Taste Test

White Rum and Vodka — Can You Tell the Difference?

rum vodka taste test

I was intrigued by a recent discussion on Facebook about a tasting that some folks did in which, among other things, white rums were compared to vodka. Note that this was not the purpose of the tasting, nor was it designed to produce definitive results. But it did produce a lot of discussion, along with a lot of strong opinions. (Go figure.)

So I decided to test myself. Could I tell the difference between dry white rum and vodka? I assumed I could — but you never know.

I took five spirits — two vodka and three white rums — and tasted them blind against each other. I tried to first identify if the spirit was rum or vodka. I then tried to identify which brand it was.

All five were tasted out of the same type of glass, same temperature, same conditions, etc., with two rounds after a pause between.

The five spirits were:

  1. Stolichnaya Vodka
  2. Grey Goose Vodka
  3. Cana Brava Rum
  4. Bacardi Maestro de Ron
  5. Flor de Cana 4-Year-Old Extra Dry Rum

On the first round, I tried to identify them by aroma alone. (Remember, these were all randomized, so I didn’t know which was which. I’m rearranging the results so that they’re easier to follow.)

Aroma Results:

  1. Vodka (Actual: Vodka)
  2. Vodka (Actual: Vodka)
  3. Rum (Actual: Rum)
  4. Rum (Actual: Rum)
  5. Rum (Actual: Rum)

So based on smell alone, I correctly identified the rums and vodkas for what they were.

I then tasted them. My results, including my pick for the brand and any notes I made, are below.

Tasting Results:

  1. Vodka. Stoli. “A little vanilla. This is definitely vodka, though, so I wonder if they’ve doctored it.” (Actual: Stolichnaya Vodka)
  2. Vodka. Grey Goose. “This could almost be a really dry rum like Bacardi. But it’s vodka.” (Actual: Grey Goose Vodka)
  3. Rum. Cana Brava. “Definitely rum. Can taste some age. Good stuff” (Actual: Cana Brava Rum)
  4. Rum. Flor de Cana.  “Taste some vanilla, but not a lot else.” (Actual: Bacardi Rum)
  5. Rum. Bacardi. “Mellow and pleasant with brown sugar. Tastes good.” (Actual: Flor de Cana)

I was correct on both vodka brands. I was also correct on Cana Brava Rum, which doesn’t surprise me. It definitely tastes like rum and has a nice flavor. I was correct that #4 and #5 were rum, but mixed up the brands. Writing it up now, I’m surprised, given that I should have realized that the more flavorful rum was Flor de Cana and not Bacardi. But #5 smelled like Bacardi to me, so that really influenced my pick.

To summarize: it wasn’t especially difficult to tell the difference between these two vodkas and these three white rums. The smell alone tipped me off.

Judging by taste, I preferred the Grey Goose to the Stolichnaya (although Stoli is my usual brand). For the white rums, both Cana Brava and Flor de Cana were excellent. The Bacardi Maestro de Ron wasn’t quite as good, but it was still okay.

A few notes… I didn’t have regular Bacardi Silver to taste or else I’d have picked that. The results might have been different. I was going to throw Cruzan Light Rum in there, but it has a slight straw color that I thought would have given it away. I deliberately didn’t pick any rums made in a different style (for example, Jamaican rum, rhum agricole) as I thought that would make it too easy.

If you’d like to participate in the discussion, join us on Facebook.


National Daiquiri Day — Who Cares? Let’s Drink!

Tomorrow is National Daiquiri Day. That’s silly, of course. But what’s not silly are Daiquiris themselves. In fact, they’re more than a little awesome.

Daiquiri Bacardi cocktail rum recipe drink


The original Daiquiri was made with Bacardi Superior (white) rum. That’s still a good place to start. (Although I prefer some of their other rums more.)

Daiquiris are very easy to make, so it’s a great cocktail to try at home. (And you have a much better chance of getting a good one that way than at your local dive bar.) Just remember to use fresh-squeezed lime juice and your favorite rum.

Here’s a simple Daiquiri recipe.


