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Rum vs Whiskey – Differences and Similarities

If you’re looking for alcoholic beverages to spice up your day, you can’t go wrong with a glass of rum or whiskey. These two spirits are some of the world’s most popular drinks, prized for their rich aromas and complex flavors.Both have similarities but differ in the ingredients used, taste, color, and more.

Glass and bottle with whiskey or rum

But how can you differentiate rum and whiskey? This article compares rum vs. whiskey to determine which is superior. Ultimately, you’ll know which spirit you should choose and why. Let’s get started.


What Is Rum?

Rum is a distilled alcoholic drink crafted from pure sugarcane juice or molasses. Its manufacturers extract juice from sugar cane and boil it to concentrate it. This juice is then fermented and distilled before aging, blending, and bottling.

The Most famous global rum brands come from Caribbean

This distilled spirit was first created in the Caribbean in the 7th century when Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane. Rum can be available in different varieties with distinctive colors, tastes, and flavors. Manufacturers add spices like nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon to create rum with a unique flavor.

On average, rum is available at 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) or 80 proof. However, you’ll likely find “overproof” rum with up to 95% ABV or 190 proof.


What Is Whiskey?

Whiskey (or whisky in some regions) is a distilled alcoholic beverage created from fermented grain mash. Manufacturers use a variety of grains, such as rye, barley, corn, and wheat, to make different types of whiskies. The production method and location also determine the kind of whiskey you can find on sale.

Room full of whisky cabinets storing different types of whiskey

Like rum, the mash bill used to make whiskey is fermented and distilled before aging and bottling. Aging is done in wooden containers such as oak barrels to improve flavor while offering a distinctive color.

Whiskey was first created in Ireland and Scotland in the 12th and 14th centuries when monks introduced them to distilling techniques. Today, whiskey is available in different varieties with an ABV ranging from 40%-50% (80-100 proof).


Types of Rum and Whiskey

Below are the different types of rum and whiskey you can find in liquor stores, bars, and restaurants.

Rum

bar filled with a variety of different types of rum and whiskey including other liquors

The different types of rum include the following:

  • Dark Rum: This barrel-aged rum contains 38% ABV and offers darker, fuller flavor profiles.
  • White Rum (Light or Clear Rum): This light-colored rum is sold at 40% ABV and offers a smooth and sweet taste.
  • Black Rum: This is the darkest rum containing caramel flavoring and is available at 40% ABV.
  • Gold Rum (Pale or Amber Rum): This barrel-aged rum offers a smooth, flavorful profile and is available at 37.5% ABV.
  • Spiced Rum (Flavored Rum): This 45% ABV rum contains various flavors and spices.
  • Premium-aged Rum: This rum goes through an extensive aging process to achieve richer color and distinctive flavor profiles.
  • Navy Rum: This is a full-bodied rum containing 57% ABV.
  • Overproof Rum: This is a strong rum with over 50% ABV that can go up to 95%.
  • Rhum Agricole: This rum is made from fresh sugar cane juice and distilled to about 35% ABV.

Whiskey

Several types of bottled rums and alcohols are displayed on some shelves

The different types of whiskeys include the following:

  • Bourbon Whiskey: This barrel-aged American whiskey is made with 51% corn and doesn’t contain more than 40% ABV.
  • Malt Whiskey: This beverage is made from fermented mash comprising 100% barley, yeast, and water.
  • Irish Whiskey: This Ireland-made whiskey is available at 40-94.8% ABV and offers a smoother finish.
  • Rye Whiskey: This whiskey is made in the USA (at least 51% rye) and Canada (100% rye) and is aged (matured) in charred oak barrels.
  • Scotch Whiskey: This full-bodied flavored whiskey is available at 40-94.8% ABV.
  • Grain Whiskey: Grain whiskey is any whiskey created from grains such as rye, maize, and wheat instead of malted barley.
  • Blended Whiskey: This whiskey results from blending varieties of whiskeys and can sometimes include rectified spirits, flavorings, and colorings.
  • Japanese Whiskey: Japan-made whisky has a style of production similar to Scotch whiskey.

