White Rums aren’t really white

After reading about a white rum that was supposed to be aged 10 years it struck me that white rums aren’t white at all. No one I know would want to go near a white opaque rum. Clear rum should be called what it is, clear or transparent rum. Some, like Cruzan’s Light Rum is called light because it has a chardonnay hue. It also has a light character from the way it is made.
In Barbados E.S.A.Fields clear rum is called see-through. And if you can’t see through it, either you’ve been drinking too much rum. Or there is something else in the bottle.

All alcohol should be crystal clear when it comes out of the still. If it’s opaque, it’s a sure sign that there are fusel oils in the bottle and you shouldn’t be drinking it. When a friend in Grenada distills her rum, called hogo, she looks for the tell-tale grey hue on top of the jug and changes in viscosity to tell her when she’s not getting pure rum and is getting some fusel oils in her rum. At that point, it’s time to go home.

Most, but not all, of the clear rums we drink have been aged before being carbon-filtered to remove the color gained from the oak barrels while the rum was aging. Not all I say because some clear rums are bottled straight from the still, but even some of those are filtered prior to bottling to remove some of the sharp flavors that detract from what the distiller wants to put in the bottle. How can you tell whether the clear rum you’re drinking has been aged or not isn’t always simple though here are some indicators.

If the rum is clear and has an age statement on the label, it has been aged and then carbon-filtered. If the rum is imported from Puerto Rico, Venezuela or a few other countries, it has been aged and then filtered prior to bottling. If the rum is from the French islands, it hasn’t been carbon-filtered. They don’t carbon-filter any of their rum, though maybe they should think about it.

The color of one’s spirit is entirely a matter of personal preference and prejudice. Barbados is one of the few Caribbean islands where a significant percentage of the rum consumed by the local population isn’t clear. In the US and Europe many rum drinkers equate clear rum with a cheap quality spirit, but let me tell you that you owe it to yourself to try some of the aged clear rums that are being imported. You might even find your new favorite rum isn’t as dark in color as you thought it was.

The most common age for these clear spirits is one to two years, though some like Santa Teresa Claro and Cruzan’s Light Rum aren’t completely clear and retain a bit of color. The oldest aged clear rum that I’m aware of is Flor de Caña’s 4-year-old rum. I’ve read recently about some clear rums being aged up to 6 and as much as 10 years but the numbers just don’t add up.

When a distiller ages rum in a barrel in the tropics, he looses from 5-12% of the contents of that barrel each year. As Gary Nelthropp, master distiller at Cruzan Rum told me last week, after 12 years he’s got about 5 gallons left in a 45 gallon barrel. If you’re aging your rum more than 4 years, you can’t afford to sell it for less than your more expensive rums. And, in order to remove all of the color from that rum, you’ve had to carbon-filter it several times and that costs money as well as flavor. Contrary to what more than a few distiller has told me, carbon-filtering removes more than the color from the rum.

So what’s the point in aging a rum, say 5 years, and then carbon-filtering everything out of it. I’ve yet to taste a clear rum that has the smoky oak, vanilla and roasted nut flavors found in an old aged spirit, when I do I’ll change my mind. I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t tasted every clear rum in the world, but I’m looking forward to continuing the research.

Here are what the Ministry of Rum Forum members have to say about White, or Clear Rums.

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