Associated with boozy beach parties and tropical fruit punches, rum is often (unnecessarily!) reserved for vacations only. Some other rum myths that are floating around out there? It’s cheap. It’s too sweet. Well, don’t believe the rumors — it’s time you know the truth. Ashela Richardson, brand ambassador for naturally aged Nicaraguan rum Flor de Caña and an expert mixologist, dispels five of the common myths surrounding this widely misunderstood spirit.

1. Rum isn’t distilled like whiskey or tequila. “When we learn about how alcohol comes to be, we talk about fermentation,” Richardson tells us. “You need a sugar source and you ferment that sugar source with yeast and heat. That reaction produces alcohol, a little bit of CO2, and some other things that are the unique flavors from that particular fermentation type.” Beer and wine, for example, are fermented alcohols. “The next step of how you get spirits is you take that fermented alcohol and you distill it,” she continues, citing that whiskey is distilled beer and cognac is distilled wine. “So rum is the same process with a different base ingredient: molasses.”

2. All rum is sweet. After distillation, all that remains is alcohol. “You don’t have any of the sugar or the sweetness leftover,” Richardson explains. “You’re just concentrating the alcohols.” Sure, tiny notes of molasses will come through, but it’s the addition of spices and flavors that actually makes a spiced or coconut rum taste a bit sweeter, she says.

3. All rum is the same. Some rum has color due to added flavors. However, some rum is a bit darker due to the aging process, which generally takes place in former bourbon barrels or sherry casks and enriches the color. “I think that’s a misconception about aged rums in particular — that they are going to be sweet like your flavored or spiced rums can tend to be. In reality, there are so many beautiful aged rums out there that have just as much complexity as whiskies or finer aged spirits like cognac.” Pro tip: You can use an aged rum (e.g. Flor de Caña 7) how you would whiskey and riff off classic, spirit-forward drink recipes like a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.

4. Rum is only made in the Caribbean. “People don’t understand that rum can be made anywhere in the world. They often think an island in the Caribbean, but rum is actually a global spirit. It just has to come from sugar cane.” When you taste rum from different parts of the world, you can really get a feel for what Richardson refers to as its unique “sense of place.”

5. Rum daiquiris are strawberry-flavored and blended. Unlike the boozy strawberry frozen version you might enjoy beachside on vacay, a regular daiquiri is a classic cocktail that is neither made with strawberries nor blended. It’s made with two ounces of rum and equal parts (generally 3/4 ounce) lime juice and simple syrup. “It’s arguably the simplest rum cocktail that, if you have a really quality rum, is like the best drink you’ll ever have,” Richardson states. “But you have to have fresh lime juice in order to do it right because of the balance factor.” Is anyone else thirsty?

So now that you know what rum is *really* like, it’s time to make sure your bar cart is ready to experiment with the versatile spirit. Aside from a bottle of the good stuff, here’s what you’ll need to mix up classic cocktails like a pro: a muddler (for mojitos), a mixing glass, a set of shaking tins, and a jigger. Cheers!

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(Photo via Flor de Caña)