How Much Sugar is Added to your Rum?
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Why Add Sugar to Rum When it's Made from Sugar in the First Place?

As mentioned in yesterday's post, rum is distilled from any sugar cane derivative like fermented fresh cane juice or molasses. But some producers add sugar to their finished rum after distillation.


Adding sugar to any spirit can soften it and hide some flaws, but if you look at the (allegedly) sweetened rums in this post on, you'll notice two general patterns among the rum bottlings that allegedly have sugar added:

  1. They come from big companies that shouldn't need to add sugar to cover a bad distillate. They know how to distill.
  2. They're aged rums, rather than white rums. 

 Well it turns out that adding sugar to spirits also gives them the guise of age.

Ian Burrell, global rum expert and founder of Rum Experience, commented on the original Facebook post of the sugar values with some really interesting information. He wrote: 

I recently did a private tasting for 50 consumers with two rums both finished in sherry casks. One was notably sweeter than the other. When I asked the guests to let me know which they felt was the oldest, 80% said the sweeter one. When I asked which they prefer 60% said the sweeter one.

I then gave them a 3rd rum, which they were unaware was actually Rum no.1 (the dryer rum) with a touch of sugar added to it. All agreed that this was the best rum of the three.

I then pointed out that Rum number 3 (which was in fact the OLDEST RUM) was the Rum no 1 with sugar added, and that they had perceived the added sweetness as extra aging and smoothness.

These rums with high levels of sugar added to them are what I call "Dessert Rums" but they still and will always have a place on our bars, restaurant and spirit cabinet because consumers will buy rums (& other spirits) according to how they taste and not how they are made. But WE must educate them, when feasible, that part of the taste that they are appreciating is the added sugar, wine, vermouth, spice, etc.

What was really interesting about my exercise with the 50 tasters was the ones that preferred the dryer rum also liked whisky. While the “sweeter loving” rum drinkers like cognac.

That last dig on cognac drinkers? It's because cognac also has a dirty secret: much cognac has sugar added to it too. 



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from Hannum and Blumberg's Brandies and liqueurs of the world (1976) Cognac can have 2% sugar by volume. 2% of a liter is 20 mL * 1.587 (the density) gives us a whopping 31.74 grams! and they did suspect the max was used in some 3 star Cognacs.

another major permitted additive to Cognac is Le Boise which is the addition of oak via shavings and powder above and beyond what is naturally extracted from the barrel. the authors reference a 1974 article in "Que Choisir?" magazine that accuses every major producer of using too much Le Boise.

they also reference a 1921 decree that forbids all "manipulations and practices designed to improve and increase the aroma of natural eaux-de-vie, in order to deceive the purchaser regarding their substantial qualities, origin, and type."


Plus caramel color, which some people apparently think is bad somehow. Rum is usually aged in used cooperage, and even old rums come out of the barrel a frankly unappetizing pale urine yellow color. That dark molasses brown we associate with aged rums comes from the added burnt sugar (caramel). I'd guess you could do a test like Ian's with color and people would associate the darker ones with being older.

Camper English

Thanks - Just bought a copy of that book to add to my 40+ book backlog of things to read. After I get through the Andre Dominee book I bought like 2 years ago thanks to you...

Camper English

For sure. On Facebook yesterday a producer was complaining about sugar being added to rums but was okay with coloring being added. I say they should be treated equally (required to be labeled or not required) because one is a visual trick to make people think spirits are older/better, and the other is a palate trick. But they are both tricks despite the "to ensure consistency of color between batches" line we always hear.

