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Demystifying White Rum

Demystifying White Rum

What It Is And How You Should Drink It

Among nonaficionados, there is a fair amount of confusion over white rum. How does it differ from its darker sibling? How does one use it?

The first thing to understand about rum, asserts Ben Schaffer, publisher of Rum Reader magazine, is that its translucence does not necessarily reveal much about its essence. “Really, the color of the rum has very little impact on what it is or tastes like or the quality of it,” Schaffer explains.

White rum is a great mixer for cocktails, blending in seamlessly with other ingredients
White rum is a great mixer for cocktails, blending in seamlessly with other ingredients.

This is because of a process known in the spirits world as “filtering,” or the act of removing color from an aged spirit, usually performed through charcoal. While the more aged a rum is, the darker it will be, many rum makers charcoal-filter their aged batches into a white rum, removing the caramel hues.

That’s because the vast majority of rum consumed in the United States is mixed in cocktails, and if you add a dark-colored rum to your piña colada or daiquiri, it will darken the color of the drink. For those who like their drinks unsullied by colored rum, white is the preferred variety; it blends in seamlessly, an invisible intoxicant. And, if using aged rum, it can add a pleasant, woody, maturing tone to a drink.

But there is also the opposite trend you should be aware of. Because darker rums sell at a greater price point, the consumer assuming they are aged, some less scrupulous producers will add color to their unaged white rum to give it the appearance of having been aged. Rather than relying on the color to indicate age, Schaffer recommends inspecting a bottle’s label before purchasing to see how long it was aged for.

But added color shouldn’t always cause alarm. Many perfectly respectable brands perform “color-correction.”

But what is the big deal around aging, anyway? To age a spirit, notes Schaffer, is essentially to add more “wood flavor” to it. The longer a rum sits in an oak barrel, the typical wood of choice for Caribbean rums, the more infused it becomes with the oak’s essence. One might prefer a woodier flavor of rum and thus fork out the extra cash for an older variety. But if someone prefers a wilder, more booze-heavy flavor, they might decide for an unaged white.

Of course, white rum can also be aged, with the color seeped away. “At the end of the day, a white rum that has been aged is incredibly smooth and versatile,” says Roberto Serrallés, a sixth-generation rum maker at Don Q distillery in Puerto Rico. An aged white can make for better cocktails, he says, because “it doesn’t fight with the mixers” the way an unaged white can.

Because filtering is an expensive procedure, he notes, typically only higher-end brands will do so on an aged rum. Thus, you can expect an aged white rum to sit in a slightly higher price category. Some recommendations: The Real McCoy 3-Year-Old White Rum ($21), Denizen Aged White Rum ($19.99), Diplomático Planas ($34.99).

SIDEBAR

WHITE RUM RECIPES

BELOW ARE A FEW RECIPES, RECOMMENDED BY SCHAFFER, FOR SOME EXQUISITE WHITE RUM COCKTAILS:

Between the Sheets
Between the Sheets emerged from Europe in the 1920s. Here’s a simple version:

1 oz white rum
(try Don Q Cristal, Doorly’s 3 Year, or J. Wray Silver)
1 oz cognac
1 oz triple sec
3/4 oz lemon juice

Directions
Shake with ice and strain into a coupe.

El Presidente
Eschewing juice completely, the El Presidente is almost a rum martini. It was popular in Cuba in the same period.

1 1/2 oz white rum
(try Paranubes, Rum-Bar Silver,
or the brands above)
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz curaçao

Directions
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe.

Hemingway Daiquiri
For notorious imbiber Ernest Hemingway, daiquiris “felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier-skiing feels running through powder snow.” Here is the Hemingway Daiquiri:

2 oz white rum
(try Denizen or Don Q Cristal)
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur

Directions
Combine the rum, lime and grapefruit juices, and maraschino liqueur in a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a lime wheel.

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