Copper pot still in which The Real McCoy Rum is made at Foursquare Distillery in Barbados

How to Talk Rum

Image depicting rum classifications: Batch vs continuous distillation, aged vs un-aged and modified vs unmodified.
Copper pot still in which The Real McCoy Rum is made at Foursquare Distillery in Barbados

Batch Distilling

How to Tell About Distillation Method

For batch distillation, look for the distillery name & location on label – often proudly on the front. Multi-column producers generally don’t discuss their methods on the label, so will not include a specific distillery name, but instead cite a location for production and/or “finish and bottling” per mandate.

Aged Rum

Many barrels of rum aging in rickhouse in Barbados

Unaged Rum

Unaged rum is bottled shortly after distillation. Non-reactive steel tanks or large inert wood vats (with massive staves too thick for interaction) are used for storage with no wood extraction occurring. Unaged style is sometimes found in French Rhum Agricole, Brazilian cachaça and is also common in high-volume industrial rum. Skipping the aging step can help maintain a fresh “grassy” flavor profile from cane juice distillates and/or get product to market very quickly, generally creating a more economical option for all.

How To Tell About Aging

Authentically aged rum will display a TTB-approved age statement and/or simple, clear year & bottling information. Read between the lines: marketing information can use arbitrary numerals and terminology like “solera” or “anniversary” and/or descriptors like “slowly” or “perfectly” instead of a fully transparent age statement to try to mislead the consumer.

• Añejo “Sipping Tequila” is aged up to 3 Years. The youngest ‘Real McCoy, our 3 Year, is older than any añejo.

• Bourbon has no aging time requirements, but must be barreled in new oak. “Straight Bourbon” must be aged a minimum of 2 years, and “Bottled in Bond” must be aged at least 4. The ‘McCoy 5 Year is older than most bourbons.

• Scotch & Irish Whisky must be (made and) aged in their respective countries, where the Angels are generous and take only about 1% annual evaporative loss. In Barbados, The Real McCoy 12 Year experiences up to 63+% product loss – a whisky would need up to 60+ years for the same amount of loss and equivalent barrel interaction.

• Rum 90% of commercially-sold rum is industrial continuous column distilled and unaged with sweeteners, flavors & mouthfeel agents added. So, many people have never had the opportunity to taste a real rum! The difference is like comparing flavored moonshine products vs authentic aged Scotch whisky: some days we (or our wallet) might be in the mood for one or the other, but we like to be informed of the difference to understand the value. ;)

Unmodified Rum

Aged rum being emptied from a barrel, pouring out with bits of oak and charcoal being stopped by a screen filter

How To Tell About Modification

Place a few drops of spirit on your hand. Unmodified rum & spirits will simply evaporate – as alcohol quickly does - perhaps leaving behind a light aroma. Modified spirits leave a sticky residue and/or color that indicate sweetener and/or other additives.

Johnny Drejer at developed an independently generated “List of Rums Measured” with a hydrometer & assessing density change caused by the addition of sweeteners which is shown in grams per liter. For reference, one of the highest modified rums shown contains 96 grams, which equals 23 teaspoons of sugar per liter.


These terms all refer to modification -- most often of industrial column still distillate – not how real rum is produced. Color, sweetener, flavor and “mouthfeel” additives are meant to imitate valuable pot distilled and/or aged rum.

For example: the vast majority of light colored rum is unaged. The Real McCoy 3 Year and only a handful of other brands’ expressions are aged and then filtered to remove barrel color. This allows for more complexity in the flavor profile than an unaged spirit while retaining the light color that many bartenders & consumers prefer for cocktails.

By contrast, “black” and opaque rums are heavily modified with coloring. Actual aged rum cannot get any darker in color than the amber hue of ‘McCoy Distiller’s Proof or 12 Year. Distillate reaches a natural amber saturation point in the barrel and will not darken any further.

Old topographical map of Barbados

Rum Rules & Regions

From Around The World

Rhum Agricole – Produced in strict accordance with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in Martinique from cane grown only in approved territories. The fresh pressed cane juice may not be hot extracted, nor have any additives and must have minimum sugar content of 14º Bx and a minimum 4.7pH. Fermentation must be open top and under 72 hours. Distillation must be column with specific parameters. The final spirit is unmodified and may be aged for 3 months (“blanc”), at least 12 months (élevé sous bois) or at least 3 years (“vieux”) to meet separate specific designations. (Source:

Barbados Rum – Molasses, fresh juice or syrup may be used, and distillation & fermentation type is unrestricted, although non saccharomyces yeast strains must be native. Barbados water must be used to bring to bottling strength and all aging must be entirely on-island with the final product unmodified by sweeteners or flavors in the long-standing tradition of the “Birthplace of Rum.” Similar to whisky heritage, natural spirit caramel color is allowed. The majority of the island’s producers agree the longstanding parameters leave ample room for innovation and should become the pending Barbados Geographical Indication (GI.)

Cachaça – Can only be made in Brazil from fresh cane juice, with pot or column stills, must have a final congener count of 200-650mg/100ml, and can be unaged (most common) or aged (at least 50% must be aged 12 months.) Added sugar is allowed, but not spices or herbs. Only natural spirit caramel may be used for color.

