Density (% solids)


Nonfermentable solids




Reducing sugars


Total sugars


Rums are characterized as light bodied, of which the Puerto Ricans are the best known, and full bodied, which come from Jamaica and certain other islands of the West Indies. Light rums are distilled on multicolumn continuous distillation systems over a proof range of 160-180° (80-90%). They are matured in oak casks that are reused for rum storage. Age may, but need not, be stated on the labels.

Rum has been produced in Jamaica for more than 200 yr as some plantation crop records indicate. Atypical small plantation would produce a ton of sugar and 41,000 L (9,000 imperial gal) of rum. Today, only a few large facilities exist and the law requires that a distillery may only be operated in conjunction with a sugar refinery. As in every area where distilled spirits are produced, terminology and local practice play a major role in determining the identity and the flavor characteristics of the product; eg, molasses acid results from a natural fermentation that produces alcohol and subsequently an organic acid mixture. Some of this is used in the wash (fermenting mash) for the production of certain flavorful rums. Dunder is the term used for stillage, the material left after the beverage spirits are removed by distillation. Dunder is also used as an ingredient in the fermenting mash, as much as 40 vol %, to provide buffering action, and flavor development.

Jamaican and other full-bodied rums are distilled between 140 and 160° proof (70 and 80%) in pot stills. They are matured in large casks of 422.4 L (111.6 gal) called puncheons. Unlike the light-bodied rums, which use cultured yeast for inoculation, the Jamaican rums rely on natural fermentation, sometimes referred to as wild fermentation. In this method the mash is inoculated by the yeast that is present in the air and in the raw material. Time of fermentation may vary from 2 to as much as 11 days, depending on the desired flavor characteristics.

Puerto Rican rums are generally labeled as white or gold label. The latter is a little more amber in color and has a more pronounced flavor. Although the rums produced in various areas are not considered distinctive types, they do retain their local characteristics and their names may not be applied to rum produced in any other place than the particular region indicated in the name.

Venezuela and to some extent Mexico are major producers of rum. The former requires a minimum two-year aging period and in the latter the amount of production is closely regulated by the government and keyed to the availability of cane and the need for industrial alcohol. In all other respects, the light-bodied rums are similar to those produced in Puerto Rico. A limited amount of more flavorful rums for use in blending is produced in both countries. Continuous and batch distillation systems are used and thus offer a capability of producing rums with varying degrees of flavor intensities and individual characteristics.


Tequila, a distinctive product of Mexico, is an alcoholic distillate produced in Mexico from the fermented juice of the heads of Agave Tequilana Weber (blue variety), with or without additional fermentable substances, distilled in such a manner that it possess the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to tequila. This is Mexico's most popular distilled spirits drink.

The mezcal azul (blue mezcal), the primary source for tequila, is cultivated and usually propagated from 2-yr-old sprouts obtained from 7-yr-old mezcal plants. After 8-12 yr the plants are matured; the trimmed heads, referred to as pine apples because of their appearance and weighing 36-59 kg (80-130 lb) each, are transported to the distillery. In the State of Jalisco, up to 20,000 t of mezcal heads are harvested annually. The heads contain (unsteamed): moisture, 62%; total solids, 38%; fiber, 11%; inulin, 20%; and ash, 2.5%, and they have a pH of 5.5.

The juice from the mezcal heads is first extracted in masonry ovens with a capacity of approximately 40 t for 9-24 h at approximately 93°C. The length of the steaming period is critical for the acid hydrolysis of the inulin to monosaccharides. During a 12-h cooling period, some additional juice (mieles de escurrido, drained molasses) is recovered. The mezcal heads are now dark brown, soft in texture, with a taste similar to maple syrup. Residual juice is removed by shredding the steamed heads, compressing the strips between roller mills, and finally washing the strips (bagasse) to recover all of the sugary syrup.

The mezcal juice from the steaming ovens, the roller mills, and the bagasse washes is pumped into fermenters of 3,800-7,500 L (1,000-2,000 gal) capacity made of masonry or of local pine wood. Nitrogen nutrients are added to facilitate fermentation. The Mexican government also permits the addition of piloncillo, a brown sugar, up to 30 wt % of the fermentable sugar in the mezcal heads after steaming. After a fermentation period of about 42 h, the alcoholic concentration is 4.5 vol% of the fermenter mash. When piloncillo is not used, the alcoholic yield is lower and the fermentation takes longer.

The fermented mash is pumped to a copper pot still of about 1,100 L (300 gal) capacity provided with a steam coil within the kettle for heating and a condenser for cooling the vapors. The intermediate of the first distillation called ordinario is collected at 28° proof (14%) and redistilled in a slightly larger pot still. This distillation cycle can be controlled to yield a product of approximately 106° proof (53%). The residual distillate from this process is combined with the fermented mash, starting a new cycle in the primary distillation system.

Tequila, as consumed in Mexico, is unaged and usually bottled at 80-86° proof (40-43%). However, some producers do age tequila in seasoned 190-L (50-gal) white oak casks imported from the United States. In aging, tequila becomes golden in color and acquires a pleasant mellowness without altering its inherent taste. Tequila aged one year is identified as Anejo; aged as much as two to four years, it is identified as Muy Anejo. The annual production of tequila in Mexico is around 20 million L (5.2 million U.S. gal), the major portion of which is produced by 28 plants located in the county of Tequila.

Cordials and Liqueurs

Cordials and liqueurs are the same, with the former term being American and the latter European. They are obtained by mixing or redistilling neutral spirits, brandy, gin, or other distilled spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants, or pure juices therefrom, or other natural flavoring materials, or with extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials. Cordials must contain a minimum of 2.5 wt% of sugar or dextrose, or a combination of both. If the added sugar and dextrose are less than 10 wt% then it may be designated as dry. Synthetic or imitation flavoring materials cannot be included in United States cordials, nor can they be designated as distilled or compound.

Cordials were known in ancient Egypt and Athens, but commercial production was started in the Middle Ages when alchemists, physicians, and monks, among others, were searching for an elixir of life. From this activity many well-known cordials were developed, such as Benedictine and Chartreuse, both derived from aromatic plant flavors and bearing the names of the monasteries where they were first prepared.

A great variety of cordials are available encompassing a wide spectrum of flavors from fruits, peels, leaves, roots, herbs, and seeds. Organoleptic attainment, however, be comes a matter of experience and skill in the selection of botanicals and in the extraction and formulation of flavors. Although these elements are carefully guarded secrets, the producer must rely on three basic processes, namely maceration, percolation, and distillation, or any combination thereof. Maceration involves the steeping of the raw materials in the spirits, usually in a vat, to impart the desired aroma, flavor, and color. The liquid is then drawn off and provides the base for further processing. Percolation is accomplished by recirculating the spirits through a percolator containing the raw materials. As the spirits seep down through the raw material, the desired constituents are extracted, which will give the proper aroma, flavor intensity, and color. The distillation method is similar to that used in gin production. The ingredients are either immersed in the beverage spirits or placed in trays or pans in the head of the still. The rising vapors extract the essential flavors, which are then condensed and discharged as a colorless liquid. This distillate contains the basic flavor that is used for further processing.

Cordials are characterized and marketed according to their generic names; eg, anisette (aniseed), crème de menthe (peppermint), triple sec (citrus fruit peel), slow gin (sloe berries), and by their trade names (proprietary brands) of which Benedictine and Chartreuse are well-known examples.

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