Unlock the secrets of Colombian & Panamanian Rum

Written by Peter Lauffer
November 11, 2021

I wrote an article about rum in general and Caribbean rum in particular because of our tour “Coffee & Rum in Colombia and Panama.” Consider putting Colombia and Panama on your bucket list for one of your next journeys. I guarantee you will have fun discovering these two fascinating countries through their culture for great rum (and coffee).

What is rum?

Rum is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation and distillation of molasses and/or juice of the sugar cane. The primary production takes place in the Americas, specifically the Caribbean, but the Philippines, Malaysia, and India also produce rum.

Bar in the old town of Panama City

History of rum

The precursors of rum date back to ancient times. The development of fermented beverages from sugar cane occurred in ancient Greece. In the fourteenth century, Marco Polo commented that a "delicious sugar wine" had been offered to him in Persia, or what is now modern Iran. Sugar cane was later introduced to southern Europe by Arab merchants. The Kingdom of Granada, a part of today's Spanish province of Andalucia, was the first place in Europe to produce liquor from fermented sugar cane juice. 

English settlers documented the earliest drink from sugar cane in Barbados in 1650. It was called the ‘kill-devil’ or ‘rumbullion’ (a word from Devonshire, England, meaning 'a great tumult'). In the French Antillean colonies, the drink was named ‘guildive’ (a modification of ‘kill-devil’) and later ‘tafia,’ probably an African or indigenous term. The first official mention of the word ‘rum’ appears in an order issued by the Governor-General of Jamaica and dated July 8, 1661. 

Cartagena de Indias, the Havana Café

Rum of Caribbean origin

The first rum distillation in the Caribbean took place on sugar cane plantations in the 17th century. Slaves found that molasses could be fermented. Molasses, or ‘black treacle’ in English, is a substance resulting from the refining of sugarcane. Slaves would ferment molasses and distill them. After eliminating the impurities of the alcohol, they produced the first modern rums. 

Beer and drinking water spoiled quickly under the climatic conditions of the Caribbean. Therefore, Spanish wines and French brandy were usually part of the onboard catering for British navy vessels in the Caribbean; however, these alcoholic beverages were hard to come by. In contrast, rum was always readily available, and it actually gained quality the longer it was stored in wooden barrels. The British navy officially received rum as part of its ration from 1655 onward, and Caribbean rum began to gain notoriety not only in Britain but throughout Europe. 

Mandinga Rum from Panama

The quality of the rum

In contrast to most other sugar cane brandies, good rum is characterized by long aging in wooden barrels, similar to whiskey or cognac. The longer the distillate matures in the wooden barrel, the more rounded its aromatic taste appears. A side effect is the yellowish, then brown color that the initially colorless distillate takes on. 

However, don’t be fooled by the color. Many manufacturers today add color to their rum with sugar couleur, supposedly to guarantee a consistent color. The intention is to give the product the appearance of more extended maturation in wooden barrels. 

There is also colorless "white" rum, often matured in stainless steel barrels for some time (typically 6–30 months). If matured in oak barrels, some manufacturers will remove the color by filtering it.

Mobile Beach bar in Cartagena de Indias

Colombian rum

During our Colombia and Panama trip, you will discover the beautiful and diverse land of rum and coffee. Not only are the Colombians and Panamanians known for their hospitality, their landscape is also one of the most exciting in the northwest of South America, ranging from dense jungle forests to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes—offering everything a traveler's heart desires.

Colombia and Panama are now home to a variety of award-winning rums. Which one will capture your fancy? During the tour, we’ll visit world-renowned distilleries and partake in rum tasting sessions in authentic rum bars. Join us on this extraordinary trip where we will travel often by train and explore Colombia and Panama in a unique but comfortable and authentic way.

Get inspired by some photos of this amazing trip:
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