Press Releases

The 86 Company Launches Caña Brava 7-Year-Old Reserva Añeja Rum

Cana Brava Rum 7 Years

December 1, 2015 – New York, NY – The 86 Company is proud to release Caña Brava 7-Year-Old Reserva Añeja Rum, the f irst dark aged spirit in their portfolio. Staying true to the company’s ethos, it has been made by a veteran master distiller with the input from the professional bartending community on how it works in classic and contemporary cocktails.

Caña Brava 7YO begins with a selection of young and fresh rums handpicked by legendary Master Distiller Francisco ‘Don Pancho’ J. Fernandez. The rums are blended to create an age base which is then further aged in used bourbon casks for over seven years before being bottled. Caña Brava 7YO is a true aged expression of its lighter and younger sibling, Caña Brava 3-Year-Old. After creating the Caña Brava 3-Year-Old Carta Blanca Rum, a small amount stayed in casks for further aging. After seven years of total aging this rum is now ready for a one-time release. Caña Brava 7YO’s character emphasizes the fresh cut sugarcane flavors associated with their style while the aging has added depth and richness you would expect from a rum with this age. Its surprisingly dry finish and higher than normal proof (90 proof/45% ABV) give this rum additional body and flavor, making it very suitable for mixing in cocktails such as the El Presidente, Old Cuban and Rum Old Fashioned.

“We wanted to introduce a rum that would work like a rye whiskey in cocktails,” says Dushan Zaric, Co-Founder of The 86 Company.

The rum-making process begins with the sugarcane, which is harvested by hand. The resulting fresh sugarcane molasses is rushed to fermentation and kick-started using Don Pancho’s distinct pineapple yeast. The molasses wash ferments for approximately 24 hours before being distilled in a vintage copper & brass still built in 1922. The result is fresh aguardiente that is then aged in used American whiskey barrels for 2-3 years to become rum. This aged rum is gently filtered through charcoal before blending with fresh aguardiente to make the age base for Caña Brava rums. This blend is then further aged for seven years in used bourbon casks before being cut to 45% ABV (90 proof ) and bottled.


Cocktail Recipe: Eye-Opening Eggnog

This festive and decadent drink will put you in the mood for the holidays with a delicious mixture of Caffè Borghetti Espresso-Coffee Liqueur (to give you that little extra eye-opening jolt), a top-quality spiced rum like Chairman’s Reserve, and eggnog. You can make your own eggnog — that’s always preferable. But I generally use a good-quality store-bought version.

Think of it as a very grown-up holiday version of a caffè latte. Enjoy!

Eye-Opening Eggnog

Eye-Opening Eggnog


  • 1 1/2 oz. Caffè Borghetti Espresso-Coffee Liqueur
  • 3/4 oz. Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum
  • 6 oz. Egg Nog
  • 1 dash of Angostura Bitters


  1. Add the ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake gently. Strain into a festive glass. Top with grated nutmeg, if desired.

Reviews Rum Reviews

Rum Review: Mezan XO Rum

The Jamaican style of rum — heavy on the “hogo” (funky esters and lush tropical flavors) — is one of my favorites. So it’s always a pleasure to see a new rum from the island appear on the U.S. market.

Mezan bills itself as “the untouched rum,” meaning it’s unsweetened, uncolored, and only lightly filtered. This puts it in contrast to many other rums, which are often heavily doctored before bottling to achieve a certain flavor profile or color. (Dark Jamaican rums are particularly notorious for their heavy use of caramel coloring.)

The XO is Mezan’s introductory expression. They apparently produce several more, only a couple of which are available in the States. Mezan is a British company that buys rum stocks from the distilleries and then blends and ages them into their own style.

The Mezan XO reminds me somewhat of Smith & Cross, another full-flavored and funky Jamaican rum. This is a bit lighter, which probably means it will have more appeal to a lot of drinkers. (The Smith & Cross can be a little rough for the uninitiated.)

