Commercial Rum vs Craft Rum

As is the case in most industries, there is a notable difference between mass produced and hand crafted products. When it comes to spirits, and in this case Rum specifically, the same holds true.

Setting Ground Rules

Because there are many different Rums in the world, there are many different ways of making those Rums. As such, drawing the line between what is Craft and what is Commercial can be quite difficult. For this post, I would like to lay out a rough definition of each and acknowledge that not every distillery will fall into one of these two definitions.

Large Commercial distilleries generally have massive continuous stills, which are very often many stories high. These distilleries produce thousands of litres of alcohol a day. The alcohol produced in these stills is very often neutral in taste, or in the case of a Rum distillate, has some flavour. 

Depending on the final product type, this alcohol is then put through an additional process, after distillation, to give it its own flavour. These processes include, ageing in barrels, infusion with gin botanicals, or the addition of a flavour concentrate, to name a few. In the end a wide variety of products can be made with the same alcohol.

Craft distilleries have a hands-on approach to as much of the process as possible and generally, produce on a small scale. These distilleries will do their own fermentations and distillations, and will also bottle and package their own products. We feel that, as a Craft distillery, it is important that we distil our own alcohol, and in that way, we are better able to control the quality, taste and experience.

The Difference

Rums produced by large commercial distilleries are, generally, aimed at being used as a mixer in cocktails. Many commercial Rums will have caramel added to them, this not only gives them an interesting colour, but the additional sugar helps to make the spirit more palatable. 

Unfortunately, this practice has given rise to the belief that Rum is packed with sugar and thus more fattening than other spirits. In South Africa, due to naming conventions, a good way to know if sugar has been added to a Rum is to look on the label for the phrase “Spirit Aperitif”. This means that the amount of sugar added is above the allowed limit for the Rum category of spirits, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In some cases, commercial Rum, when aged, is often done so for a short period of time. While this does help to smooth the product somewhat, the amount of time is often, not enough, for the final spirit to have gained the darker colour and flavouring associated with a longer barrel ageing time. To compensate for this, very often, caramel or colourants are used to artificially darken and flavour the product.

We find that a Rum produced on a Craft scale will have a completely different set of characteristics. Having a hand in the entire process allows a craft distiller to fine tune the final outcome. Changing how one does the fermentation, will result in different flavours coming through in the final product. Altering the speed of distillation, or the type of still you use, can mean a Rum packed full of flavour, or one as smooth as silk on the tongue. Knowing and understanding the whole process required to produce their own unique product, is what sets a Craft distillery apart.

In our case, the result is a white Rum that is both smooth and flavourful, one that can be drunk without mixing if you so wish. This means that there is no need to add things like caramel to make the product more palatable, resulting in a Rum with no sugar and one which you can feel good about enjoying.

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