Rum and whiskey are two totally different taste experiences, each with their devotees and detractors. In both cases, the name can cover a multitude of sins as well as advertising a wonderful drink. I’ve had whiskey so smooth it slips down like a dream and you’d never know you were drinking a spirit, and I’ve had other so-called whiskey that no proud Scotsman would ever want to be associated with.
The same applies to rum, whether it’s white Bacardi rum or dark rum. While you can buy cheap versions of vodka and not really notice the difference, especially when you add a mixer, when it comes to rum and whiskey, you really do get what you pay for, so it’s worth spending a bit more. Both spirits are aged in oak casks before bottling, and it’s this that contributes to their dark colour. After distillation, the spirits are clear, like vodka and gin.
The main difference between the two spirits is in their ingredients. Whisky is made from grain – usually maize, barley or wheat – while rum is made from sugar cane, specifically the molasses which are obtained from sugar cane. Rum is usually double distilled, while whiskey is normally distilled once.
Bacardi is a dry, light spirit, while dark rum – often known as ‘navy rum’ – is darker and sweeter. The two types are also blended to make gold rum, which is a halfway house between the two other rums. Rum was first made by slaves on the sugar plantations of the West Indies in the 17th century.
The first whiskey was produced by Irish monks around 1200 years ago. Like many alcoholic drinks, it’s first purpose was medicinal. Scotland started making whiskey in the middle ages. The main difference to Irish whiskey was that it was made with malted grains, which had been allowed to germinate.
To mark this distinction, the Scots dropped the ‘e’ from whiskey. Only whiskey made in Scotland can be labelled ‘Scotch whisky,’ although other countries such as Japan produce whisky made using the Scottish method. Bourbon was first made by a Scotsman in Bourbon County, Kentucky’ in the late 18th century. Bourbon is always made from maize.
Whether you’re a rum or whiskey drinker is down to taste. However, as they are both dark spirits, you’re likely to get a worse hangover if you over indulge, as dark spirits contain congeners, which are those nasty headache-inducing chemicals in some alcoholic drinks. This is why some people mistakenly claim that whisky and rum are stronger spirits than vodka and gin.