Rum vs. Whiskey: A Spirited Duel

Let’s look into how rum and whiskey compare to allow you to determine your favorite choice.

Bottles of several types of global whiskey brands

Origin

Rum was made in the Caribbean in the 1600s after Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane. The enslaved people in sugarcane plantations discovered the art of fermenting molasses into alcohol and later distilled it into rum called “rumbullion” (kill-devil). This spirit later spread to other parts, such as America and England.

The Irish monasteries were the first to create whiskey during the middle ages. The monasteries taught the Irish people how to distill whiskey in the 12th century. The spirit was later produced in Scotland in 1494 and spread to other countries in the 18th century.

In America, whiskey was first introduced in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The most popular American whiskey is bourbon. In 1964, Congress recognized bourbon whiskey as a distinctive American product.


Taste and Flavor

When comparing rum vs. whiskey regarding tastes and flavors, you should remember that these spirits come in different varieties. As a result, they offer a wide range of flavors and aromas.

Bottle of The Kraken black rum, blended with a mix of 11 spices,

Rum is the sweeter of the two, and its flavor depends on the production method and location. Its toasty flavor comes from barrel aging and can have hints of caramel, vanilla, and spice. The taste and smell of spiced rum are more complex due to the additions like clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus fruit, and pepper.

On the other hand, whiskey is more aromatic with a smooth and smoky flavor. The whisky’s flavor depends on the grains used and how it was distilled and aged. When sipping this spirit, you will detect hints of vanilla and oak from the barrel. The spirit offers a woody, grassy smell.


Production Methods

Both rum and whiskey go through a similar production method. This creation process involves fermentation, distillation, and aging.

Methods of storage and production of rum and whiskey

However, the two spirits use different ingredients, and their distillation stages and the aging process can slightly differ. Typically, these differences depend on the types of rum or whiskey and the producer.

Manufacturers extract juice from sugarcane and ferment it in a tank during rum production. The fermented sugarcane juice is distilled in copper pots or column stills and later transferred into charred oak barrels for aging. The longer the rum stays in the oak barrels, the more flavorful and darker it becomes.

The initial process of making whiskey depends on whether manufacturers want to produce grain or malt whiskey. After fermentation, the liquid distills in pot or column stills. The whiskey then ages in oak barrels for no less than three years. Whisky, like rum, becomes more complex with extended aging.


Cocktails

Both rum and whiskey are great spirits for creating a wide variety of cocktails. Rum adds the sweetness of molasses and a flavorful profile to the cocktail. When sipping a rum cocktail, you’ll detect a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

Classic Cocktail Assortment with Martini Old Fashioned and Negroni rum

Whiskey cocktails are perfect for individuals who don’t like drinking the spirit straight. Whiskey has a strong flavor and can blend with many ingredients like citrus juice, fresh mint, cucumber, green apples, and soda.


Food Pairings

You can choose rum, whiskey, or their cocktails if you’re looking for a drink to pair with your favorite dish during dinner or at a party. Whether you prefer white, spiced, gold, or dark rum, there’s always a dish that goes well with the drink. 

Dark chocolate and fine whiskey

You can enjoy whiskey with your favorite food or snack. Whether you love grain, Irish, Scotch, or malt whiskey, there’s always a dish to pair with your spirit. You can try pairing whiskey with dark chocolate, salted crackers, mild cheese, grilled steak, haggis, and dried fruits and nuts.


Non-drinking Uses

Rum and whisky are versatile drinks that can be useful for preparing food and medical purposes. For example, you can use the sweet and savory flavors in rum to offer rich flavors in various dishes. You can also use rum in sauces and soups or marinate chicken and pork.

Carajillo, traditional Spanish coffee with brandy, whiskey, cognac or rum

Similarly, you can use whisky in various dishes to induce a smooth, creamy finish in your food. You can use your favorite whiskey to prepare salty meat, sweet desserts, and rich sauces. Examples of recipes to try include steak, pecan pie, chicken marinade, chocolate cake, and bread pudding.

Besides cooking, drinking these liquors can be good for your health. However, ensure to take your drinks sparingly. 