It smells of dunder, bananas, and other fruit. A nice, sweet aroma that promises good things to come. And the taste doesn’t disappoint. The fruit continues, with a good amount of Jamaican hogo. It doesn’t hit you over the head, but it’s right there, front and center. You can also taste the molasses, but it’s not especially sweet.

It’s slightly spicy and has a definite note of something I couldn’t identify. (The label promises tobacco, but it wasn’t that. Tea, maybe?) It’s a little bitter on the finish (barrel tannins, presumably) with some heat, but not too much.

Mezan XO is a very flavorful Jamaican rum that you can enjoy neat or use to funk up your Mai Tais, Planters Punches, and other cocktails.


Novo Fogo Cachaça, Courtesy of Rumba

This is essentially an ad for Novo Fogo Cachaça, but I found it interesting and think it contains a good introduction to the basics of cachaça.

Cachaça is a a sugar cane-based spirit, similar to a rhum agricole, that is produced in Brazil. It is by far that country’s most popular spirit, and there are reportedly over 40,000 cachaça distilleries in Brazil.

Only a handful of cachaças are imported into the United States, but Novo Fogo is trying to change that. They are bringing several varieties of their spirit into the country, including some of the barrel-aged expressions that we seldom see.

I know rum much better than I do cachaça, but having tasted Novo Fogo, I can confirm that it’s an excellent product. Very flavorful, but not overpowering, with the topical sweetness you expect from rum, but more of a vegetal and yeasty quality that is a nice surprise.

The video was shot at Rumba in Seattle, which looks like a great rum bar. It’s always nice to see people who have both the love and knowledge of cane spirits.

Novo Fogo cachaca logo

Reviews Rum Reviews

Rum Review: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Rum

Ron Zacapa Centernario 23 is a favorite among many rum drinkers, especially those who like their tipple on the sweeter side. It is made in Guatemala from “sugar cane honey,” the first press of the cane that is then boiled down to make it thick and syrupy.

After distillation, the rum is aged in a facility high in the Guatemalan mountains, at a place they call the “house above the clouds” — appropriate, given that it’s located 7000 feet above sea level. The rum is aged through the solera process, including rums aged six through twenty-three years. (I explain more about the solera process in my review of Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum.)

Ron Zacapa 23 is a dark mahogany in the glass, with a lush aroma of brown sugar and Christmas spice. Very warm and welcoming, it has a sweet taste of caramel balanced with cinnamon and dried fruit. There is more than a hint of oak as well, before dark chocolate takes over on the long finish. The addition of a little water brings out even more sweetness.

This rum has a very rich and robust flavor that is ideal for sipping. It would make a good introduction for those who are interested in trying spirits neat but don’t have much experience with doing so. A few might find it overly sweet, but I found it all worked together quite nicely.

Depending on how you feel about mixing cocktails with expensive spirits — I’m a firm proponent of it myself — Ron Zacapa 23 is highly recommended for a variety of drinks, especially those of the Tiki variety. I can report it makes a mighty fine Mai Tai.

Ron Zacapa Rum glass


Cocktail Recipe: Long Island Iced Tea

The Long Island Iced Tea has one of the worst reputations of any cocktail. For good reason, too. Served by the gallon at every TGI Fridays and Applebee’s across the land, it’s usually made with way too much bottom-shelf booze and chemical sour mix from a bar gun.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s actually not a bad drink when made right. It’s not a sophisticated or nuanced cocktail by any means. But that’s not always what you’re looking for.

I’m not the only one who still has a fondness for this potent party bomb. Rockstar bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler enjoys them, too, and his recipe is basically the same as my own.

The key is to use high quality spirits and fresh lemon juice. If you make this with cheap triple sec or bottled sweet and sour, it’s going to taste like crap. (Just like you probably remember it.)

On the other hand, if you use the good stuff, it’s a surprisingly tasty and refreshing drink. The brands I used when I made this were: Stoli (vodka), Tanqueray (gin), Cruzan (rum), and Olmeca Altos (tequila). You don’t have to use those specific ones. Just make sure you reach for something good.

