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What’s The Difference Between Rum and Whiskey?

by Scott Connor 09 Jan 2023

Move aside, vodka and tequila: Rum and whiskey have just as much prominence on craft cocktail menus and in the liquor cabinets of serious connoisseurs. Whether you’re ordering a Mai Tai or an Old Fashioned, a Hot Toddy or a Classic Daiquiri, rum, and whiskey are found everywhere, from sun-splashed tiki bars to posh rooftop lounges.

But have you ever paused to consider, what’s the difference between rum and whiskey? 

Those familiar with both may recognize their discrete flavor profiles or overtones. But if you’re a new imbiber, you may be searching for answers. Perhaps you’re collecting intel before placing your online liquor delivery order for your next fete. Or maybe you think they look the same, so how different can they be? 

Whatever the case may be, the difference between whiskey and rum is, well, as distinct as the difference between a Cuba Libre and a Sazerac. Let’s unpack their unique traits together.

The Basics of Rum

From Blue Hawaiians to Pina Coladas, this distilled spirit is the primary ingredient in a panoply of tropical libations. It’s the good stuff in Caribbean punch and the backbone of a sumptuous Dark & Stormy. Have a look at a few of its most important details:

Origins

Given rum’s popularity in those sweet drinks you might order on a sultry day by the pool, it ought to come as no surprise that rum is believed to have been first manufactured in the sun-drenched West Indies in the mid-17th century.1

But its history isn’t quite as bright and sunny. Rumor has it slaves discovered that molasses could be fermented and made into liquor. From there, rum became part of the slave trade itself, used to procure more rum and more slaves. 

Despite its torrid past, rum found its way into the mainstream; today, it’s one of the most popular spirits in the world. 

Raw Ingredients and Taste

Rum is made with fermented sugarcane products, including syrup, molasses, and pure sugar cane. This characteristic sets it apart from other liquors. Rum’s sugary base makes way for its warm, toasty, perfect-with-coconut-milk flavor. Depending on the type of rum you choose, you might describe it as:

  • Smooth
  • Sweet
  • Smoky
  • Spicy
  • Full-bodied
  • Rich
  • Caramely

The breadth of rum and the varied flavors it delivers renders it one of the top choices for mixologists and home cocktail enthusiasts alike. 

Distillation Process and Age

What is gold rum? What are the different types of rum? What’s the difference between Cachaca vs rum? The answers to all of these questions have something to do with distillation. Rum may taste like it’s arrived from some magical ether, but in fact, rum goes through quite a process before it reaches your gold-rimmed goblet.

After it’s distilled—usually in a pot still, a copper pot still, or, these days, continuous column stills—it’s aged in wood casks, oak barrels, stainless steel tanks, and other devices for 3 to 10 years.2 

Some rums are aged in former bourbon barrels, which gives it a slight whiskey taste. Indeed, this confirms for several bon vivants that a few rums do taste like whiskey.

Types

The strength, flavor, and even texture of premium rum (like other distilled spirits) comes down to its distillation process, the variety of wood and other materials in which it ages, how long it ages, and its place of origin. 

For instance, rums aged in balmy climates like the Caribbean carry a dark-golden hue after a mere 3 to 5 years of aging—a shade, and flavor, that would take up to 10 years to achieve in a cooler North American environment. 

Rum is typically categorized into the following types: 

  • Dark rum
  • Premium rum
  • Spiced rum
  • Gold rum (or amber rum)
  • Coconut (and other fruit-flavored) rum
  • Light rum (also called silver or white rum)

But where does cachaca fit on this list? 

While rum and cachaca share some similarities, cachaca is created exclusively in Brazil and from fresh sugarcane juice, which makes it notably sweeter than rum. (Remember: Some rums are made with molasses and other sugarcane products.)

As for rhum agricole? This type of rum is manufactured only in French territories and is most closely associated with Martinique.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

How much is the alcohol content of rum? Rum is often bottled and marketed at roughly 40% (or 80 proof). There are exceptions to this, however. “Overproofed rums,” as they’re called, may have proofs up to 160, and are frequently used as a “float” in cocktails and for ablaze libations like Goblets of Fire.

The Basics of Whiskey

Whether it's Irish whiskey, Scotch whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, rye whiskey, Japanese whisky, Canadian whisky, or bourbon whiskey, whiskey has long held a rather distinguished and elegant reputation, showing up in the hands of everyone from Ava Gardner and Sir Winston Churchill to Frank Sinatra and the characters on Mad Men3. Derived from the Gaelic term for “water for life,” whiskey has a certain lavishness attached to it.

Few people can deny that ordering a whiskey feels downright sophisticated. But what’s the story behind what famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw called “liquid sunshine?”

