Most people know what rum is, or at least have tried something like a rum coke.
If you hadn’t known, rum is made from fermenting sugarcane juice or molasses and then distilling them to get that fantastic alcohol for cocktails or just over ice.
This handy little guide will give you a peek into the basic production methods of rum as well as the different equipment you’ll need to start fermenting and distilling.
Be reminded though that the home production of rum is illegal in most states, so view this as a hypothetical “how to make rum” guide for some nice hypothetical homemade rum.
What Do You Need to Start Making Rum
Rum is aged in oak barrels or combined with oak chips to give it its distinct smokey flavor, often for more than one year.
But since this is a (hypothetical) homemade rum, we have no time to mess around with oak chips and other recipes that use that.
Instead, let’s focus on the essentials. Sugar and molasses make up the wash that you will be using as the foundation for your rum.
Luckily, regular places have these readily in-stock compared to oak barrels.
Rum production is also, surprisingly, a fairly simple process, so we will walk you down through what you’ll need and the step-by-step (hypothetical) recipe.
Main Rum Ingredients
Despite having many different variants, rum really only comes from sugarcane, commonly harvested from vast sugarcane plantations.
The rum you drink is probably distilled from a combination of sugar and blackstrap molasses, which has been collected from all over places like New England and the Caribbean.
The kind of molasses used here are by-products of cane sugar refining and are readily available in groceries and online here.
Let’s say though that your home kitchen is not a Trader Joe’s and probably doesn’t have blackstrap molasses just lying around.
You can easily use raw cane sugar or cane sugar juice to make rum. If you want you can even use both. Go wild, it’s your rum recipe after all.
For preparing the wash, you’ll need the following:
- 6.5 Gallons of Water
- 1 Gallon Blackstrap Molasses
- 8 Pounds of Raw Cane Sugar
- A good, sturdy Brew Pot
- Heat Source
- Long Mixing Spoon
It seems like a lot, but you’ll need these for a minimum brew. All these should have you ready to prepare your sugar wash for eventual fermentation.
Rum is known for its different variants. From spiced rum, dark rum, and white rum, this fermented sugar-molasses spirit can be as malleable to whatever people might be feeling for at any specific moment.
A strong factor in this production is a stable fermentation process. It’s in this fermentation that the alcohol content (which typically comes in at 80 proof) is generated.
You’ll want to make sure all the tools you’re using are clean as any bacterial contamination can affect the ferment.
To properly ferment, you’ll need the following:
These tools do stray into the territory of professional tools but don’t worry they’re easy to learn and understand with a bit of research.
Distillation is key to getting a clean spirit out of your fermented wash. This part requires a sturdy pot still, so don’t try going cheap unless you really know what you’re doing.
For a (hypothetical) way to make homemade rum, you’ll need the following:
- Stainless Steel Pot Still
- Cheesecloth (for straining)
- Easy Siphon
- Still Burner
- Several Mason Jars
The several mason jars (preferably in 100 ml measurements) can help you separate the distillate and identify the safe parts to drink from the toxic parts.
How to Make Rum: A Step-by-Step Guide
Process of Wash Production
- You start by prepping 5.5 gallons of water in your brew pot. Bring it up to 125 degrees F, essentially maintaining boiling water.
- Now slowly stir in the raw cane sugar and blackstrap molasses until you get a nice homogenous product. This may take a while so get some music going so you don’t get bored doing this.
- Once you have your dissolved sugar and molasses mixture, add the remaining gallon of water to bring down the temperate of the hot water-sugar mix. You can even opt to chill the remaining gallon to get some cold water so the wash temperature goes down faster.
- Use that thermometer you have to check the temp of the mixture as it slowly cools. Keep stirring the mix, around 30 seconds every 5 minutes if you can manage, until you get to a temperature of about 80 degrees F.
- (Optional) If you have an immersion cooler you can speed things up as the water mixture cool time can take people several hours to complete.
Compared to other alcohol brewing methods that have whole solids in their wash, you won’t need to be straining this molasses and sugar water combination.
Simply cool down the rum wash to begin the next step of fermentation.
Fermenting the Sugar Cane or Molasses Wash
Now that you have your wash, you’ll need to start producing some alcohol. That’s where fermentation comes in, where the addition of yeast can start converting the sugars in your wash to alcohol.
