Back in the 17th century, colonial Europeans were busy cultivating sugar on the islands of the Caribbean. People working on the plantations — many of whom were slaves — figured out that the sugar cane and its by-products could be fermented with yeast and then distilled to create a potent alcoholic spirit. 

St Abbs Captain's Table XO Bottles


Rums are often divided by colour: white, golden and dark. Like all spirits, rum is white when it first comes off a still. The longer it spends resting in oak, the darker it will become as the rum draws flavour and colour from the wood. However, the vast majority of aged rums have caramel colouring added, so you can’t read much into the age of a rum based on its appearance. Many many rums will also have a small amount of sugar added.


Sugar cane had been introduced to the West Indies by the Spanish in the late 15th century. The colonies of Spain and Britain refined the cane in order to ship sugar back to the home countries in Europe. Locals found that molasses, a by-product of refining sugar, could be fermented with yeast to produce an alcoholic beverage. 

The rum style in the French colonies diverged from the rest of the region over time, as French sugar beet farmers objected to imported sugar from the Caribbean. The resulting glut of sugar cane allowed these islands to start producing rum directly from sugar-cane juice. This so-called agricultural rum, or rhum agricole, from islands such as Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique has a much more pungent, vegetal flavour.