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.

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Reviews Vodka Reviews

Vodka Review: Absolut Vodka

This post was sponsored by Absolut Vodka.

Study a bottle of Absolut Vodka. Sleek and elegant, its shape is now iconic, but was once revelatory. Study the contents and you’ll immediately note that the liquid inside is impeccably pure and clear.

None of this happened by accident, but rather is the product of meticulous Swedish craftsmanship and design. Absolut may be a multinational company producing millions of bottles of vodka to be enjoyed all around the world. But they’re still doing things the right way.

In the town of Ähus, Sweden, a 400-year-old village with cobblestone streets, they’ve been making vodka for the better half of a millennium. This is where Absolut vodka is made. All of the Absolut vodka. Each and every one of the 650,000 bottles produced every day is made in this community.

Absolut is made exclusively from winter wheat grown in the Skane region of Sweden. The vodka used is from the local aquifers, which are noted for their clarity. Even so, the distillers take the extra step of filtering the water to ensure that it is as pure as possible

All of this allows the company to produce a product that is of consistently and reliably high quality. No matter where you purchase a bottle of Absolut vodka, you can be sure that you’re going to get what you expect.

In the glass, Absolut is transparent, with no color or sediment obscuring it. It looks like the purest glass of water you’ve ever seen. Its aroma is one of cereal grains and faint ethanol, with none of the whiffs of acetone that mar poor quality vodka.

In the mouth, it has a slight sweetness to start, with little fire to announce its arrival. There is again the hint of cereal grains and vanilla, but the flavor is subtle. Spirits reviewers hate the term “smooth” because it’s so nebulous. But it is the word I keep thinking of. As the vodka moves around your mouth, it gradually heats up and dries out, leaving a slight bitterness and pleasant tingling on the tongue.

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, the proof is in the bottle. Some in the spirits world look down their noses at vodka, as if it doesn’t take a craftsman’s skill to make a spirit this fine. But it does, and the distillers at Absolut have that skill.

Absolut Vodka Logo


Absolut Vodka paid a fee for this post’s inclusion here on Professor Cocktail, but in no way did they dictate or control the content. The thoughts expressed here, and the words chosen to express them, are strictly and completely our own.


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.


Cocktail Recipe: Pomegranate Cosmo

Pomegranate Cosmo

Pomegranate Cosmo


  • 1 oz. Vodka
  • 1 oz. Pomegranate Liqueur
  • 3/4 oz. Triple Sec
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
  • Splash of Cranberry Juice


  1. Shake all ingredients together with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


Holiday Gift Guide: Spirits

An annual gift guide is obligatory for any self-respecting publication, along with many (like this one) that are not. Here are some suggestions for what to give the spirits lover in your life. There are more expensive and rarer spirits that I could tantalize you with. But these you can actually find most places and they won’t break the bank.

 Larceny Bourbon Larceny Bourbon
The most desirable bourbons — Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, etc. — are almost impossible to find. But there are still plenty of great bourbons that you can buy at the local liquor store. And Larceny is one of them. It’s a wheated bourbon, so it has a softer flavor profile — just like Pappy! — and it will please almost any palate.
 Bulleit Rye Bulleit Rye
Much like bourbon, the coveted rye whiskeys can be hard to find. Either that or they’re expensive. Bulleit Rye is both easy to find and affordable — and it’s good, too. Works for both sipping and cocktails, such as the Manhattan.
 Tanqueray Malacca Gin Tanqueray Malacca Gin
This limited edition gin from Tanqueray is starting to get hard to find. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. So if you see any for sale, buy it. It’s an amazing gin: less Junipery, more citrusy, and a little sweeter. It’s particularly delicious in pre-Prohibition era cocktails like the Tom Collins or Martinez.
 tequila artenom 1414 Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion 1414 Reposado
An amazing tequila — one of the best I’ve tried this year. Spicy and fruity and bursting with deliciousness.
 Plantation Grande Reserve Barbados Rum Plantation 5 Year Old Grande Reserve Barbados Rum
A very versatile and excellent rum at a great price. The blenders at Pierre Ferrand (which makes Plantation Rum) are masters, and it shows in this rum.
 Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach
You know Grand Marnier, one of the world’s finest orange liqueurs. Now meet its cousin. This combines the traditional flavor of Grand Marnier with flavors of raspberry and peach. Makes a great Margarita or a nice dessert tipple.
 Boyd and Blair Vodka Boyd & Blair Vodka
Can vodka be delicious? Of course it can! And here’s the proof. The best vodka I tried all year. Creamy, smooth, and wonderful.
Rhum Clement VSOP Rhum Clément VSOP
If you’re looking for a more unique rum to give, Rhum Clément makes an excellent choice. One of the best examples of rhum agricole — a style of rum made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than the usual molasses — Rhum Clement has a spicy, rich and vibrant flavor. Can be enjoyed on its own, it also makes an amazing Mai Tai when combined with Jamaican rum.
 Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
Blended scotches don’t get the respect that single malts do, but that’s crazy. Some of the best scotches in the world go into Johnnie Walker’s blends. This limited edition is only around for the holidays and I haven’t tried it. But the bottle alone makes it a gorgeous gift.
 Citadelle Reserve Gin Citadelle Reserve Gin
Most gin is intended to be drank in cocktails. And Citadelle Reserve makes a great cocktail. But it’s also excellent when enjoyed by itself over ice. The key here is that the gin is barrel aged after distillation, giving the finished product a softer, warmer flavor. (This one might be hard to find.)
 Suntory Hibiki 12yo Whisky Suntory Hibiki 12 Year Whisky
Japanese whisky is one of the hot new trends in the whiskey world, and for good reason. It can still be hard to find, but definitely worth seeking out. Designed to be enjoyed in highballs or with a little water, Hibiki is dangerously drinkable.