Long Island Iced Tea

Long Island Iced Tea


  • 1/2 oz. Vodka
  • 1/2 oz. London Dry Gin
  • 1/2 oz. White Rum
  • 1/2 oz. Blanco Tequila
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup


  1. Shake ingredients with ice and strain over crushed ice in a chilled Collins glass. Float 3/4 oz. cola on top and garnish with a lemon twist.


Rum Review: Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum

Since I wrote recently about the Hemingway Daiquiri, I thought it was time to review the rum associated, albeit tenuously, with the man.

Sanctioned by the Hemingway Estate, Papa’s Pilar Rum came on the market in 2013. “Papa,” of course, was Hemingway’s moniker. “Pilar” was the name of his fishing boat (and the nickname of his second wife). Together, they are intended to convey the rugged, adventurous spirit of the famed writer.

When you see the presentation of this rum, you know some thought went into it. It has a distinctive shape, designed to resemble an infantryman’s canteen. (Remember, Hemingway was an ambulance driver in World War I.) The cork top, engraved with a compass, is chained to the bottle, just as it was on a solider’s canteen. It’s not a very practical design for a booze bottle, but it’s a pretty one.

According to the producers, Papa’s Pilar is a blend of both pot-distilled and column-distilled rums from the Caribbean, Central America, and the United States. It is aged in ex-bourbon and port wine barrels, then finished in Spanish sherry casks. Finally, it is blended in Kentucky.

You’ll note that the bottle has a big “24” on it, but this rum is not 24-years-old. It is aged through the solera system, where spirit from a new barrel is mixed with spirit from an older barrel, aged for a while, then mixed with the next oldest barrel, and so on down the line. As a result, some of the rum in this blend might be 24-years-old, but by no means the bulk of it.

Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum has a strong aroma of brown sugar and cinnamon: sweet, dark, and rich. The flavor is sweet initially, with lots of vanilla, caramel, and citrus. Then the spice starts to come on, cinnamon and anise, balancing it out. It finishes on the dry side, medium-long, and slightly astringent, with the influence of the sherry aging making itself known.

A lot of rums remind me of other rums, but this one is unique in that regard. I wouldn’t be surprised if, under the great rum sun, there is another brand that tastes like this. But whatever it might be, it doesn’t leap to mind.

Papa’s Pilar is bold and pretty damn close to being one-of-a-kind. Just like Hemingway himself. I think he would have been quite happy to drink this rum.

Papas Pilar Dark Rum


Cocktail Recipe: Hemingway Daiquiri

Ernest HemingwayAs you may know, Ernest Hemingway was fond of his drink — much in the same way that a Great White Shark is fond of eating seals and surfers. To put it another way: he was a raging alcoholic. As such, he was distinguished by his thirst for cocktails, not his good taste in them.

Hemingway lived in Havana, Cuba during the 1930s, and often did his drinking at El Floridita where the great Constantino Ribalaigua Vert worked behind the bar. The self-proclaimed “Cradle of the Daiquiri,” El Floridita served a menu of cocktails that included at least five different versions of the Daiquiri that Vert created.

When Hemingway discovered El Floridita — supposedly he wandered in looking for a bathroom — he sampled the Daiquiri and found it to his liking. As Hemingway was fearful of becoming a diabetic like his father, however, he demanded a modification: “That’s good, but I prefer it without sugar and double rum.”

Antonio Meilán, a gifted bartender in his own right and an in-law of Ribalaigua’s, made a Daiquiri as Hemingway requested, and it became a regular part of Papa’s drinking rotation. At some point, a touch of Maraschino Liqueur was added to the mix, and a little grapefruit juice as well.

The cocktail that we now call the Hemingway Daiquiri is not for the faint of palate, even in its evolved form. It is strong and tart, and most will find it challenging to drink. If you are one of them, adding a small amount of sugar or simple syrup wouldn’t be out of the question. Although Hemingway might not approve, I suspect Ribalaigua would.

Hemingway Daiquiri

Hemingway Daiquiri


  • 2 oz. White Rum
  • 3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
  • Lime Wheel, for garnish (if desired)


  1. Shake ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime wheel.