For daiquiris, mojitos and more, white rum is a refreshing summer staple. Sometimes called silver or blanco, these rums spend minimal time in oak barrels, allowing the sugarcane flavors to take center stage—often perceived as vanilla or brown sugar—rather than the deeper caramel and toffee tones found in longer-aged rums.
Arguably, no one knows rum better than Martin Cate, proprietor of San Francisco tiki den Smuggler’s Cove—which stocks more than 500 rums—and author of a new book by the same name, about exotic (and mostly rum-soaked) cocktails. He explains the understandable confusion behind white rum.
“Many rum consumers think that white rum is unaged—the rum equivalent of vodka,” Cate notes. “This is not the case. Very few rums on the market are totally unaged, and many are aged long enough to take on color, but have had the color filtered out of them as part of their style.” Similarly, some golden-hued rums have color added, to simulate the appearance of age.
These rums spend minimal time in oak barrels, allowing the sugarcane flavors to take center stage.
What matters more than the color, Cate argues (and I agree), is the style of the rum—where it is made, the raw material, how it is fermented and distilled, and how it is aged.
Consider, for example, Diplomatico Blanco Reserve and Bayou Rum Silver. They look identical in the glass, and both are well recommended. But they’re vastly different—the Diplomatico is lush and redolent of brown sugar, while the Bayou is zippy and fruity.
The raw materials and aging processes account for some of that remarkable difference. The Diplomatico, distilled from molasses, is made from a blend of rums aged in barrels for two years or longer. Compare that to Louisiana’s Bayou Rum Silver, made from a blend of unrefined raw sugar crystals and molasses. After distillation, the rum is “rested” for 30 to 40 days in a stainless steel tank, but sees no barrel time.
Diplomatico Blanco Reserve (Venezuela); $30, 95 points. It almost doesn’t seem fair to stack up this “extra añejo” rum against barely-aged counterparts. This is the Cadillac of white rums, one of the few suitable to keep as a standalone sipper. Look for silky smoothness and pure, concentrated sugarcane flavor that mellows into accents of brown sugar, caramel and baking spice on the finish. Domaine Select Wine & Spirits, New York, NY.
Plantation 3 Stars (Jamaica/Barbados/Trinidad); $25, 94 points. Made with rums from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, and blended in France by Cognac Ferrand, this pleasing white rum offers a mild aroma like a grassy breeze and a smooth, slightly viscous texture. A lightly sweet coconut flavor morphs into vanilla, candied lemon peel and cinnamon sparks on the warming finish. Sip or mix. W.J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains, NY. Best Buy.
Bayou Rum Silver (U.S.); $22, 93 points. This bold, unusual rum calls for tropical drinks at first sniff. The enticing aroma mixes juicy orange, cocoa, marshmallow and an earthy note reminiscent of mezcal. Look for mild sweetness and a fair amount of alcohol bite. It’s made using sugar and molasses from Louisiana, one of the few U.S. states that grows sugarcane. Louisiana Spirits, Lacassine, LA. Best Buy.
Avalon United States of America Silver Rum (U.S.); $30, 92 points. Look for a bold, fruity and floral profile. A delicate lychee note comes forward and mingles with mouthwatering pineapple and rosewater flavors. The drying, lip-smacking finish also brings a gentle waft of marshmallow sweetness. The California Spirits Co., San Marcos, CA.
Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron (Puerto Rico); $25, 90 points. Smooth and mildly sweet, this rum has a pronounced vanilla note, tapering off to a gentle marshmallow fade followed by a hint of white pepper heat. It’s made using a “double aging process”—rums aged for at least one year are blended and then returned to white oak barrels for an additional three months. Bacardi Corporation, Miami, FL. Best Buy.
Cruzan Aged Light Rum (St. Croix), $14, 90 points. This rum has a pale straw tinge and very mild scents of marshmallow and coconut. Silky and soft on the palate, look for hints of pineapple and coconut braced by ginger and white pepper sparks. Recommended for tropical drinks. Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL. Best Buy.
Sugar House Distillery Silver Rum (U.S.); $35, 90 points. Though it’s made in the U.S.—not Martinique—this small-batch rum is reminiscent of a super-light rhum agricole, from the slightly funky ripe banana scent to mellow grassiness on the palate, which finishes with a fiery cayenne flicker. Salt Lake City, UT.
Rhum Barbancourt White (Haiti); $17, 89 points. Ideal for mojitos and other cocktails, look for tropical fruit pungency and a grassy finish, all warmed by a sprinkle of baking spice. Crillon Importers, Paramus, NJ.