Ian Burrell

Only some rums come out of their barrel an "unappertizing pale urine yellow colour". Some will have that Golden warm hue that is associated with many spirits that have had contact with various different oaks. In regards to NATURAL colour, you also have to factor in the size of the barrel; the age of the barrel; charred or uncharred; was it kept in a humid climate or dry climate; altitude of the aging warehouse, strength of the rum in the cask and many other factors. You right about the association of dark and being older.The colour test is common with all spirits. Most consumers perceive that the darker the spirit, the older the spirits. They also confuse maturity with age, but that is another blog topic.


keep in mind a spirit being "older" is only a symbolic thing, it eludes to corresponding sensory values but does not necessitate them. most consumers don't even know what to expect when a spirit is older.

color has an influence on aromas perception and it was famously investigated in wine by a team of Bordeaux researchers in 2001. the original paper which is well worth reading is here: "The Color of Odors"

the paper is even mentioned in Gordon M. Shepherd's primer on sensory science "Neurogastronomy" (page 139).

to sum it up in one line: white wines were carefully colored red and a panel including experts used red wine descriptors to describe the wine. the term "perceptual illusion" is even used in the abstract.

what isn't studied to my knowledge is why we need to latch on to either sweetness or acidity where a beverage has a distinct "direction". bourbons have significant acidity because of their new oak. cognac have a sort of sweetness and even add sugar. rum is funny because it has the option to choose either direction and this is why it is typically recognized as the broadest spirits category.

like color, these gustatory directions we often reinforce with permitted additives refine and augment aroma perception. they are a very significant part of the art.

cheers! -Stephen


I was surprised to see such a difference between the El Dorado 12 and the Zacapa and Plantation. Both the ED and Plantation lines are some of my favorites and to me they taste are similarly sweet, while I perceive the Zacapa as much sweeter.

Along those same lines I also perceive most Bourbons to be significantly sweeter than either ED or Plantation. It seems to be the level of corn because I do like Rye. I wonder what other factors affect our perception of sweetness. With respect to Bourbon is it the mouthfeel that the corn fresh out of the still brings to the party that makes it taste sweeter. Or is it the barrel aging of the corn distillate

Tom Egerton

So if cognac is allowed up to 8% sugar additive (and no control on what is officially determined as sugar, allowing for any amount of caramel) and corrugation of barrel staves to increase a 'perceived' age of the spirit, what control is there realistically on the cognac industry? Despite the hallowed 'control' over cognac, what guarantee is there on a bottle of louis IX and its content of 100 year old eau-de-vie? With close enough climate control you could add only one ounce to the mix and make up the rest of the blend with artificially aged spirit (however age=better is a base misnomer, aging really is a minefield of proof vs concept against actual final quality. 'Age' is going to become a major point of contestation in the next few years if we continue along our current trajectory)

Camper English

Well aging in barrels actually makes spirits slightly more acidic from a pH perspective, but components in the charred wood can make it taste/seem sweeter - those vanilla/caramel notes I believe mostly come from the wood.

Camper English

Wow is it really 8 percent sugar allowed?

From one conversation I had recently about coloring caramel (from someone producing a very dark colored rum), after a certain point the coloring comes off and can turn your teeth colors, so they wouldn't want to overdo it.

In the labeling of old cognac they usually specify made from cognacs "up to XX years old" so certainly there is very little 100 year old (or whatever) cognac in the bottle, but I don't think they over-promise that it's a whole bottle full of that. Many of them say made from a blend of cognacs "between 20 and 50 years old" or whatever so you have a promised lower limit as well.

Anonymous distiller

Cognac is allowed to use 2% of sugar, Caramel and "petit eaux". Ever wondered why Plantation rum taste a bit like cognac? They probably use the same trick to flavour the rum.

Also, other flavourings are added like glycerine and other components to add the flavour of wood, plum, vanilla, etc etc.

Warren Bobrow

no wonder there are so many diabetics in the caribbean..

John Eason

Great article. Most American consumers talk dry but drink sweet. To me a recipe is a recipe but just be honest about what is in that recipe! Don't hide behind false age statements and if you put sugar in let consumers know! Great rums need to take their rightful place amongst the other great spirits in the industry. Hard to be taken seriously when there are so many distillers not being truthful in regards to how their products are made. This hurts the entire rum industry.

