What Is Spiced Rum And How Do I Make It?

It's much easier than you think.

If you've fallen down a TikTok sea shanty rabbit hole recently, there's a good chance that you've had rum on your mind in recent times. Even in the dead of winter, rum is a welcome addition to any daiquiri, mojito, or any number of other cocktails and mixed drinks more suitable for more temperate climes.

Though there are many different takes on this distillation of sugar cane that's synonymous with island living and seafaring adventures, there's one key distinction that divides rum into two broad categories: white, light, or "silver" rum, and aged, dark, or "gold" rum. That's the sort of distinction most of us could pick up on by sight, but spending some time investigating what separates these types of rum is a worthwhile exercise— especially if you want to learn how to spice some rum yourself.

How Is Rum Made?

Compared to some other spirits of the world defined by strictly-regimented production methods, there's no one universally proscribed way to make rum. That lack of standardization may have something to do with the fact that it's a product of the West Indies, as different islands have their own way of doing things when it comes to rum. Puerto Rico keeps things light, for example, while Jamaica is more associated with aged rum produced with help from something called "dunder."

Molasses, a byproduct of the sugarcane refining process, is a fairly essential ingredient no matter what rum you're working with, but even that's not a universal necessity. Sugarcane juice sometimes takes its place when traditional sugar refining methods aren't possible. Sugarcane juice more commonly forms the basis of rum in France's former Carribbean territories. Down in Brazil, fermented sugarcane juice makes a slightly different but equally wonderful spirit called cachaça.

Rum distillation begins in earnest when water and yeast is added to that molasses or sugarcane juice, which helps kickstart the fermentation process. The specific yeast employed at this phase is the earliest point of divergence between what will become light and dark rums: Lighter rums are often associated with "faster" yeasts, while more fuller-flavored rums tend to be associated with "slow" yeasts. However, it's worth noting that the yeast itself doesn't lend a rum its particular color.

What's the Difference Between Light and Dark Rum?

In terms of the distinction between those two major categories of rum, the differences aren't as much product of what's done to the rum as much as where it ages. Most jurisdictions require all rums to age for at least a year, and some of the finer Jamaican rums typically age for upwards of five. These days, your lighter, younger rums (most often associated with Puerto Rico and Cuba) are often aged in stainless steel tanks. On the other hand, your darker, aged rums primarily get their color from aging in oak barrels. Sometimes, caramel is added once the aging process is complete in order to really amp up that amber, golden hue.

So How Is Rum Spiced?

Spiced rums are similar to those gold or dark rums in that they're aged in color-changing barrels — or at least loaded with caramel to change their color, in the case of cheaper stuff. Though there's no hard and fast rule about when to add spices to a rum, the infusion tends to take place towards the tail end of the aging process. That's usually somewhere between six and one months, depending on who's making it.

What Spices Are in Spiced Rum?

The aforementioned caramel does play a role, but the specific combination of spices that go into mass market rums are often a closely-guarded secret. Captain Morgan doesn't give away their recipe for their Original Spiced Gold offering, but they do admit that it features hints of rich vanilla, brown sugar (which is derived in part from molasses), and "warming spices with just the hint of oak."

Much like how there's no one way to make rum, there's no universal law for how it should be spiced. Aromatics like anise, cloves, and cardamom can often enter the mix, while other more common spices like cinnamon, peppercorns, and nutmeg may appear. Fruits also have a role to play, with certain homemade spiced rum preparations calling for orange (both peeled and as a sliced garnish) as well.

How to Spice Rum at Home

Not only is it possible to spice your own rum at home, it's also even easier than you'd think. As you may have gleaned from the previous section, there's a decent chance you already have what you need sitting in your spice rack. There are a few different rum-spicing recipes floating around, which seem to incorporate things like allspice berries, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla beans, nutmeg, orange peels, and cardamom. Of course, most of the fun to be had when infusing your own rum comes from experimentation, and there are certainly worse things to learn to make by trial and error.

Ideally, you'll want to use 750ml of a moderately aged rum. Adding spices won't magically turn a light rum into a dark rum, but you don't want anything that's aged long enough for the oakiness to really seep in, as it means you're not working with a blank canvas. From there, it's all about combining the ingredients with your rum in an airtight, lidded jar, making sure to scrape the seeds away from your vanilla bean before both components are added in. Then, shake and store somewhere that won't get too much direct sunlight.

Based on what you read earlier about how long rum is aged, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that it only takes two days for your homemade infusion to properly mature. Once those 48 hours are up, pour the whole thing into a new bottle (using a sieve or cheesecloth to filter out the solid ingredients) and you're good to go.

So if you've learned anything today, it's that, much like there is no platonic form of rum, there's also no universal way to spice it. But hopefully you now have a better sense of not just how rum is made and what spices can be used, but how to go about making your very own spiced rum yourself. Making your own rum won't necessarily make you a pirate, but these days, it's about as close as you can get.


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