It may not be the most fun part of the brewing process, but it’s definitely the key part in getting that iconic taste from the rums you’re used to.
- Once you have your rum wash to the appropriate 80 degrees F, you can add your Rum Turbo Yeast. This is a specialized yeast that differs from your usual bread yeast and can produce around 12% ABV in your spirit if fermented properly. You can opt for standard Distillers Yeast if you don’t have this variant available.
- Keep your drink light by aerating the mixture. You can do this by sloshing your wash between two containers for 5 minutes. Alternatively, if you have an immersion blender this can also help generate air within your wash.
- Now you can pour your wash into your fermentation bucket. Most commercial fermentation set-ups have a cap and air-lock, as well as additional spigots for easier pouring.
- Seal your fermentation bucker well and store it in a well-ventilated and dark place for about 2 weeks.
In-between these two weeks you’ll want to be checking the air-lock on your set-up. It should be slowly releasing the carbon dioxide from the yeast’s alcohol production.
Since our hypothetical homemade rum contains some molasses, you can expect the flavor to remain sweet despite the length of fermentation.
Usually, wash flavor loses its sweetness due to the yeast converting all the sugars to alcohol, but since molasses is a different by-product altogether, some of its sugar starches remain still.
This can mean that while you can use taste to measure if your rum is just right based on the flavor. For more accurate results though, you’ll want to go beyond taste and use a hydrometer.
At the two week mark, you’ll want to check if your rum has generated the right amount of alcohol by volume, or ABV.
This is where our hydrometer comes in, as using a hydrometer can give you a good gauge to see if it has your desired ABV (usually 12%).
If you find that your rum still hasn’t produced the ABV level you want, simply store it back for 2 to 3 more days for one more fermentation run.
Check back again with your hydrometer to see if it reached the right amount of alcohol, then proceed to distillation.
Congrats, you have made the foundation of your hypothetical rum. What comes next is to distill the wort.
Distilling the Fermented Rum Solution
Distillation will separate all the different volatile alcohols found within the rum you’re developing, which is incredibly important as you don’t want to go blind from the intake of methanol or acetone.
- Before starting anything, make sure your still is clean. The number of times a good batch of alcohol is ruined because of a dirty still is sad.
- Once you’ve cleaned your pot still, you’ll then need to have all the different parts connected properly. That goes for the condenser, reflux still, siphon, etc, etc.
- You’ll need to strain your wort (another term for our rum wash) as well. The last thing you want is solid yeast particles messing up your distillation and giving you one of the worst headaches possible.
- Fire up your still burner once you have everything set-up properly. Your target temperature here is 168 degrees F. If you have a condenser attached (which we recommend), you’ll need to turn on the water once the temperature reaches 130 degrees F.
Once you reach the target temperature, your still will start producing that sweet rum. Get out your mason jars and prepare to start collecting the different rum runs.
Collecting the Distillate
As we keep mentioning, you need to properly separate the different alcohols found within your rum. Some of the distilled rum will have much higher alcohol content versus what’s safe to drink.
The following 30% of your alcohol is known as the heads. These have volatile alcohol levels and contain chemical compounds such as acetone.
You can identify this through a distinct smell, almost like a solvent, especially if you’re familiar with alcohol smells.
These aren’t as dangerous as the foreshots but will definitely give one a pretty bad experience when drunk.
Best not to drink these. Isolate the heads and foreshots and throw them out.
This is the rum you want.
Strong and flavorful – the hearts represent the alcohol you’re looking for.
The solvent acetone smell has pretty much run-off to be replaced by better-smelling ethanol. This will be around the next 30% of your distilled batch.
Experience will tell you when the heads end and the hearts begin, so take care when smelling and identifying parts of your distilled rum.
The last portion, around 35%, of your distillate, will be known as tails.
These contain protein and carbohydrates from the distillate that you don’t want to drink.
You can identify these from an oily film that occurs on top of the product. You can, however, put these through a separate distillation run to get more rum out of it.
We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to make your own very hypothetical DIY rum.
We can’t tell you to try this at home as this entire process (and other spirit recipes on many more articles) is illegal and dangerous to do without proper permits and training.
But the process itself is fun to learn about and maybe with advances in home rum distillery set-ups, you might find yourself brewing a batch for yourself in the future. Until then, best to keep rum production to the pros 😉
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.