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'Pirates' movie boosting rum sales in U.S.

TODAY food editor Phil Lempert explains the sharp rise in rum sales, and helps you distill the difference between all the different ones.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest…

Johnny Depp has helped push the worldwide box office sales for "Pirates of the Caribbean" to over $600 million by early June, and the third installment of the series (which also took MTV’s Best Picture and Best Performance awards) has without question brought back the allure and romance of the “pirate.”

Can Captain Jack Sparrow do the same for his signature beverage?

According to The Nielsen Company, total rum sales dollars are up a measly 2.8 percent over last year, but when put into context of an increase of 2.9 percent for all sprits, and the fact that rum is #2 behind vodka it’s easy to imagine that with the kind of hype that a blockbuster movie could provide. Rum sales might just be in for an adventurous ride on the high seas. It is the subcategories of Premium (up 12 percent) and Ultra Premium (up 8.9 percent) that clearly show the opportunity (based on total U.S. Food, Drug, Liquor Store Channel for the 52 weeks ending April 7, 2007). Premium rums retail for $13 - $25.99 and now enjoy almost a 12 percent share of the total rum category, while the emerging Ultra share (priced $26 and up) is just 0.6 percent).

A look back through Sparrow’s spyglass would find many trend parallels to the rise of vodka. However, there are two important differences. The history and significance of rum when coupled with the movie’s continued success could well fuel a new surge of rum drinkers if some brilliant marketing kicks in soon. But alas, with all well made marketing plans, we need to remember that the foundation of selling a complicated product like rum, is educating the consumer.

Five classifications of rum
White rums are the largest variety and account for over half (54.4 percent) of sales dollars. These rums are generally light-bodied, usually clear and with a subtle flavor. When aged in oak casks to become smoother, they are then filtered to remove any color. White Rums are primarily used as mixers and are the basis for the new fruit flavored rums.

Golden rums (or amber rums) are medium-bodied and are aged for several years in oak casks, producing a smooth and mellow product.

Dark rums are full-bodied, rich, caramel-dominated rums and frequently aged in oak casks for any where from 3 to 10 year periods.

Spiced rums are the fastest growing in the category at 9.6 percent last year (as compared to just a growth of 1.4 percent for unflavored rum) and now represent a 25 percent share.

Añejo and age-dated rums are blended aged rums from different vintages or batches mixed together to produce a consistent flavor from year to year. The labels on some of these rums will include information about the blends or the youngest year of aging. (e.g., at least 10 years old).

And how the rum is distilled and aged makes all the difference!

All rums come out of the still as clear and colorless.

Lighter rums are highly purified and blended and are produced in column or continuous stills, after which they are usually charcoal-filtered. Some brands age their rums in old oak casks to create a smoother product.

Heavier rums are usually distilled in pot stills; the same that produce Cognacs and Scotch. Pot stills are not as production efficient as column stills and some congeners (fusel oils and other flavors) are maintained in the product. Some brands actually blend both pot and column distilled Rum to create a unique flavor.

Barrel aging and the use of added caramel determine the final rum color.

So let’s head to the tasting!

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum

Mount Gay Rum is the world’s oldest rum and has its origins in Barbados dating back to 1663. Mount Gay Special Reserve contains an unusually high proportion of pot still rum and combines a great many aromas and flavors giving it a unique and special roundness and complexity. Although Special Reserve is light bodied (like other white rums) it has a unique character because it is aged. Mount Gay Special Reserve has a maturity age of up to 8 years. (750 ml 80 proof)

In 1862, Don Facundo Bacardi created BACARDI Rum in Santiago de Cuba, and today is the number one brand worldwide and is now produced in Puerto Rico. Crafted in a five step distillation process, aged in American white oak barrels, and filtered five times for smoothness this rum is light in body and dry in flavor with an aroma of almonds and tropical fruits. (750ml 80 proof)

Appleton White Jamaica Rum is a crisp, medium-bodied rum, and aged for up to two years in oak barrels. The color is extracted by slowly filtering the rum through activated charcoal and has a fuller, richer, and more rounded character and flavor. (750ml 80 proof)

Brugal White Rum is considered the purest among the white rums produced in the Dominican Republic. (750 ml 80 proof)

