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Can rum be made from brown sugar?

Rum is a popular distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses or sugarcane juice. The use of brown sugar, which is simply white sugar with some retained molasses, in rum production is an intriguing idea. In this article, we’ll explore whether it’s possible to make rum from brown sugar and examine the production process and chemistry involved.

What is rum?

Rum is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice, sugarcane molasses, or other sugarcane byproducts. The sugarcane is harvested and then the sugar extracted by crushing or mashing the cane. Traditionally, rum production came about as a way to utilize the waste molasses from sugar production.

The sugary solution is fermented, usually with yeast, to convert the sugars into alcohol. After fermentation, the “wash” contains roughly 7-10% alcohol. It’s then distilled to concentrate the alcohol and remove impurities. The resulting clear, high-proof rum is then often aged in oak barrels. Additional sugar, flavors, and colors may be added before bottling.

Rum classified into light, gold, spiced, dark, flavored, overproof and premium aged categories depending on factors like aging, added flavors, alcohol content, and color. Light rums are column distilled from molasses and have a light, clean taste. Dark rums are blended rums typically aged in charred barrels to add color and complexity. Spiced rums have flavors like vanilla, cinnamon, or citrus added.

Key requirements for making rum

To produce rum, there are a few key requirements:

– Source of fermentable sugars – Traditionally from molasses or fresh sugarcane juice. Provides food for yeast during fermentation.

– Yeast – Converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation. Commercial distilleries often use cultivated yeast strains.

– Distillation equipment – Removes water to concentrate the alcohol in the wash. May use pot stills, column stills, or a combination.

– Aging (optional) – Rums are sometimes aged in oak barrels to add color and flavor compounds. Affects the style of rum.

– Blending – Rums from different barrels/batches may be skillfully blended to achieve a desired flavor profile.

– Sugarcane origins – Region where the sugarcane was grown can impact the rum’s terroir and characteristics.

So in theory, any sugary solution could be fermented and distilled into a rum-like spirit. But traditional rum has origins in molasses or sugarcane juice.

What is brown sugar?

Brown sugar is simply white sugar that has had some amount of molasses added back to it. It contains up to 10% molasses, giving it a soft texture and rich, caramel-like flavor.

Table sugar (sucrose) comes from either sugarcane or sugar beets. To make white sugar, the raw sugar is processed to remove the outer coating of the sugar crystal along with any dirt, molasses or other impurities.

Sugar Type Origins Molasses Content
White sugar Sugarcane or sugar beets 0%
Brown sugar White sugar + added molasses Up to 10%
Raw sugar Sugarcane 10-15%

Molasses is the brown, thick, syrupy byproduct of the sugar refining process. It has a rich, bittersweet flavor and is used to make rum.

So in summary, brown sugar has some but not all of the molasses still present. It differs from raw sugar which is simply less refined.

Could brown sugar make an acceptable rum?

Theoretically, yes it’s possible to make a rum-like spirit using brown sugar as the raw ingredient. Here are some key considerations:

– Brown sugar contains fermentable sucrose that yeast can convert to alcohol, so the brewing process would be feasible.

– The molasses content would provide some of the desired flavors inherent to rum. Though likely less intense than molasses-based rum.

– The purity of the sugar and lack of other sugars/nutrients might make fermentation challenging compared to sugarcane juice or molasses. Nutrient supplements might be needed.

– Distilling the wash would still produce a concentrated, rum-like liquor provided the process is executed correctly.

– Barrel aging could impart desired flavors and colors, masking the use of brown sugar. Blending with real molasses-based rum could also help achieve an authentic rum flavor.

– The provenance story would be less appealing than genuine sugarcane-derived rum from the Caribbean, Brazil, or other regions.

So in the hands of a skilled distiller, brown sugar could potentially make a passable facsimile of rum. While not the first choice of materials, the brown sugar does provide some key components, namely fermentable sucrose and a touch of molasses. The result might not meet the standards of traditional AOC rums, but could replicate rum to some degree.

How is genuine rum made from molasses?

To understand how using brown sugar differs from traditional rum, let’s examine the rum production process normally used with blackstrap molasses:

Molasses production

Molasses is a byproduct of refining sugarcane juice into white sugar crystals. Sugarcane is crushed to extract the juice which contains 12-15% sucrose. The juice is boiled to concentrate it and form sugar crystals which are removed. The remaining syrup still contains residual sucrose but also nutrients and sugars like glucose and fructose. This is molasses, which is usually boiled two more times to maximum sugar extraction. The third boil produces blackstrap molasses; dark, viscous, and rich in sugars.


