What is the Difference Between Dark Rum and White Rum?

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Rum is a very popular alcoholic beverage, commonly mixed into cocktails or enjoyed on its own throughout the world. There are two basic types of rum, differentiated in color and flavor, although the basic process of distillation of these drinks is the same. White rum and dark rum are the two variations of rum, used in a long list of mixed beverages and cocktails.

Like many other liquors, a distinction in the appearance or color of rum will also result in a distinction of its flavor and chemical properties. White rum is largely free of impurities and is not left to age. Dark rum is often allowed to age for a period of time before it is distilled, and may have molasses, caramel, or burnt sugar added for flavor.

Table of Contents

What is white rum?

White rum is an alcoholic beverage traditionally made from sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice, then aged in light oak barrels or steel barrels before being filtered multiple times to remove impurities and then bottled. White rum is bottled at 75-80 proof, depending on the country. In the UK and Europe, white rum is 37.5% alcohol, whereas it is 40% alcohol in the United States.

The texture of white rum is lighter bodied, and the drink carries a sweet taste. Its clear color results from the distilling process that strips its natural pale blonde color whilst removing impurities from the drink.

What is dark rum?

Dark rum begins in the same process as white rum, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane molasses and sugarcane juice. The primary difference between these two rums is that dark rum is not immediately filtered and bottled after distillation. Instead, dark rum is aged in oak barrels for several years before entering the final filtering process. Coloring and flavor may be added in the form of caramel, burnt sugars, or molasses.

In regions with warmer climates, such as the West Indies, dark rum does not require the same amount of time to age as production centers located in the Northern Hemisphere. Dark rums aged in oak barrels in the Southern Hemisphere can be aged for as few as three to five years, whilst their Northern counterparts may be aged up to ten years.

Dark rums tend to be more medium to full-bodied and will have flavors and textures that are more complicated than white rum. This comes from the additives combined with the aging of the rum. There are several variations to dark rum, highly dependent upon the distillery and the flavor profiles signature to their specific brand and drink.

Where is rum made?

The key ingredient to rum is sugarcane, so it is no surprise that the places where rum is made lie largely in the Southern Hemisphere and in tropical climates where sugarcane grows. Rum is largely produced out of the Caribbean and in the Americas. Production exists in Asian nations like the Philippines and India as well.

Jamaica is the Caribbean nation that most often comes to mind for consumers when they consider rum, origin, and signature quality. However, in 2019 the leading rum distillery in the world came out of Manila Philippines, Tanduay. Historically, the earliest scripts that describe an alcoholic drink similar to rum were written in Sanskrit, and Indian rum is still largely circulated with a dominant position among the top rum producers around the world.

Where and how did rum originate?

Rum has a long and storied history around the world, not only because of the large geographic area that rum production around the world covers, but also the role rum has played in human history as an import and export across the oceans for centuries.

While the earliest recordings of rum or rum-like drinks appeared in Sanskrit script from India as early as 350 B.C., these drinks appear to have been medicinal in quality and not the same as the rums that came about as a result of trade and colonization that occurred in the early 1400s.

Exploration of the world seas by famous explorers such as John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, and Vespucci Amerigo began in quests to find trade routes across the sea to bring back sugar and spices to the Western nations of Europe. The discoveries of these explorers lead them to islands rich in spices and sugar.

Sugarcane crops were abundant on these island nations, although hands to cut and extract the sugar from these hardy plants were few. The slave trade was Western Europe’s solution to provide the labor necessary to cultivate this valuable export.

From there, slaves could be credited for recognizing the byproduct of sugar creation could be turned into an alcoholic drink. In the 1600s, the English refined this byproduct by introducing the distillation process to create the rum we are most familiar with today.

Rum became exceedingly popular in those days due to its stability and long shelf life, allowing explorers to transport the drink across the oceans successfully. Alcohol was a popular trading commodity. Previous to rum, brandy was the only alcoholic beverage that could make the long sea journeys. However, the volume of brandy that could be transported was small and expensive.

With rum being cheaper, higher volume, and easily transportable, traders and sailors quickly adapted rum as their alcoholic beverage of choice. For centuries that followed, rum would be the primary alcoholic beverage of traders, pirates, and even the Royal Navy on the high seas.

While rum is a popular alcoholic drink and beverage worldwide, the top consumer of it may surprise you! India tops the list of nations that consumes rum by volume annually, with the United States coming in second. With that said, it is in the United States where consumers will generate the most revenue for rum and rum beverages.

Suggested reading: Is Rum Made All Over the World?

What kind of drinks are made with white rum?

Some of the most famous cocktails made with white rum include the Pina Colada, Daiquiri, Mojitos, Mai Tais, Hurricanes, or the classic Long Island Iced Tea. White rum is also a popular ingredient to include in Sangrias. In Cuba, the Cuba Libre is a popular drink that includes Coca-cola (Coke), white rum, and lime.

The light body and sweetness of a white rum make it especially conducive to mixing into cocktails with fruit liqueurs, juices, and muddled fruits and herbs. Many classic rum cocktails are available to rum lovers worldwide, and new iterations or combinations are created regularly.

A mojito can be made more interesting by adding muddled berries or fruit, and white rum will always mix nicely with tropical fruits like mango or pineapple. The nature of white rum’s sweetness makes it highly palatable for anyone who wants to begin trying new cocktails and other liquors.

What kind of drinks are made with dark rum?

Dark rum is unlike its white counterpart in that it has typically been aged longer and will have some flavor additives like burnt sugar, caramel, or molasses. This version of rum comes in various colors and intensities based on the additives combined with the rum. While a classic rum and coke is made with dark rum, this iteration of rum can be used in a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks as well.

Drinks like the Daiquiri and Hurricane can be made with a dark rum or white rum, as a dark rum still provides some of the essential notes of sweetness found in a regular white rum. Combining this alcohol with fruit and fruit flavors will be a little more complex than doing so with its white counterpart, but leaves room for bold contrast and compliments of flavor all the same.

Creating an Old Fashioned cocktail from a dark rum is another bold move and presents dark rum’s ability to stand out or stand alone as a drink. Like white rum, dark rum can also be enjoyed straight or on the rocks and provide satisfaction to any rum lover.

What kind of rum is most commonly consumed and used for cocktails? White rum or dark rum?

White rum is a little more versatile than its dark rum counterpart when it comes to creating mixed drinks and cocktails. Dark rum is a little more complex in flavor profiles and does not provide as neutral a base as white rum.

This is not to say that dark rum cannot be used for cocktails and mixed drinks, but its flavor profile can be mild or as intense as bourbon or whiskey depending on the distillery and batch.

Final Round

Both white rum and dark rum have about the same level of alcohol (75-80 proof) so despite their distinct profiles between them, one is not necessarily stronger than the other. Dark rum and white rum will share a semblance of sweetness, the taste of toasted sugar exists within both of them, although the flavor profiles of different dark rums tend to be stronger.

White rums are more commonly used in mixed drinks and cocktails, especially of the fruity persuasion. White rums are probably more easily recognizable and perhaps more mainstream than their dark rum counterparts, but both have much to offer in the way of history, flavor, and satisfaction.