Prichards White Rum is made with the finest, Louisiana, grade “A” fancy molasses. After a slow fermentation (to ensure every sugar molecule possible is converted into alcohol) they distill it five times resulting in an almost buttery flavor. (750ml 80 proof)

In Martinique rum is called rhum agricole. Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc uses only the freshest sugar cane, grown on the volcanic foothills of Mont Pelee and harvests at its peak of maturity. (1.0 liter 100 proof)

10 Cane is neither a white rum or an amber rum – it is made from the first pressing of 100% Trinidadian sugar cane with a slight vanilla and pear taste and one of the smoothest rums. One of the newest rums, created by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. (750 ml. 80 proof)


Produced in Hawaii, Whalers Original Dark Rum is a rich, incredibly smooth dark rum. An exceptionally strong vanilla flavor sets this apart from other dark rums. (750 ml 80 proof)

The richly colored Cruzan Black Strap Rum is made from cane molasses and its fermentation process occurs rapidly. Known for its ‘buoyant’ body, Black Strap Rum’s fusel content is still lower than that of many traditional dark rums on the market, extra smooth. (750ml 80 proof)

Well-aged and extremely dark rum, Gosling's Black Seal Rum has been produced in Bermuda since 1860 was originally sold only by draught, with local patrons bring in their own bottles to be filled until the First World War, when the company began filling champagne bottles reclaimed from the British Officer's mess. The corks were secured in place with the use of black sealing wax, prompting people to refer to the brand as "Black Seal." (750ml 80 proof)


Originally reserved for the private consumption of the Bacardi Family, BACARDI 8 is a rare blend of highly refined, distilled rum spirits that have been aged for a minimum of eight years to develop a unique, smooth aroma and flavor. BACARDI 8 gets its flavor notes from the initial blend of a selection of BACARDI's best young rums, carefully aged to allow the flavors to deepen, becoming richer and smoother until achieving a perfect balance with a complex aroma featuring notes of prunes, apricots and vanilla over a clean, woody base. It is the ultimate tasting experience for lovers of premium aged spirits. (750ml 80 proof)

Mount Gay Eclipse is one of the smoothest golden rum. The golden color of Eclipse comes from the aging done by specially imported Oak Barrels from Kentucky which were used to age bourbon. Mount Gay Eclipse has a maturity age of up to 8 years. (750 ml 80 proof)

Mount Gay Extra Old is much darker which is produced from the Rum spending more time in the Oak Barrels. Mount Gay Extra Old has a maturity age of 12-17 years. (750 ml 80 proof)

El Dorado Rum 15 Year Old Special Reserve is the finest of the Demerara Rums and aged in oaken casks for 15 years. The unique design of this bottle was inspired by the shape of the old flasks used, over three centuries ago, to ship spirits to the sugar planters in Demerara. It has a rich copper-amber hue with an aroma of confectioner's sugar, banana, and cedar with caramel and grilled tropical fruit flavors braced by warm alcohol and firm, smooth oak spice. (750ml 80 proof)

Ron Botran Solera 18 yr. Old is a blend of selected rums aged for 18yrs it’s aromas are filled with almonds and vanilla and tastes will remind you of toasted hazelnut. (750ml 80 proof)

Ron Zacapa Centenario Rum 23 year Old. Hand wrapped in royal palm leaves and produced from a blend of vintage rums with up to 23 years of barrel age, Ron Zacapa Centenario is the pride of Guatemalan rums. Important to note that this government is one of the few that strictly mandates the aging process. (750ml 80 proof)

Prichards' Fine Rum uses only crystal clear Tennessee spring water. and only premium, "Grade A Fancy" molasses from the plantations of Louisiana. Considerably more expensive, its mild flavor and pleasant aroma are passed through the still imparting a smooth and tasteful character to the finished spirit. (750 ml 80 proof)

Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum is a blend of aged rums from Cruzan that are put into a single barrel and re-aged there for another year or more – this gives that barrel a unique taste. It’s a wonderful sipping rum. (750ml 80 proof)

Rhum Clement X.O is rare blend of very old aged rums including the highly regarded vintages of 1952, 1970 and 1976 acclaimed to be the finest ever in Martinique. A subtle flavor of spice, toffee and tobacco makes this one of the finest “cask strength” sipping rums in the world. Rhum Clément, producer of ultra-premium rhum agricole from Martinique since 1887.


