How the Bourbon Industry Is Contributing to Rum
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How the Bourbon Industry Is Contributing to Rum

Bourbon barrels

(Photo: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

Whiskey, specifically bourbon, might not be the first thing that comes to mind when sipping on a glass of rum, however, it is actually an important part of the rum industry. Rum and bourbon are definitely not synonymous, but they do share some commonalities when it comes to the use of barrels to age these fine spirits.

The Bourbon Barrel Industry

The bourbon industry has many regulations to abide by in order to be legally classified as bourbon. Bourbon whiskey must be made in the U.S. and aged in charred new oak barrels to gain the designation of bourbon. This means that bourbon makers can only use their barrels once. This requirement results in the bourbon industry selling off most of their used barrels after production. In 2020, Kentucky distillers alone produced 2.4 million barrels of bourbon and reported 10.3 million barrels in warehouses, which is a record-breaking total. So where do all these used barrels end up? Often, they are purchased by other distillers, brewers and winemakers for the purpose of aging alcohol.  

The pure abundance of ex-bourbon barrels on the market makes it the cheapest and therefore one the most popular options when choosing to age rum.

What Does This Mean for Rum?

In contrast to bourbon, rum is produced in many different countries from every corner of the world. While each country has its own regulations, when it comes to the production of rum, many offer the distillers substantial freedoms with only one shared rule between them. The predominant limitation are that must be distilled from sugarcane or its derivatives. This means in most cases, the barrel used for aging rum is up to the creative discretion of the distiller.  

The ex-bourbon barrels impart new and interesting flavor notes, such as caramel, maple, smoke and oak. The barrels also enhance many of the flavors that are already present in the rum like vanilla, brown sugar and toffee. Aging rum also darkens its color and the char on the oak ex-bourbon barrels intensifies this effect. The result is a distinct flavor profile unique to these types of aged rums. 

Best Ex-Bourbon Barrel Aged Rums 


Flor de Caña 18

This Nicaragua rum distillery is both Carbon Neutral and Fair Trade, which is great for your conscience. The 18-year version spends a lot of time in ex-bourbon barrels, which really brings tannins to the forefront. A great marriage of the tropical flavors of rum and the distinctive light bitterness of the bourbon barrel is present. 

Real McCoy 12 Year 

The distillery is located on the Caribbean Island of Barbados and is named after Bill McCoy, who was a famous rum-runner. The bourbon barrels for the Real McCoy 12 year hit you with complex wood, spice notes and char from the barrel summons forth the flavors of tobacco.  

Mount Gay Black Barrel Double Cask Blend 

Mount Gay is one of the oldest names in rum, being established in 1703. The distillery resides on the island of Barbados, which is known for its water quality. This rum is finished in heavily charred bourbon casks, and you will definitely get the sensation of this on the palate.


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Jessica Gleman is the managing editor of Rum Raiders. She received her Ph.D. at the University College of Dublin in Ireland, where she studied the archaeology of ancient alcohol. Jessica has a passion for the alcohol industry, including agriculture, distillation and mixology. When Jessica is not writing about rum, she is also a travel and food enthusiast who loves going around the world and experiencing various cuisines and cultures. She is enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge and expertise and learning even more about this amazing spirit.