What You Should Know About Black Rum

Rum can be tricky. Only a few nations impose regulations on what can be called “rum,” including French Martinique, Barbados, Jamaica, and Cuba. White rum might be aged with the color filtered out, and the amber color of some rums come from additives rather than barrels. Here’s what you should know about black rum, to help you distinguish it from other types.

It’s Not Necessarily Older

Conventional wisdom would state that black rum gets its color and richness of flavor from longer aging in barrels. Those inexperienced in fine liquor often assume that a darker color equates to greater age. Generally, that’s untrue—what you should know about black rum is that most get their color from added molasses or caramel coloring. Some fine rums aged for 7 to 24 years do take on an amber hue, but even decades of aging doesn’t turn these rums black.

The Label Tells the Story

Some rum makers are known for producing dark rum that gets its color and flavor from aging, not additives. Appleton Estate, Foursquare, and Plantation all produce bottles that declare how long the spirit within was aged. Check labels for statements like “aged 12 years” or the insignia “XO,” meaning “Extra Old.”

You may see other indicators on bottles of rum. “VS” (“Very Special”) means the rum has aged a minimum of two years, or that the youngest rum in the blend is at least two years old. “VS” rum may also be marked as “Trois Étoile” (“Three Stars”) or “Very Superior.”

Rum made in Martinique, subject to Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) rules, uses “VO” (“Very Old”) to refer to rum aged a minimum of three years.

“VSOP” means “Very Special Old Pale” rum, aged four years. This class may also be labeled as reserve, “Very Superior Old Pale,” or under AOC Martinique, “Très Vieux,” “Réserve Spéciale,” or “Cuvée Spéciale.”

“XO” rums have spent at least 6 years in barrels. They may be labeled as “Out of Age” or “Napoleon.” Those from Martinique may be designated as “Extra Old” or “Grande Réserve.”

You’ll find an excellent selection of high-end rum at VS Liquor, including the Real McCoy 12-Year from Foursquare in Barbados.