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Unlike an appellation, like Champagne, or a standard of identity like bourbon, there's no single standard for rum. Countries set their own standards and laws to define rum, and even in the Caribbean where most rum is produced, each island may have its own unique style. In general, though, rum styles can be grouped by language.
Spanish-speaking islands and countries such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba and Venezuela traditionally produce smooth white and anejo rums. The U.S. Virgin Islands also produce this style of rum.
English-speaking islands and countries are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retains a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Jamaica, Bermuda, Barbados, Belize, St. Kitts. Trinidad & Tobago and the Demerara region of Guyana are typical of this style.
French-speaking islands such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti, make agricultural rums, or rhum agricole. They're made with sugar cane juice instead of molasses, which is a by-product of sugar refining. They have a much more pronounced sugar cane flavor and can be more expensive than rums made with molasses.
Typical rum styles include:
Light rum, also known as white, blanco or silver rum. Most light rum comes from Puerto Rico, but is produced around the world. Their milder flavor makes them popular for mixing in cocktails.
Gold rum, also called anejo rum, is usually a medium-bodied rum that has been aged for a year or more. More flavorful than light rum, gold rums are still very mixable.
Spiced rum. As their name suggests, these rums get their flavor from spices such as cinnamon, anise seed, rosemary or pepper.
Dark rum is generally aged longer in charred barrels and has a much stronger flavor than either light or gold rum. Typically from Jamaica, Haiti and Martinque, dark rum also comes from several other countries, including award-winning Flor de Cana from Nicaragua, Ron Zacapa Centenario from Guatemala, and Goslings from Bermuda. Some may have a hint of spice along with a strong molasses or caramel flavor. Dark rums are often used in mixed rum drinks for both flavor and color, but can be consumed neat or on the rocks.
Flavored rum. Usually infused with fruit flavors, flavored rums run the gamut from lemon to passion fruit.
Overproof rum is rum distilled to much higher proofs than the typical 70 or 80 proof. Most of these are around 150 proof.
Sipping rum. Typically consumed straight, these high-end rums are often aged eight years or more, and tend to have a flavor profile more akin to single barrel bourbon, cognac or a single malt Scotch.