I recently implemented an extensive reorganization of the rums in my ingredients database. I’m pretty pleased with how it stands now, although some categories may still require massaging, and I don’t doubt more than a few rums are still mis-categorized. This reorg affects all my apps, but should prove most helpful as sync services for the recipe apps begins to roll out.
This overdue effort has actually stymied me for a few years because of the challenges of reconciling the most diverse category of spirits against both historical and contemporary contexts, simultaneously, when neither resemble each other much. Keep in mind that this database is principally concerned with what’s in the bottle and how that relates to mixology. My categorization is not the same kind of categorization that the industry necessarily employs or that you’re likely to find in a liquor store. To pull an example from another segment, a lot of cognac is categorized as VS or VSOP, and while that distinction means something specific within the cognac business, it means virtually nothing in the context of mixology (in mixed drinks, one VS cognac may be just as effective as another VSOP or even superior to a third).
With rums, we have a lot of historical recipes that call for rums from specific places, and that implied attributes that don’t consistently map to contemporary products. Indeed, many of these historic rums no longer exist in any recognizable form today (e.g., “Santa Cruz rum”), while today we enjoy a vast quantity of well-aged, highly-refined rums that would have been quite unusual back in the 19th Century.
So, here’s a flattened overview of my new topology of rums (and sugar cane spirits):
sugar cane aguardiente
rhum agricole (blanc)
rhum agricole (amber)
rhum agricole (vieux)
flavored rum (coconut rum)
flavored rum (spiced rum)
flavored rum (other)
brown rum (151-proof)
brown rum (Barbados) [historical]
brown rum (Cuban) [historical, kind of]
brown rum (Haitian) [historical]
brown rum/amber rum (Jamaican)
brown rum (Santa Cruz) [historical]
brown rum (other)
dark rum (Jamaican)
dark rum (Guyanese/Demerara)
dark rum (151-proof Demerara)
dark rum (Navy)
dark rum/black rum (other)
light rum (Cuban-style)
light rum (other) [contemporary]
unaged overproof Jamaican rum
Of these, the two jumbo categories are the brown rum and light rum (and by light rum, we mean aged molasses-based rum that has been filtered of its color). Within those jumbo categories are a handful of subcategories of rum styles sufficiently distinct to warrant them, either on a historical basis, contemporary basis, or both (principally Jamaican, Demerara and Cuban).
There’s nothing perfect about the new system, but rum is a delightfully messy world, and the new approach is at least more accurate than the old approach. The old approach was more precise in that it attempted to take more details of production and tradition into account, but this fragmented the spirits in a manner that was counter-productive for mixology, mainly by pedantically interfering with perfectly reasonable substitutions. For example, in my old scheme, Haitian rum was treated as its own thing—and it arguably is its own thing, for various reasons—but from a purely mixological standpoint—today—Haitian rums are general purpose brown rums (except for Barbancourt Blanc, which is a general purpose light rum).
Please feel to send me your feedback and questions.