Rum is your Brain Food, Alcohol, and New York Style

  1. Some rums are healthier than others and, dark rum, left to age in charred oak or wooden barrels giving it a darker color and bolder flavor, is considered to offer healthy antioxidants.
  2. Some research suggests that rum has assets that may help protect brain cells.
  3. It may also decrease risks associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s (David Friedman, Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction).

What is rum?

Rum is made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses or sugarcane syrup. The sugar is distilled into a liquid alcohol at various strengths and the alcohol by volume (ABV) runs from 40-80 percent, delivering approximately 97 calories per 8 oz. shot of 80 proof (with Coke, add another 88 calories). The quality of the rum is based on the composition of the molasses, the length of fermentation, the type of barrels used, and the length of time used for aging in barrels.

Rums are segmented by color (i.e., white, black/dark, golden, overproof), flavor (i.e., spiced/flavored) and age. Dark rum is aged for 2+ years in charred oak barrels developing a black/brown color (not filtered following the aging process). Gold or amber rum is aged in charred oak barrels for a shorter period of time (18 months). Carmel may be added after the aging process to provide a more vivid golden color. White rum (known as silver, light or clear) is usually stored in stainless steel vessels or casks and aged for 1-2 years with charcoal filters used to extract any color and impurities after the ageing process and has a taste that is lighter than the amber or dark rums and usually found in cocktails rather than consumed neat. Spiced rum is infused during the blending stage with cinnamon, aniseed, ginger, rosemary or pepper at concentrations up to 2.5 percent. Spiced rum is frequently dark in color with sugar or caramel occasionally added for sweetness. 

Rum linked to slavery, rebellion and illness

While rum is delicious and conjures up parties and barbeque, the beverage has a very dark back story. History links rum (when it was distilled on sugarcane plantations in the 17th century) to the practice of slavery where people were forced to grow and cut sugarcane under horrendous conditions. Laborers were compelled to work tirelessly to ferment and distill molasses to make the rum which was used as currency to buy more slaves.

In the beginning (and for several centuries), the product quality was considered to be poor and inexpensive, primarily consumed by sugarcane plantation slaves and associated with low socio – economic groups. Rum also played a significant historical role in the only military coup to occur in Australia, the Rum Rebellion (1808), when Governor William Bligh was overthrown in part due to his attempt to abolish the use of rum as a method of payment.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade ceased in the 19th century, however, modern slavery continues (i.e., agricultural and textile industries supply chains). The US Department of Labor finds that child labor is prevalent in sugarcane production in 18 countries. On some farms, workers cut cane manually under intense heat creating health risks. Research finds that heat stress can lead to the development of a chronic and often fatal kidney disease.

Market size

Market Data Forecast finds that the global rum market is valued at US$25 billion (2020) and predicted to grow to US$21.5 billion by 2025. Globally the annual revenue from rum production is an estimated US$15.8 billion (2020) with a projected growth rate of 7.0 percent pa over the 5-year period (2020-2025) as there is increasing global demand for premium high-quality and luxury spirit products with a focus on authenticity and well-known brands.

The USA is the largest consumer of rum with US$2435 million generated in revenue (2020) and sales volumes second only to vodka and whisky in the spirits category. The main producers of rum are countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; however, the USA has many start-ups in this category as well as in the Philippines, India, Brazil, Fiji and Australia. Euromonitor International finds that India leads the international rum market.

Changes/challenges for rum

The new rum category is dominated by millennials (people born between 1981 and 1994/6) as rum is a comparatively inexpensive drink as compared to other spirits. This target market has spending power and demonstrates an appreciation for alcohol with a rum preference (over other alcoholic drinks). The world is forcing rum to change as consumers look for products with reduced sugar, that are sustainable, and at premium levels. Rum manufacturers have introduced new rum products into the marketplace with taste experiences focused on flavors that offer sweet, buttery, caramel, tropical fruit, and vanilla notes that often end with smokey licorice and molasses.

It may not be common knowledge, but many rum producing countries in the Caribbean do NOT grow their own sugar cane and actually import raw sugar cane, cane juice or molasses as their base and the imports create a whole new set of challenges for these island nations.


1. Molasses, a by-product of sugar production is cheaper than then using pure sugar cane in rum production; however, as the demand for sugar decreases, sugar production declines so there is less molasses available for export. The diminishing demand also pushes down the price for sugar cane and this worries rum producers for the supply of molasses may totally disappear as the farmers abandon sugar cane for more profitable agriculture products. There is also the possibility that the wellness trend will encourage governments or other regulatory agencies to impose sugar-content limits impacting on the availability of sugar and the cost of the finished product.

2. Sustainable production processes are important to new beverage consumers as they are anxious to satisfy their immediate needs/wants without endangering the future. Rum production has the reputation of producing high environmental impact because of the land requirement to grow the cane, the fuel demanded to create the heat to convert the raw sugar cane into a fermentable medium and the amount of water used in production plus the resources used for packaging. To meet the sustainability demands, the industry must consider new methods for resource management and/or conservation and create packaging that is biodegradable or environmentally friendly.

For companies willing and able to go the distance, and address current demands, there is good news as consumers are willing to pay premium prices for the new products with super-premium and above classification. Golden Rum is poised to be the next big trend in the spirits category, with anticipated sales increasing by 33 percent in 2021. At this rate of growth, it will outpace gin by 2022 (

New Yorkers embrace rum

At a recent Manhattan-based Rum Congress, Federico J. Hernandez and TheRumLab orchestrated an interesting and educational program in tandem with in-person tastings of scores of international rums that were enjoyed by hundreds of rum friends and fans. The new rums offer sensory experiences that meet and frequently exceed expectations.        

The program included:

Will Hoekenga, ARRO American Rum

Will Groves, Maggies Farm Rum. Pittsburg, PA
Karen Hoskin, Montanya Distillers, Crested Butte, CO
Roberto Serralles, Destileria Serralles Mercedita, PR
Daniel Mora, Ron Centenario, The Rum of Costa Rico
Otto Flores, Barcelo Rums, Dominican Republic
Waluco Maheia, Copalli Rums, Punta Gorda, Belize
Ian Williams, Author, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776

The next Rum Festival is scheduled for September 2021, San Francisco, CA. For additional information:

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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