Here’s an experiment we challenge you to try the next time you’re grabbing a couple drinks at the local cocktail lounge. Look at the menu. And no, that’s not facetious. We mean really examine the cocktail menu — soaking in and absorbing the ingredients outlined for each specialty drink. Odds are, if done diligently, you’ll come across a spirit that may seem familiar but spelled incorrectly: rhum. And while your first assumption may be to notify the barkeep they’re in need of a new copy editor, we’re here to tell you this is no mistake. In fact, the “h” means so much more than what you may assume.
So, to address the obvious, rhum is closely related to the better-known rum drink in the spirit world. The key differences, however, lie in the origin and distillation which actually yield a unique experience with the drink that one doesn’t normally assume when sipping on the more storied “rum.” Just like the whole whisky vs. whiskey argument, the foundation is the same. And similar to wine, region and ingredients can make all the difference in separate variants. With that in mind, allow us to briefly extoll the virtues of rhum, and why — in addition to a fine bottle of rum — it deserves a spot on the bar cart.
Two Schools of Thought
It’s no secret the history of the Caribbean isn’t pretty. During the 17th century, imperial efforts by European empires led to the colonization of the region and subsequent demand for goods produced — including rum. And since Europeans had a knack for “exotic” spices, additives, and foods (i.e. the initial purpose behind establishing a quicker route to “The Orient” as they called it) something as sweet and flavorful as Caribbean rum became a sought-after commodity for European residents. If the spirit isn’t produced on one of the French-speaking Caribbean islands, then it isn’t rhum.
This, of course, included the French who settled among several islands in the region including Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. From here, it would have been foolish for them not to take part in the rum business. So take part they did, and to a fine extent (product-wise of course) which later yielded Rhum (or Rhum Agricole) as the French designation for the spirit. Hundreds of years later, and to this day, if the product isn’t produced on one of these French-speaking islands, then it isn’t rhum.
Our Rum Pick: Havana Club Especial
Distilled by the maestros of Cuban rum, Havana Club Especial is one spirit that’s perfect for some island-style relaxation. Each batch is deliciously aged for 3 years, yielding a smooth amber finish. Enjoy in a mixed cocktail or simply over ice.
Two Schools of Thought
Differences at the Core
Location doesn’t have everything to do with the difference either. For it’s also the distillation method, ingredients, and a whole lot more that yield rhum rather than rum. Just as with Cognac or Champagne, the French are very prescriptive in how they make Rhum, and if you don’t follow the rules then you’re not in the club. Those rules, like with French wines called ‘AOC’ (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), cover everything from farming to distillation and aging. But the key difference from rum is that rather than utilizing fermented molasses in the distillation process, rhum is made from fresh pressed sugar cane juice.
So while rum is traditionally sweet, full-bodied, and almost viscous in mouthfeel, rhum is more vegetal, clean, and light in character making it ideal for mixing in cocktails and adding an herbal element. Where rum succeeds in sweetness, rhum conquers in vibrancy.
Our Rhum Pick: Batiste Rhum Ecoiste
Light in body and pleasing to the palate, Batiste Rhum Ecoiste is distilled on a Caribbean farm on Marie Galante that’s been growing sugar cane since 1769. Each batch is made with only three simple ingredients — sugar cane juice, yeast, and water — yielding a clean, sugar-free, and versatile spirit that’s ideal for mixing summer cocktails under the tropical sun without the hellish hangover to follow.
A Middle Ground
How It's All Connected
Competition in the spirit world is overrated. At least when it comes to different styles, everything is subjective. There’s a time, place, and drink for everything — even differing rum styles. So for us to suggest one over the other would be rather presumptuous — two characteristics no one wants to encounter over Caribbean cocktails. For if there’s any time and place to relax and take it all in, this is it.
What’s left is the power to choose which style of rum is best suited for a particular palate or purpose. Looking to sip on something sweet and smooth that imparts notes of caramelized crème brulee? Try an aged Caribbean dark rum on for size. Looking for something floral and light to help liven up that mojito, daiquiri, or dare we say … martini? Try some rhum on for size. We’re sure with the right brand and mixologist you’ll be satisfied either way.
And Now For A Little Refresher On Whiskey
Since we now have the whole rum vs. rhum argument down, we can move onto another unfortunate source of confusion — bourbon vs. whiskey — which actually features similar differences and takeaways.