Blackstrap molasses is diluted with water and mixed with yeast to begin fermentation. Commercial distilleries often use cultivated yeast strains. The yeast metabolizes sucrose and other sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide. This produces a sugary, alcoholic wash at roughly 7-12% alcohol by volume. Fermentation may take between 24-48 hours. Nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium sulfate may be added to support healthy fermentation.


The fermented wash is then distilled in pot stills, column stills or a combination to concentrate the alcohol through evaporation. Multiple distillations refine the spirit and remove unpleasant flavors. The final distillate may exceed 90% alcohol. The heads and tails of the run are separated for quality.

Aging & blending

The raw rum is often aged for years in used bourbon barrels to impart color, flavors, and smoothness. Different barrels are blended by master distillers until the desired characteristics are achieved. The rum may be diluted with water to reaching bottling strength of 40-50% ABV.


The local climate, soil, and sugarcane varieties influence the character of molasses. These qualities are passed to the finished rum, making it a product of its unique terroir. Barbados Foursquare Rum is one brand that highlights the concept of terroir in their bottlings.

How does brown sugar rum compare?

Comparing traditional molasses-based rum production to a hypothetical brown sugar rum process reveals some key differences:

Raw ingredients

Molasses provides a diversity of fermentable sugars beyond just sucrose. Brown sugar starts with pure refined sucrose and a small amount of residual molasses. This limits the flavor development and nutrient availability for yeast.

Complexity of flavors

Blackstrap molasses contributes rich, complex flavors created by multiple boiling stages. Brown sugar has a one-dimensional, syrupy sweetness.

Proof of concept

Molasses rum has centuries of tradition and proven results. Brown sugar lacks historical precedent but could theoretically work on a small scale.


Molasses carries a sense of place from the local climate and sugarcane. Brown sugar does not express any particular terroir.

Perceived quality

Consumers perceive genuine molasses rum as premium and artisanal. Rum from brown sugar would likely be seen as inferior in quality.


Molasses is an inexpensive byproduct. Brown sugar offers no cost savings or efficiency benefits versus standard molasses rum production.

So while brown sugar rum is certainly feasible, it lacks the complexity, provenance, and quality associated with molasses-derived rums from the Caribbean. The consumer perception of brown sugar rum would likely be low. From a business standpoint, it does not offer any compelling value proposition or differentiation from existing rum brands.

Examples of rum made from brown sugar

There are a few brands that have experimented with making rum or rum-like spirits using less conventional ingredients like brown sugar:

– Rogue Brewery Spirits Oregon Sugar Cane Rum uses a bourbon mash bill with brown sugar and molasses added. Aged in new American oak barrels. Marketed as a uniquely American style of rum.

– Berkshire Mountain Distillers also produce rum with brown sugar added to the fermentation along with blackstrap molasses. Represents a small fraction of their total rum production.

– Alexandria Nicole Cellars Quartermaster Rum uses brown sugar in combination with blackstrap molasses and evaporated cane juice. Includes additional flavorings like vanilla. A craft spirit rather than a traditional AOC rum style.

– Revelation Rum by Lost Mission Distillery starts with brown sugar before blending with molasses rum. Includes added flavors like coconut and vanilla. Marketed more as a flavored/specialty rum.

In most cases, brown sugar comprises a minor part of the fermented wash, with blackstrap molasses still the primary ingredient. The brown sugar provides added sweetness and a distinctive flavor note, while the molasses contributes the classic rum characteristics. None of these brands rely on brown sugar alone as a base for genuine rum.


While brown sugar contains sugars and a bit of molasses, it lacks the complexity and provenance to make a quality, traditional rum on its own. The simplest answer is no; brown sugar is not considered an acceptable base ingredient for genuine rum production.

That said, some distilleries have found that adding a portion of brown sugar to molasses or sugarcane juice can provide a unique flavor twist on rum. Small amounts of brown sugar can complement the molasses and fermentable sugars derived from fresh sugarcane. But brown sugar alone would likely produce a fairly one-dimensional spirit that most rum aficionados would consider inferior in quality and expression compared to genuine molasses-based rum.

The established AOC rum producers are unlikely to change their proven methods and materials. And consumers have certain expectations when it comes to quality, terroir, and heritage in their rum purchases. While brown sugar rum is hypothetically possible, it does not offer any compelling value proposition versus traditional rum made from sugarcane byproducts. So the use of brown sugar in rum-making is likely to remain only an experimental novelty rather than an industry standard.