Let’s raise a glass and examine it together.

Origins

“Scotch” and “whiskey” are often used interchangeably for a reason: Whiskey started in Scotland more than a century earlier than rum, in the 15th century. Originally used in medicine, including as an antibiotic, whiskey is—at least according to some—deemed the most popular liquor on the planet.

Primarily made in Ireland and Scotland for years, it “immigrated” to the United States in the 1800s; today, it’s manufactured throughout the world—predominately in the U.S., Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and Canada. 

Raw Ingredients and Taste

Unlike rum’s dependence on sugarcane products, whiskey is made with fermented grain mash. The types of fermented grain used to create whiskey are contingent upon the region in which it’s manufactured and the type of whiskey being made, most commonly comprised with corn, rye, barley, or wheat.4

Whiskey is less fruity and sweet than its rum counterpart. Thanks to the time it spends “resting” in a wooden barrel, some may carry a taste of vanilla or caramel and may be characterized as:

  • Woodsy
  • Grainy
  • Aromatic
  • Complex

Distillation Process and Aging

Fun fact: Whiskey actually starts off as a beer, fermented with the familiar addition of yeast. After being distilled in a pot still or a column pot still, whiskey metamorphs with age for a handful of years before it’s diluted to tone down its strength, bottled, sold—and enjoyed.

Types

Whiskey is available in a wide variety of types, depending on their distillation process, how its aged, and where it originates. Several of the most common include:

  • Japanese whiskey
  • Irish whiskey
  • Scotch
  • Bourbon
  • Corn whiskey
  • Rye whiskey
  • Sour mash bourbon whiskey

Additionally, whiskey has what’s thought of as sub-genres, including malt whiskey, blended whiskey, moonshine, and cask-strength whiskey—or barrel-to-bottle, non-diluted whiskey. (Read: strong whiskey.) 

Lastly, whiskey is a popular ingredient in a host of foods and condiments. Whiskey barbeque sauce, whiskey mustard, sweet whiskey sauce poured over a wedge of bread pudding—all are adored around the world.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

Whiskey generally has an ABV of around 40% (or 80 proof). That said, some types of whiskey, such as barrel-aged whiskey, may have a proof of up to 140.

Rum vs Whiskey: Which One Reigns?

As we’ve pointed out, the difference between whiskey and rum comes down to three primary pertinent reasons: their raw ingredients, their taste, and their types. And if a rum vs whiskey debate ever surfaces in your presence, keep in mind that rum isn’t better than whiskey, nor is whiskey “above” rum. Both are fabulous distilled spirits, particularly if you choose a world-class brand.

How Should You Drink Rum and Whiskey?

One of the many beauties of whiskey and rum is that they can be relished in a myriad of ways. And, in our humble opinion, the best way to settle any debate between the two is to examine the cold, smooth evidence in front of you. 

Whiskey

Top-shelf whiskeys are often enjoyed straight. This allows those fortunate enough to have a glass in hand to pick up on and appreciate its complexities of flavors.

But all whiskeys—including high-end whiskeys—can be just as easily savored in a range of cocktails, such as a:

  • Whiskey Sour
  • Hot Toddy
  • Manhattan
  • Mint Julep
  • John Collins

Rum

Similar to whiskey, rum is delicious wholly on its own, especially chilled on a hot day. It’s also one of the most prevalent spirits in an assortment of cocktails, including: 

  • Planter’s Punch
  • Mojito
  • Hot Buttered Rum
  • Zombie
  • Pina Colada

Settle the Debate with Barbank 

Rum and whiskey are two of the most popular spirits, not just in the country but also around the world. As delectable as they are entirely on their own as they are mixed into classic cocktails and inventive artisan libations, there’s little doubt their immense appeal will continue to grace glasses and menus everywhere.

You can have both at the ready in your liquor cabinet or at your next party with Barbank. Whether you’re in the mood for a lush, premium rum for your homemade strawberry daiquiris or an outstanding, premium whiskey to enjoy neat, we have a wide variety of distilled spirits to satisfy your cravings, as well as mini bottles, wine, champagne, and ready-to-drink cocktails.

Explore our entire spirit collection today to reap the rewards of swift, friendly, and economical online liquor delivery.


Sources: 

  1. Brittanica. Rum/liquor. https://www.britannica.com/topic/rum-liquor
  2. The Spruce Eats. What is rum? https://www.thespruceeats.com/introduction-to-rum-760702
  3. Liquor.com. 10 of the most famous whiskey drinkers in history and today. https://www.liquor.com/articles/famous-whiskey-drinkers/
  4. The Spruce Eats. What is whisky? https://www.thespruceeats.com/history-of-whisky-1807685



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