Bacardi Peach Red. Named for the most succulent, flavorful part of the fruit, the essence of comes from the part of the peach closest to the core where the richest nectar is found and the color takes on a rich red hue. (750ml 70 proof)

Brinley Gold Vanilla Rum. Good intensity of vanilla, coffee bean and butterscotch aromas with a moderately sweet, light-to medium-bodied palate with vanilla cream, cocoa powder and toasty coconut flavors. Brinley’s uses a premium aged rum as its foundation. (750ml)

Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. Jerry Collins is the most famous tattoo artist of all time. He was the first to go to Japan to learn the sacred art of tattooing back in the 20's. He set up shop in the 30's tattooing sailors with his distinctive designs. And this Rum is based on Sailor Jerry's own personal recipe. It's higher in proof and spiced with a hint of cherry. ()(750ml 92 proof)

Rum Cream

Cruzan Rum Cream. An elusive blend of Cruzan light rum, pure Irish cream, caramel, and vanilla real natural flavors. (750ml 30 proof)

El Dorado Rum Cream. Limited produced from the finest stock of aged Demerara Rums and the best dairy creams is has a sweet vanilla, nougat and coconut cream aromas with a full-bodied flavor of toasted nuts and coconuts, fresh cream, and brown spice. (750ml 33 proof)

A history of rumUnlike Tequila or Champagne, rums are produced throughout the world, but most come from the Caribbean; it’s the center of world rum production and every major island produces its own distinct style and flavor.

Barbados is thought of as the birthplace of Rum and its Rum is light, sweetish Rums and the Mount Gay Distillery, started in 1663, is the oldest known operating Rum producer in the world.

Cuba produces light-bodied, crisp, clean Rums, but as of know, It is currently illegal to ship Cuban Rums into the United States.

Dominican Republic is notable for its full-bodied, aged rums.

Guyana is famous for its rich, heavy Demerara Rums, named for a local river, and is typically aged for extended periods (25-year-old varieties are common). Some brands actually blend Demerara with lighter Rums from other regions to add flavor.

Haiti follows the French tradition of heavier, smoother and full-flavored Rums which are aged in oak casks for three or more years. It’s also the brew that fuels the underground voodoo ritual trade.

Jamaica is one of the only countries with official classifications of Rum, ranging from light to very full-flavored.

Martinique has the largest number of distilleries in the Eastern Caribbean and both rhum agricole (made from sugar cane juice) and rhum industriel (made from molasses) are produced. These Rums are frequently aged in used French brandy casks for a minimum of three years. Rhum vieux (aged Rum) is frequently compared to high-quality French brandies.

Puerto Rico is known primarily for light, very dry rums and by law, be aged a minimum of one year while dark Rums must be aged three years. Puerto Rico does not allow any other Rums to be imported to the island.

Virgin Islands are divided between the United States and the British Virgin Islands, but only the US Virgin Islands still produce Rum. These rums are mostly light Rums, although one distiller, Cruzan produces fine dark and aged sipping rums.

And outside the Caribbean…

Guatemala and Nicaragua produce a variety of medium-bodied Rums that lend themselves well to aging.

Brazil produces Cachaça (ca·sha·sa) a light Rum with unaged cane spirit.

Venezuela makes a number of well-respected barrel-aged golden and dark Rums.

United States has a handful of Rum distilleries (mostly in the South) producing a range light and medium Rums often marketed with Caribbean-styled labels and brand names.

Canada, while they don’t produce the Rum itself, Canada imports golden Rums from Antigua, Barbados, and Jamaica, ages it for five years and is known as Screech.

European countries including the United Kingdom and France import Rums the Caribbean for aging and re-bottling. German rum is called Rum verschnitt and in Austria is called Inlander Rum.

Australia produces both white and golden Rums and is the second most popular alcoholic beverage in the country after beer.

And by the way, just to set the story straight – a lot of Rum’s cache and history actually comes as a result of the sugar plantation owners giving or selling rum at discount prices to the British Navy to keep them in local waters…which would actually ward off the scavenging pirates…garrrrrrrrr.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at