Discerning pirates need to know.
National Rum Day (Thursday, August 16) is a great excuse to fix yourself a mojito, sure—but it's also the perfect occasion to hone your cocktail-mixing (or ordering) skills by learning the difference between rum (English style), versus rhum (French style), versus ron (Spanish style). Yes, while the sugarcane-based spirit is often dismissed as a piña colada and daiquiri mixer (don't get hardcore rum lovers started on the Señor Frog’s-ification of the daiquiri), certain varieties (particularly aged rums) have all the complexity of high-end bourbon, with notes ranging from toffee and cardamom to orange and tobacco.
That's why we stopped by New York City's Miss Lily's, a Jamaican eatery with a top-notch rum bar, for a rapid-fire lesson in Rum/Rhum/Ron 101. Read on to find out how to tell them apart, how to drink them, and which one tastes amazing in a Manhattan (yes, really).
The Basics: "The parameters are, basically, it has to come from sugar cane production," Adam Schop, Miss Lily's executive chef, explains. "From there, it gets grayer and grayer." That being said, English-style, molasses-based rums currently dominate the market (molasses being a byproduct of the sugarcane refining process).
Where It's Made: Lots of English-style rums are produced in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, The Virgin Islands, Antigua, and St. Lucia
How to Drink It: In any classic rum-based cocktail, really! (Although, there are certain drinks where rhum or ron really shine. More on that in a minute.) One note: A lot of Jamaican rums are overproof (or over 40 percent alcohol by volume), meaning they can easily overpower whatever you're mixing them with. To get the balance just right, you should shake an overproof rum-based cocktail three times as long as you would your typical mixed drink, according to the Miss Lily's staff.
Try This: Smith & Cross is a solid overproof option, while Appleton 12, with its notes of nutmeg, orange peel, and vanilla, is the bottle you'll find in every home in Jamaica (the Miss Lily's staff recommends trying it in a Manhattan).
The Basics: French-style rhum, or rhum agricole, is made from fresh-pressed sugarcane, meaning it's less processed than your typical rum. It's technically a variety of rum (as is ron), kind of like how all Scotch is whisky but not all whisky is Scotch. Flavor-wise, rhums are typically drier and more robust than their English-style counterparts.
Where It's Made: Most popular rhums come from Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Haiti.
How to Drink It: Miss Lily's recommends letting rhum's distinct flavor shine in a Ti' Punch—a popular drink in Martinique and Guadeloupe involving a neat pour, sugarcane syrup, and a big squeeze of lime.
Try This: Martinique-based distiller J.M. is a good place to start. Their gold rhum is made from sugarcane juice aged in bourbon barrels, resuting in an earthy-meets-fruity flavor.
The Basics: Like rum, most ron (Spanish-style rum) is made by fermenting molasses, but it tends to be lighter in body and flavor.
Where It's From: Lots of rons are made in Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama.
How to Drink It: Use a dry ron to spike a piña colada—it'll cut through the sweetness of the pineapple juice and the heaviness of the coconut milk.
Try This: Brugal Ron Blanco is on the crisp side, making it perfect for a refreshing mojito. If you're looking for a sipping ron, Ron Zacapa is fermented with pineapple yeast, which gives it a sweet finish.