A Phoenix from the Ashes – The Rise of Mexican Rum
Mexican rum has recently become popular and is starting to show up at more bars and stores. Although, this spirit actually has a long and storied history in the country. Mexico may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of rum. Yet, it is among the earliest countries to produce this liquor. Now, this rum is beginning to be recognized for its history, protected status and uniqueness.
History Of Mexican Rum
Sugarcane is not native to Mexico, but like many other colonized countries its temperate climate was taken advantage of to grow profitable crops. When colonization of Mexico began in the 1500’s the Spanish brought over sugar and coffee to grow as cash crops. With the sugar also came distillation which was used to make a variety of spirits, but this came with its own problems.
Cane grew abundantly across Mexico and was cheap and easy to make into a distilled spirit. Aguadiente de Caña, literally translated into“fire water of cane”, was made by the native people using distillation. Locally distilled spirits became hugely popular, so much so, that they threatened the supply of Spanish wine and brandy. The Spanish prohibited the production and sale of homemade spirits up until the late 18th century to protect the profitability of Spanish alcohol. Rum from Mexico rose to popularity only to fall into the depths of history after being banned during colonization.
Thankfully, the story of Mexican rum doesn’t end there. Like with many alcohol prohibitions around the world, people find a way to make their own spirits and keep recipes and traditions alive, albeit underground. The Mexican people made “fire water” in secret in their own homes in small stills and pot setups. This illegal activity kept the legacy of rum in Mexico alive even today.
After the ban was lifted, production of rum began again and many rum producers looked to Mexico as a place to make large quantities of rum. Bacardí chose Mexico for the site of its first distillery outside of Cuba in the 1930s because of its abundance of sugarcane.
Now, Mexico produces a variety of rums, artisanally crafted and some even hold a protected status like Charanda. More and more Mexican rums are appearing on the market showcasing the wide variety of terroirs across the country.
Rum is produced in many parts of Mexico from Oaxaca to Michoacán all the way to the Yucatán Peninsula. The different areas produce rum in different styles with many variations. Most rum from Mexico is usually put into two categories, Aguadiente de Caña and Charanda.
The Aguadiente style of rum can be made from a variety of sources, from fresh sugarcane juice, molasses, panela or piloncillo. Aguadiente can be compared to many different rums from around the world but maintains the unique flavors and traditional base of the region it is produced in.
Charanda is another style of rum produced in Mexico. This type of rum comes out of Michoacán and is named after a hill range in the area called “Cerro de la Charanda.” The word Charanda comes from the Purépecha word for red soil, which covers the hills in which the sugarcane is grown. The sugarcane is grown at higher altitudes from 5.200 to 12,500 feet. This altitude at which the sugarcane grows gives the rum a particular aroma and flavor profile.
Charanda along with tequila, mezcal and a few others has protected status as a Mexican spirit. In 2003 Charanda received legal designation as a denominaciones de origen. Now, by law, only 16 municipalities in Michoacán are allowed to produce this version of the spirit. Charanda is solely made from sugarcane juice and double distilled. The rum is usually a crystalline spirit but may be aged in oak or encino barrels to produce new flavors and colors.
Mexican rum has a long history that is worth celebrating. Although it currently is not as popular as its Caribbean counterparts it should be explored and sought out for its unique flavor profiles. The availability of Mexican rum is expanding as consumers seek out artisanal, quality and local products that showcase regionality.
Keep a look out for Rum Raider’s list of Mexican rum to seek out.
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