Every social gathering has a place set for rum, and a place set for whiskey. They operate like familiar brothers-in-law, or like your favorite uncles, each with an exhilarating story to tell and impression to make before the night is over.
Based on this cheeky analogy, is rum whiskey? No, friends, not even close. Rum vs whiskey remains a friendly dynamic being navigated differently in households around the world. There are many qualitative similarities to rum and whiskey, but only a handful of differences. This is likely why these two spirits find themselves in fairly constant comparison, especially in this day and age.
We invite you along to explore both whiskey and rum in their unique journeys from field to cask to bottle. Did you know that a super premium rum can be as superb as a top shelf whiskey? It’s true!
One need only look to the origins of each spirit in order to close the question of is whiskey and rum the same thing? If we get really general with it, rum is a Caribbean drink associated to year round sun and fun. Whiskey, on the other hand, gets its energy from the British sobriety and seriousness, always polite and ever so formal.
Rum in the History Books
The very first mention of rum in history was found in perfectly preserved official documents from the region of Barbados in 1650. The word “rum” was only mentioned again thereafter in 1667, by the Jamaican Governor in an issued order.
At this time, the world’s first rums were being distilled in Venezuela thanks to sugar cane cultivation having been widely established.
Whiskey in the History Books
Old uncle whiskey has one foot in Ireland, and the other in Scotland. A Scottish document dating back to 1494 holds the first official mention of whiskey, as far as historians can tell. Ireland, however, remains ever insistent that whiskey actually originated upon its soil. This is owed to the fact that The Bushmills was the first documented distillery in the world, proudly setting up shop in the land of saints and scholars in 1608. Hear, hear!
As you can imagine, the Scotland vs Ireland debate is far less amicable than that of whiskey rum/rum whiskey, and something we’re quite happy to leave to the locals.
We consider the difference between rum and whiskey to be fairly straight forward. These are two very multifaceted spirits, though as modern distillation techniques continue to advance, they adopt more key similarities than ever before.
Both rum and whiskey start out as abundant, raw materials. Both embrace fermentation, distillation and the process of aging in barrels. All of this is done in attempt to nurture the quality of the final product. Finally, both strive to produce a memorable end result using flavors and aromas to do so.
Within this likeness lies the key differences, blended with more uncanny similarities: That of process, taste and strength.
Rum vs. Whiskey: Process
Still wondering is rum and whiskey the same? Let’s take a look at the raw materials used to make them, shall we?
Rum is made from sugar cane, while whiskey starts off in the form of grains, including rye, barley and wheat. These earthly gems produce very specific sensory profiles in each spirit. After fermentation and distillation, both spirits are transferred into casks. These casks will take on the process of aging the product itself (same, but different!).
Premium rums like Diplomático, make their maturation time in new American oak casks, or in barrels once used to hold bourbon or single malts. Casks used for finishing of product are those that were previously used to age other spirits or wines such as fine sherries. Interestingly, certain premium Scottish whiskey brands have been using this same very method for some 200 years!
Fine Scottish whiskeys (almost) always embrace used barrels for their aging process. It’s a technique that was established early on, producing super premium product of a timeless nature. Old rum casks, for example, gives whiskeys their remnants of fruit or spice notes long left behind.
Rum vs. Whiskey: Aging
The aging process is absolutely essential for this spirits, since it gives the aromas, strength and differential notes to each one of them. In the Caribbean, this process is accelerated. Here, the evaporation rate is higher and rum ages three times faster than whiskey would. For perspective, after 12 years of aging in the Caribbean region, a rum cask would hold just 40% of its original capacity.
Generally speaking, rum is considered to be bold, rich and warm. This uncle wears a loud floral shirt by day, but is always ready to slip into something a little more suave come sundown. Whiskey, on the other hand, is more likely to be described as soft, consistent and aromatic. You know, the kind of uncle who dons a three-piece suit at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Whiskey relies quite heavily on the barrels in which it is aged for specific flavor notes. If it isn’t utterly apparent by now, barrels are key instruments for both whiskey and rum. What’s more, super premium rums can be very similar to whiskey in terms of complexity and character. Rum, however, is known to offer far more flavor notes.
Rum vs. Whiskey: Taste & Strength
Finally, rum or whiskey, which is stronger? The rum vs whiskey taste can be difficult to narrow down. Contrasting notes, unique aromas and even varying colors are what make each of these spirits well-loved by so many different tastes and palates worldwide.
These spirits go head to head in this department, as their strengths are both modified through the aging process. This characteristic is left totally to the discretion of the brand in question.
Both strong and weak whiskeys and rums hold their place in the world of mixology. Lighter, less intense spirits typically make for better cocktail ingredients. Harder, stronger blends, with a smooth aftertaste are generally better for neat enjoyment, perhaps served simply “on the rocks”. When it comes to cocktail making, rum has a bit more versatility compared to our uncle whiskey.
Rum and whiskey share similar alcohol contents, but this is not always the key determiner of a strong flavor. There are other variables that contribute to the overall strength of a spirit, namely the distillation process and the barrels used for aging.
No matter the time or place, the company or the moment to be celebrated, there’s no doubt rum and whiskey can both play perfect host for a memorable occasion! Bravo to the fun uncles!