Warren Bobrow

glycerine.. I've been saying that for years.. mostly to deaf ears. and caramel.. of course that fools the eye and the brain.. and the sugar? ah.. more alcohol..fermentation needs sugar, right?


What is the result of adding jaggary (brown cane sugar) to rum? It will sweeten the rum for sure. But will it start another fermentation?

Camper English

Hi - No, the ABV would be too high on rum to restart fermentation.


This is fascinating to read.

I am a very new amateur rum "have-a-goer" having quickly learned that rubo yeats and so on really don't produce much of use unless you re-distill to the nth degree.

By and large I am finding my attempts at a Rum are "ok" but I have arrived here to try to find out where I am going wrong. the flavour is "ok" - certainly not harsh - just a bit "lacking" in rumness.

I am using around 2Kg of 44% sugar molasses and 5Kg of sucrose (tried dextrose but no obvious flavour change) made up to around 22 litres with a "Rum Yeast".

Once all fermentation has stopped, I do a stripping run and end up with around 7.5 litres at around 40% once the foreshots have been added to the cleaning solvent jug.

I then do the spirit run - oddly I find there is virtually no "heads" at all, right from the get go, the alcohol is VERY "rummy" in flavour and no "hot / peppery" heads I was used to with the plain sugar mashes and turbo yeast.

Indeed, although my sense of smell might not be great, it seems that the first 40% or so out of the still is the best - and what should be the hearts is starting to taste a bit bland. Not nasty - like end tails - just much more neutral in flavour that I want from a pot still.

I have tried to make the spirit flavours more concentrated by re-distilling the best of the run and although it makes it incredibly smooth, it (I guess obviously) strips out more of the flavour.

The aging / maturing / smoothing process (glass container with cacao nibs, roasted oak shavings (not dust) and the odd vanilla bean works ok - and imparts a natural colour. Just the falvour is a little on the bland side.

I have seen some people add in "spent mash" from the still, and others fresh mash (not been through still) to add flavour and colour but I would like to be as authentic as possible. IS this something the original rum producers would have done to get flavour and colour right?

If I am making any obvious mistakes, PLEASE point them out, always keen to learn from those who know more than me (and there's quite a lot of them!).

Interesting thread, will see if I can find out how to join now.


Camper English

@Mark - Hi - I'm not a distiller so unfortunately I don't have any answers for you. I am very surprised that you're not getting much flavor from molasses! It seems that most rum producers distill to a high degree and then have to make an effort to get flavor out via filtration... but I could be wrong.


Hi Camper.

Thank you for your thoughts.

I admit Rum has been full of surprises for me. The mash itself is ultra dark brown (almost black) both before and after fermentation - and tastes VERY strongly indeed. It is just after distillation (a very simple little pot still), the flavour could be described as "subtle" if you were being kind - or "almost flavourless" if being blunt :)

I can "fake it" by adding burned sugar and "essences" but I was hoping to keep things natural.

I will check back from time to time to see if others have thoughts too about what I might be doing wrong. In the meantime, thank you for your reply, I appreciate your thoughts.

Have fun,


Mark: Ideas - Easy to hard
1) White star has a nice Agricole yeast that produce some pretty great esters. When stressed (warm, too high OG) US-05 produces some nice tropical fruit flavors
2) Try Sour Mashing I.e. use some warm Stillage (what's left in the pot after distillation, don't use hot or use some proportion cold water so as not to kill the yeast) to dilute your molasses prior to pitching yeast.
3) Also try using panela as part of the ferment for more cane flavor.
4) Finally, you can always start a dunder pit - take some warm stillage and feed it some molasses and follow a sourdough starter type process (aerate and allow natural ferment) After about 6 months of rest stir and use 1/2 as your yeast for rum fermentation, and then add more (cooled) stillage and molasses after the strip...

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