Smith & Cross is a very bold & assertive rum. Make a Jamaican daiquiri or 2 for yourself and call the first person you see a “landlubber”! Haus Alpenz are the importers of it.

Navy Strength Rum & Navy Rum should not be confused. Navy Rum was traditionally made with rums mainly from Guyana, Jamaica & Barbados. No such designation of Navy Rum exist it is just a gimmick big companies use to sell product. Only 1 bottling of REAL British Navy Rum exist in the world. Haus Alpenz also imports this.

Dark Rums are traditionally full-bodied, rich, & caramel-dominated. The best are produced mostly from pot stills and frequently aged in oak casks for extended periods. The richest of these Rums are consumed straight up. I recommend Goslings Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum Rum. Have some in a cup of coffee or sip it neat or whatever you like. **SEAL PIC** This bottle should be easy to find.

Spiced Rums can be white, golden, or dark. They are infused with spices or fruit flavors. Spicing your own rum can be fun. I have an old family recipe I use. Don’t be afraid to try and make your own, you might like the results. There are several recipes on the web available. However, I like El Dorado Spiced Rum. It is not artificially flavored, unlike some other brands out there. Produced by Demerara distillers in Guyana.

Añejo and Age-Dated Rums are aged Rums from different vintages or batches that are mixed together for consistency of flavor in bottling of Rum from year to year. Some aged Rums will give age statements that state the youngest Rum in the blend. A small number of French island Rums are vintage dated. In the Caribbean, nothing happens quickly. Heavily aged rum should be sipped neat and slowly respectively. But there is always an exception. El Dorado 15yr is awesome neat or in cocktails be sure to taste this rum, Produced by Demerara Distillers in Guyana.

The Rum suggestions I made above are exactly that. They are just suggestions based on what I like. Try them all, or don’t, try different rums, whatever you like. I just want you to drink more delicious Rum. Don’t be afraid to try something new. CHEERS!!!!

Giving a shout out to my references, sources & people that help make it seem like I know what the hell I’m talking about.

Demerara Distillers & Ian Lye
Avua Cachaca & Nate Whitehouse
Haus Alpenz & Jake Parrott
The Ministry of Rum
The Rum Howler Blog


– Fabian Malone

TWITTER: @RoninBartender