Explained: What Is The Fuss Around Blackstrap Rum?
‘Yo, ho, ho… and a bottle of rum,’ so the song goes in the Caribbean among pirates, rum runners and distillers who gaily extol the virtues of the bitter and tropical spirit. The darkest rums produced on these shores have a deep brownish hue and an equally bitter and earthy consistency. They glint brilliantly in cocktails, imbuing the drinks with an undercurrent of a syrupy and tart but distinguished flavour. And while the formula for making rum might vary across the French, Spanish and English influences permeating across the Caribbean islands, there is a singular category of rum which has become infamously famous as the base for making this spirit across different distilleries.
This category is the blackstrap rum or a rather dark, inky rum with a very robust and rich flavour. Blackstrap is essentially a degree of molasses where there is all but no amount of sugar left in the syrupy liquid. A premium Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum is a splendid concoction which uses blackstrap rum as its base to craft a dark and spicy liquor with a smooth mouthfeel and a luxurious finish.
How Is Blackstrap Rum Used?
If you are fond of digging deep into how a spirit is made, you would know that rum comes from sugarcane. Rum makers either use freshly squeezed cane juice or prefer molasses, the dark and sticky syrupy residue left behind when the juice evaporates to form sugar crystals.
Now, blackstrap molasses is produced when the cane juice is boiled three times over. At the last stage, it reaches a point where nearly all of the sugar is done away with. The blackstrap molasses derived at this stage is darker and definitely more bitter than the molasses you would use while cooking or as a spread for breads and pancakes.
In the process of making rum, this molasses is generally taken as a base spirit which is then infused with a bit of caramel colouring to give it the appearance of being aged in barrels for a long duration. According to a VinePair explainer, a good blackstrap rum is actually a very effective additive to sweet or sour leaning cocktails for achieving a nice flavour balance.
Not An Official Category!
For all the flavour, nuance and depth that a blackstrap rum might offer, it is hardly considered to be an official category of rum, according to several distillers. Bartenders and experts would dole out different definitions of what constitutes as blackstrap rum, some saying it comes from blackstrap or the final stage of molasses. Others just add the apropos colours and a bit of molasses to rum to label it as a blackstrap variant.
Either way, blackstrap is a term engulfed in lots of different meaning-making, but one way to underscore its presence in rum is through its distinctly bitter and almost vegetal taste. In an article elucidating the meaning of blackstrap rum, Punch magazine calls to mind the taste difference between molasses and blackstrap to explain that some dark coloured rums are not necessarily blackstrap, they are simply black rum.
A black rum is dramatically dark and difficult to consume and is often a very young spirit simply infused with the right colouring. But for a dark rum to be blackstrap, it must be distilled using the final stage molasses for infusing the spirit with complex and dark notes.
Now that you know what blackstrap stands for, you would be amazed to find out that sometimes when blackstrap is used in the distilling process, the spirit actually acquires a rather transparent colouring, turning cane juice into a delicious white rum. Many distilleries have over time embraced blackstrap molasses as a key ingredient in the production of a clear, white liquor for its spectacular flavour component.
Ultimately, when it comes to blackstrap, relishing the spirit is more about revelling in the sugarless, bitter notes of the molasses, rather than the dark appearance of a caramelised rum! So next time you make a run to the liquor store for blackstrap, check if it just has a darker hue or is indeed made from the molasses after all.