Charanda – Made in Mexico from sugar cane juice & may be barrel aged in accordance with the 2003 Denominación de Origen Protegida (Protected Designation of Origin or PDO.) Charanda is an ingredient often found in “Mixto” tequilas.

Clairin – Rum Agricole’s close cousin produced only in Haiti with its own set of rules: Sugar cane must be hand harvested organic, wild or polyculture sugar cane indigenous to Haiti and transported to the distillery by animals. Cane juice may not be diluted or modified with water or chemicals. Fermentation must be natural and last a minimum of 120 hours, followed by distillation in pot or small batch column still. Bottling must be at still proof and done in Haiti. (Source: Maison Velier)

Cuban Rum – Molasses-based and column-distilled, rum according to Cuba’s PDO has many requirements, including one example from section 21.6.4:” is required to age all pure spirits for a period of at least two years in white oak barrels of 180-200 liters of capacity, generally of Irish or Scottish origin, which have already aged a spirit [i.e. whisky] in order to be labeled “Cuban Rum.”

Jamaican Rum – Fermentation and distillation must happen in specific regions above the limestone Aquifer water basins. The rum may be unaged or aged in oak and is unmodified -- “nothing shall be added to any spirits in a distillery save colouring matter or water” in accordance with the tradition that has recently been formally recognized under the Jamaican GI.

Many global regions also produce & sell delightful rum or spirits that do not fall within the traditional, GI, PDO or AOC practices. They simply are labeled “Rum” or “Liqueur” (<40% ABV) or descriptive names as appropriate, instead of “Jamaican Rum,” “Barbados Rum” or “Cachaça” etc., because there is inherent value to the traditions that the special moniker requires.


Bottle of The Real McCoy 12 year aged rum in front of a wind mill used for sugar processing in Barbados.

Spirit Comparisons

WHY DO INGREDIENTS MATTER? – Turning flush from that cocktail? Waking up at 3am? Or just not living our best life the next day? Additives & sweeteners can be mild to severe allergens and/or contribute – a lot - to hangovers.

NONE OF THAT, THANKS! – The Real McCoy doesn't add:
Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sweeteners of any kind
Propylene Glycol, Sulfates or Animal-based Clarifiers or Ingredients, like Albumen, Casein, or Isinglass
Also NO:
Artificial Food Coloring
Artificial Flavors, ex. Vanillin, Maltol
Calcium Disodium EDTA
Chemical Stabilizers
Citric Acid
Glycerol/ Glycerol Ester of Wood Rosin
Glyceryl Monostearate
Suspension Agents
Monosodium Glutamate

And, yep, those are all allowable ingredients in the beverage alcohol industry. In fact, it is the sweeteners & additives that may be allergens and/or cause that hangover. Go figure. Actually, we *do* have to go figure and guess what’s in our glass, because beverage alcohol ingredients are not required to be disclosed on labels. We think that should change.

The Real McCoy® = Real Barbados Rum = Just Rum

Image of sugar cane plants blowing in the wind with blue skies in Barbados

Rum Production Process

Distillation & Blending

DISTILLATION – After proper fermentation, the molasses wine is transferred into one of two stills:
1750 Liter Copper Pot Still with Double Retort each batch requires 8 hours of distillation, sending alcohol vapor through 8 plates in the still’s helmet, and refluxing through 2 retort systems containing the “low wines” and “high wines” from previous batches. No defligmator or catalytic converter is necessary. The pot still yelds a “heavy,” flavorful, complex, and aromatic ~70% ABV spirit in a single batch.
Coffey Still - Named for Aeneas Coffey who patented his more efficient whisky column still in 1830, this is a continuous feed 2-column copper still with 48 plates. It yields a 94% ABV spirit with clean, light flavor characteristics.

BLENDING – After adding Barbados spring water to reduce it to 63.5% ABV, “heavy” pot still rum is blended with “light” Coffey still rum in various proprietary percentages and placed in oak barrels for maturation (aging). We track our barrels in storage by either “Heavy Blend” - meaning greater volumes of pot distillate - or “Light Blend” - more Coffey still distillate.

Maturation or Aging

Image of man sealing a barrel with a hammer before it gets put away for aging.

Final Product

The aged rum is extracted from the barrels and transferred to our bottling plant at the distillery where it is blended with Barbados spring water in small tanks (about 50 cases worth each.)

“Single Blended Rum” – The Real McCoy is a single estate blend of distillates from two different still types.

BARBADOS G.I. – The last family-owned distillery on Barbados, Foursquare and our Master Distiller, Richard Seale, are passionate about authentic Barbados rum heritage, and are working with the majority of the country’s other producers, including Mount Gay and St. Nicholas Abbey to preserve their rum-making tradition with a Barbados GI (Geographic Indication).

The Real McCoy and all Foursquare rum products are made in accordance with the 400-year Barbados tradition of distillation, aging and bottling entirely on island with Barbados water and no added sweeteners or flavorings to be properly & proudly labeled “Barbados Rum.”

We support innovation in rum making and also believe it is important to specifically identify what may or may not be labeled with the valuable, hard-earned moniker “Barbados Rum.”