Yo Ho Ho! The beverage of pirates, navies and tropical islands

Fermented from sugar cane (or it's derivative, molasses) rum is often the first choice for fruity or sugary punches and cocktails—everything from daiquiris to pina coladas—and even in everyone's favorite drunken food, the rum cake.

Its roots are ancient, dating back thousands of years as the "brum" of Malaysia. When the British captured Jamaica in 1655, they quicky changed the daily ration of liquor given to sailors from French brandy to a "tot" of rum—a practice that continued until 1970. At one point, rum became an important leg of international trade, and Rhode Island rum was, for a time, an accepted currency in Europe. Today, most rum is made in the tropical countries where the sugar grows.

As befits a category beloved by pirates, Rum is a freewheeling liquor with few consistent rules. International standards range from a minimum 80 proof to minimum 50 (to highs of 150 or above); from aging a few months to several years.

Dark rums get their color both from caramelized sugar or molasses, and from long aging in charred barrels. They're more flavorful than lighter rums, sweeter, with often a hint of spice. Gold rums are usually the result of aging in barrels previously used for Bourbon whiskey. Light, (also called white or silver) generally have little flavor except a general sweetness.

Try one of these cocktails and imagine yourself on an island far, far away…