Rum can help relieve muscle pain, fight coughs, prevent heart disease, keep diabetes at bay, and reduce the risk of mental illness. Similarly, whiskey can reduce inflammation and lower the risks of heart disease, dementia, and obesity. It can also relieve cold symptoms and fight cancer.


Noted Brands

If you’re shopping for the best rum or whiskey, you may want to look for the spirit from the most notable brands. As a rum enthusiast, you can look for brands such as Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Kraken, Barcelo, Havana Club, and many more.

Bacardi Superior Carta Blanca and Carta Negra rum bottles

If you prefer whiskey from a best-selling producer, you can look for brands like Jack Daniels, Jim Bean, Maker’s Mark, Jameson, Johnnie Walker, and Crown Royal.


How To Drink Rum and Whiskey

Below are the classic ways to drink rum and whiskey and get the best from your favorite drink.

Glass of rum with cola

How To Drink Rum

You can drink rum like a pro using the following ways:

  • Dark Rum: Sip it neat (straight up) or on the rocks.
  • White Rum: Best when used in cocktails such as Daiquiri, Mojito, and Pina Colada.
  • Spiced Rum: Mix this spirit with simple drinks like cola, juice, ginger beer, and ginger ale.
  • Gold Rum: Drink it on the rocks.

How To Drink Whiskey

Here are the best ways to drink various whiskies.

Refreshing Whiskey Neat Cocktail on a Bar
  • Malt Whiskey: On the rocks or use it to create classic whiskey cocktails.
  • Scotch Whiskey: Drink it neat.
  • Bourbon: Drink it neat.
  • Rye Whiskey: Enjoy your spirit neat, as a cocktail, or on the rocks.
  • Irish Whiskey: Mix it with ginger ale, honey, and a lemon twist.

Famous Rum and Whiskey Cocktails

If you’re a cocktail enthusiast, below are the best drinks you can create with rum or whiskey.

Glasses of tasty daiquiri cocktail

Rum Cocktails

  • Daiquiri: A famous rum cocktail that uses lime juice, simple syrup, and rum.
  • Mai Tai: This classic rum combines lime juice, pineapple juice, orange curacao, orgeat, and dark and light rum.
  • Dark and Stormy: This cocktail combines dark rum, ginger beer, ice, and lime slices.
  • Rum Swizzle: The cocktail uses pineapple juice, orange juice, Angostura bitters, grenadine, and dark and white rum.
  • Rum Runner: The cocktail uses orange juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, blackberry liqueur, crème de banana liqueur, grenadine, spiced and white rum.
  • Mojito: This cocktail comprises lime juice, club soda, sugar, fresh mint leaves, and light rum.

Whiskey Cocktails

  • Old Fashioned: It’s made with bitters, muddled sugar, bourbon, and an orange peel.
  • Whiskey Sour: It’s created with simple syrup, lemon juice, bourbon, and an orange wheel.
  • Manhattan: This cocktail uses bitters, sweet vermouth, maraschino cherry, rye, bourbon, and Canadian or Tennessee whiskeys.
  • Highball: This cocktail is made with soft drinks such as coke, ginger ale, bourbon, or rye whiskey.
  • Boulevardier: It comprises sweet vermouth, Campari, and rye or bourbon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to the common questions about rum vs. whiskey.

When did the Royal Navy end the rum rotation?

The Royal Navy ended the rum rotation in 1970. This prohibition was after concerns that drinking strong alcohol would weaken the hands of those handling machinery.

Was rum actually popular with pirates?

Although pirates drank anything they came by in the 1700s, rum was their favorite drink. They also used it as their form of currency.

Why is whiskey usually more expensive than rum?

Whiskey is more expensive than rum because grains are costly compared to sugarcane byproducts. Additionally, whiskey’s aging process is more complex and takes longer to mature than rum.


Which Do You Prefer?

The above rum vs. whiskey debate shows that the two spirits have several differences and similarities.

Rum is a sweet drink rich in flavors, while whiskey offers smooth, smoky flavors with hints of vanilla and oak. So, which is your favorite liquor, rum or whiskey? Leave a comment below, and let’s know what you think about the two drinks.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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