White Rum or Dark Rum? What's the Difference?

If you’re a regular drinker of cocktails, there’s no doubting that you will have already sampled white rum or dark rum. Rum, our favourite spirit, is the staple base of a number of popular drinks including the Mojito, Daiquiri and Dark ‘n’ Stormy. If you’ve only drunk them in cocktails and mixers, it can be hard to distinguish between the different types of rum, so in this post, we’ll be looking closer at the key differences. But before we do that,  I think firstly it’s a good idea to take a brief look at the history of rum and how it came about in the first place…


What is rum?

Rum is a distilled spirit deriving from the byproducts of sugar cane. A number of byproducts can be used in the process of making rum, each helping to produce different flavour compositions, with the most common being either sugarcane syrup, sugarcane juice or molasses. During the production of sugar in the early 1600s, local producers were presented with the dilemma of finding a profitable use for these mass amounts of byproduct. It was at this point that rum production was formed, a tradition that has transformed Caribbean communities ever since. Rum can be distilled to various strengths, although you’ll find most brands above 40% ABV. Where this versatile spirit becomes really interesting is when we look at the various types of rum available, such as dark, white, gold, spiced and cachaca.


White Rum or Dark Rum: What is Rum?


What’s the difference between dark rum and white rum?

Aside from the variation in colour, there are a number of differences between dark and white rum, all of which link back to how it the rum is made. Typically white rum is the easiest rum to create,  as there is no ageing or flavouring process involved. At the end of the rum distillation process, the spirit is simply filtered to remove impurities, cut to its correct alcoholic volume and bottled. The lack of ageing makes for a clean taste which is why it’s often the spirit of choice for cocktails or simply drinking with a mixer. It’s mild flavour naturally means that it’s more common to be found drank with mixers such as coke or ginger beer rather than enjoyed straight. Countries well known for producing top of the range white rums include Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Colombia.

To summarise white rum features:

  • Clear colour
  • Clean, mild taste
  • Popular in cocktails
  • No ageing process during creation


Dark rum, on the other hand, is known for it’s fuller taste and dark colour that it has acquired over a period of time during ageing in burnt barrels (usually American Oak). Ageing dark rum is a highly complex process with multiple factors to consider such as time of ageing, type of barrel, amount of charring on the barrel etc. It’s these factors that make this such a wonderful spirit, with countless variations to be created by distillers and enjoyed by rum enthusiasts. The story goes that dark rum was first discovered after white rum was sent overseas in old barrels. After months at sea, the white rum had taken on the colours and flavours of the barrels and was enjoyed once hauled ashore.

In terms of flavouring, dark rum is a much fuller taste, similar to that of whiskey, with strong hints of molasses and smoke taken from the charred barrels. It is also common to find distilleries adding caramel to their finished rum to darken it even more whilst maintaining that sweet rum taste that we all love. Dark rum can be found in cocktails, however not as frequently as white rum. Countries synonymous for creating the best dark rums include Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

To summarise dark rum features:

  • Dark colour, often darkened further by adding caramel
  • Fuller, more matured taste
  • Aged in barrels (often charred depending on required outcome)
  • Better than white rum for drinking straight


White Rum or Dark Rum

So what is spiced rum and how is it different?

Spiced rum is essentially dark rum which has been infused with additional spices to create a more vibrant, distinct flavour. Common flavourings for spiced rums include peppercorns, vanilla, honey, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Flavours can be added at various stages of the creation process including during distilling or whilst ageing. The list of potential flavour profiles is endless and distillers are incorporating fresh and exciting flavours every day. Spiced rum is leading the way in the rum revolution at the moment, with craft brands experimenting with new recipes and twists on old classics. Enjoy spiced rum neat over ice or with coke and a slice of lime.


Which rum should I use for cocktails?

This is an interesting question and one which there isn’t really a set answer for. Indeed if are looking to create some classic cocktails such as a Mojito or Daiquiri, you’ll want to use the rum specified in their cocktail recipes. However, in the true spirit of mixology, you can essentially experiment with whatever rums you want (even mixing dark and white) to create your desired taste. Take a look at some of the main dark rum or white rum cocktails that we’ve listed below which will give you an idea of where each type of rum is used.


Dark Rum Cocktails

  • Dark ‘n’ Stormy – Dark rum, mixed with ginger beer and a slice of lime. – One of the greatest ways to enjoy a good dark rum.
  • Mai Tai – The ultimate Tiki cocktail.

White Rum Cocktails

  • Mojito – The legendary Mojito, perfect for sipping on a summer day.
  • Daiquiri – Cherry, Ginger, Strawberry. – The opportunities are endless!
  • Pina Colada – The legendary beachside cocktail.
  • Long Island Iced Tea – Swap out the cup of hot tea for a shot of rum and vodka.

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