Rum or whisky? These two classic spirits boast centuries of tradition, while also appealing to the most modern tastes. Novice drinkers and veteran consumers alike wonder about what differences separate these timeless beverages. Passionate advocates for both enjoy a good spirited discussion about the merits of rum versus whisky.
Traditions Behind Rum and Whisky
The origin of whiskey (if you are Irish or from the US) or whisky (preferred spelling in Britain and most other English speaking countries) remains shrouded in mystery. We know that the word, at least, comes from a Gaelic translation of the Latin phrase aqua vitae. literally meaning “water of life." However, the Romans used the phrase to refer to alcoholic beverages in general.
Some claim that the ancient Greeks pioneered the process, while others credit monasteries in traditionally Celtic Scotland and Ireland. We do know that Arabs experimented with whisky distillation as early as 800 AD. Whisky developed a tenacious hold on Ireland and Scotland, migrating with its people to Canada and the United States where they developed their own unique processes and styles.
Rum comes from more recent and better known origins. Caribbean colonial planters processing sugar cane into a finished and refined product used to cast off an unwanted byproduct called molasses. A clever individual whose name has not been passed down through history combined molasses with wastewater from the refining process, fermenting it to create rum.
Rum grew into an English and American colonial favourite. It spread worldwide, in part due to its adoption into Royal Navy service as the most-sought after drink on long ocean voyages. The rum ration, incidentally, lasted as a Royal Navy tradition until the 1980s.
What Are Rum and Whisky Made Of?
Rum still uses molasses from sugar cane as a base. Distillers add water and yeast to break down the sugars. The amount of yeast and other additives determine the taste and colour of the final product. After distillation, rum ages in barrels or stainless steel casks for a year or more before bottling.
Famous whisky producers like Laphroaig, Jameson’s, Canadian Mist, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, and others take great pride in the selection of each ingredient in the distillation process. Producers start by using water with distinctive properties. Laphroaig only uses water from the fabled Kilbride Stream. True Bourbon whisky can only come from the western part of the US state of Kentucky. Wells sunk into water bearing limestone caverns provide the special qualities desired there.
Many distilleries exercise similar control over the sourcing of their grains. These can include wheat, corn, barley, rye, and others. Laphroaig goes to the extent of sourcing the peat used to dry their malt from the same sources used for over two centuries.
How Can You Best Enjoy Each?
Excellent whisky and rum can both stand on their own as beverages to sip and enjoy. They each have varying levels of sweetness, as well as different levels of heat derived from the oils and other substances produced during the distilling process. Rum consumers, however, are more likely to use rum as a base for mixed drinks and cocktails, particularly cold and refreshing options perfect for a day in the Caribbean sun.
Whisky purists will say that the best way to enjoy their spirit of choice is neat, meaning; by itself and without ice. You can also enjoy it as an integral part of cocktails and other mixed drinks. The classic Old Fashioned tops many lists of favourite whisky-based drinks.
Which is better? That depends on your taste, how you use the spirit, and the occasion. Rum and whisky both have their own outstanding qualities that shine in the right environment. You will do yourself a favour by learning all the amazing ways to enjoy both classic spirits.