White Rum vs Dark Rum, Explained
Rum can be underestimated by spirit lovers. Despite the fascinating developments in the rum world today, many still view rum as a make-do liquor mostly enjoyed by college students and those who prefer a mixed drink featuring Coke.
What these critiques fail to capture is the versatility rum provides in terms of flavor profiles, complexity, and mouthfeel. There’s no “right” way to enjoy rum. Instead, it welcomes experimentation and can be unique as each person. So, which rum speaks to you?
Let’s start with the basics: like when to use white rum and when to use dark rum and when the color of the rum is actually not an important criteria! Keep reading to discover this and more.
What’s the Difference Between White Rum vs Dark Rum?
You’re in the mood for a cocktail. There are several bottles of rum in front of you — lighter, darker — and you’re not sure which to choose. How do you decide?
You might start by asking: “What is white rum made from and how is it different from dark rum?”
Let’s put this question to the side momentarily and instead ask: “What am I in the mood for drinking?”
Which rum to select greatly depends on what experience you’re hoping to have. More on that soon, but first let’s go over some of the characteristics of rum that can affect its color and flavor:
Understanding Rum Production: What Gives White Rum and Dark Rum Their Distinctive Tastes?
Let’s start with the basics.
As a general rule, dark rum is aged longer than white rum, as little as 3 years in some cases, and 20+ years for many higher-end expressions. This maturation process, which takes place in barrels, is what produces the rich, intense, and more sophisticated flavor profiles of gold, dark, or black rum varieties. White rum, on the other hand, is typically bottled shortly after distillation (though some are briefly aged in stainless steel tanks) and thus the taste is lighter, less deeply caramel, and tends to be less rich.
2. Distillation Process
Both dark and white rum brands go through a similar distillation process. Typically white rum is distilled in a column still, which allows for continuous distillation. These tall, narrow vessels remove many of the impurities during the distillation process. Those impurities are in part what gives a spirit its color and flavor, so column still distillation often results in a lighter, smoother rum. Most dark rums are distilled using a pot still, which is both shorter and wider than column stills. This process retains impurities from the original ingredients, which can contribute to a darker colored and richer flavored rum.
Dark Rum Distilling Process
So what is a good dark rum distillation process like? Let’s take a closer look at the dark rum distillation process.
A few of the most popular woods used for aging dark rum include:
AMERICAN WHITE OAK BARRELS
By far the most common barrel used in rum production, American white oak barrels are renowned for the light sweetness they provide, enhancing the rum they hold with notes of vanilla, caramel, and clove.
EUROPEAN OAK BARRELS
European oak contains more eugenol — a chemical compound that produces a strong, spicy flavor. As a result, rum aged in European oak barrels tends to have a more peppery finish and a nuttier, well-roasted flavor overall.
Acacia is known for being less intense in flavor than its oak counterparts. It adds subdued hints of honey and raisin to rum for a delectable and demure sweetness, but doesn’t overpower the palate. In fact, many distilleries choose to use acacia not for the taste it adds but for the finish, as it provides a thicker, more buttery mouthfeel.
The filtration process is another key differentiating factor in white rum vs dark rum. The extensive aging (and yes, sometimes sometimes flavoring) techniques involved in dark rum production mean the spirit won’t be filtered immediately following distillation. Instead, dark rum makers wait months or even years to purify their product and bottle it for selling. This means the liquid interactions with impurities generated during the distilling process for a longer period of time, which adds color. And high-quality dark rum is the result.
Some dark rum distillers choose to build on the flavors achieved during the aging process by infusing caramel, fresh vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, or other ingredients into the mix. This enhances the existing aroma and taste, making it more apparent to those who drink it.
(Rum purists tend to prefer rums without these added elements, but we say: to each her own. Drink what you like and enjoy!)
White Rum Distilling Process
How is white rum made and how do distillers create its distinctive flavor profile? There are several characteristics that separate white rum vs spiced rum or dark rum. Here are a few of the major differences:
STAINLESS STEEL TANKS
Storage is the primary difference to consider when looking at the distillation process. White rum, if it is aged, is stored in stainless steel tanks — preserving the flavor of the rum without intensifying or altering it in any way — and ultimately achieving the desired taste.
As discussed earlier, white rum requires significantly less aging time than darker varieties. But white rums can, and often are, aged. A shorter aging period also means filtering takes place earlier. Filtration is an extra step that, typically, only distillers of aged white rum will invest in. Filtering removes harsh flavors and other undesirable effects from distilled spirits. It also improves texture and provides a creamier mouthfeel.
There are many brands that age their white rum between 3-5 years to produce a pure, light-bodied, and ultra-satisfying sipping experience. So starting with these options is never a bad idea if you’re looking for the best white rum to add to your collection.
HOW IT'S SERVED
Another important consideration when deciding between white rum vs dark rum is how you are planning to serve it. Both white rum and dark rum have a unique role to play, depending on the cocktail. Both can easily be mixed with soda and other complements, and both are a mainstay of tiki cocktails. However, white rum is usually a team player, whereas for slow sipping, most people tend to turn to dark rum that has been aged longer. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course, but overall it is less common to find white rums recommended as sippers.
Find Your Rum with Curiada
Now it’s time to try different types of white rum and dark rum. Remember, there’s always room for experimentation when making cocktails. It’s all about a beverage you love — whatever that might be. To learn more about the best white rum for cocktails or the most delicious dark rums, check out our cocktail recipes for inspiration!
At Curiada, we’re on a mission to bring unique and high-quality craft spirits straight to your door. Our curated selection of products aren’t typical, and that’s intentional. We hand-select rare and unusual spirits to further your curiosity, stimulate the senses, and elevate your cocktail experience.
Browse our collection of unique rum bottles and place your order online today!