Cocktail Recipe: Bloody Mary

The recipe for the perfect Bloody Mary is very much a matter of personal taste. It’s a drink that has endless variations depending on which ingredients you chose to use. You can make it spicy or sweet or fishy or savory or herbaceous, whatever the stomach desires. Here is my version. But feel free to play with the recipe to make it your own. Some possible variations are listed below the recipe.

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary


  • 1 1/2 oz. Vodka
  • 4 oz. Tomato Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp. Celery Salt
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2-4 dashes Tabasco Sauce
  • Pinch of Black Pepper
  • Pinch of Old Bay Seasoning


  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake lightly to mix. Pour unstrained into a highball glass and add more ice to fill, if necessary.
  2. Garnish with a celery stalk, picked green bean, olives, lemon wedge, or whichever combination you desire.

Possible variations:

  • Replace the vodka with gin (Red Snapper) or tequila (Bloody Maria). Or you could try a flavored vodka such as pepper or cucumber.
  • Replace the tomato juice with Clamato (Bloody Caesar).
  • Add 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish or 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder.
  • Add dill, basil, or other fresh herbs.
  • Add a splash of olive juice.
  • Add a pinch of garlic salt, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, or Creole seasoning.
  • Replace (or augment) the Tabasco with sriracha sauce, habanero sauce, or the hot sauce of your choice.

Image © Grafvision –

Ingredients Mixology Spirits

Stocking a Home Bar: Spirits

Properly stocking a home bar can be an expensive proposition. There are many different products you likely will want to buy, and a lot of them aren't cheap. The good news is, you probably won't be going through the bottles that quickly, and most alcohol stays good for a very long time.*

There are three different major styles of gin: London Dry, Old Tom and Genever. (You could also throw Plymouth Gin into the mix.) The good news is you only need to buy one bottle to start: London Dry. Tanqueray has long been my favorite, but Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater are excellent as well. Buy whichever one is cheapest.

It's easy to spend more money on vodka then you need to, especially if you reach for the Grey Goose because you "heard it's the best." By all means, pick up an expensive bottle if you're feeling flush. My favorite, which is medium-priced, is Stolichnaya. But you'll get by very well with some Sobieski.

Rum is a little more challenging, because rums vary a lot depending on what country they're from, what color they are (light/white vs. gold/dark), how long they're aged, etc. I would recommend starting out with two bottles, one of white rum and one of gold rum. Cruzan (from the U.S. Virgin Islands) is recommended — both cheaper and better than the ubiquitous Bacardi. But if you can find Flor de Caña (from Nicaragua) it only costs a little more and is excellent. If you don't drink much rum and only want to buy one bottle, I suggest you get some Appleton V/X, a very versatile and tasty rum.

Tequila has grown enormously in popularity over the past several years, which means there are now a lot of great choices on the shelves, in all kinds of prices. If your goal is to make Margaritas and other similar drinks, you'll want a silver tequila. I recommend either Camarena or Milagro. They're both affordable and easy to find.

This is a tough one, because there are so many types and so many choices. Do you go with a Scotch, Canadian or Irish? Bourbon, rye or Tennessee? If I were buying just one type, I would probably go with bourbon, and would probably get Maker's Mark. Maker's isn't the favorite whiskey of a lot of people, but it's a very good one and it's something that almost any whiskey drinker will drink without complaining. If you want to branch out and add a Scotch, I'd go with Johnnie Walker Black. Again, not always a favorite, but a crowd pleaser.

Cognac (which is brandy made according to certain rules in a particular area of France) was hot a decade or so back when the hip hop community discovered it, and brands like Hennessy and Remy Martin were name-checked in rap songs. It's cooled off since then, so there are plenty of good bargains to be found. (And also plenty of bottles that will cost you as much as a nice vacation.) If you want a simple brandy, I find Raynal to be quite good. It works fine in a lot of cocktails and won't set you back much at all. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, go for one of the cognacs made by Pierre Ferrand. (Their Ambre is very good and only costs around $40.)

If you're going to make any kind of cocktails, you're going to need some modifiers, with the most common being an orange liqueur. It might be triple sec or Curacao, but in order to make a Margarita or a Sidecar or Mai Tai, you're going to need something. There are many different types of orange liqueur, ranging from cheap to expensive. Unfortunately, the cheap stuff is usually not very good. On the upside, a bottle will last a long time, so it doesn't hurt as much to splurge. If you want a dryer liqueur, go with Cointreau. If you want a sweeter one, go with Grand Marnier. Yes, they're expensive. But they're so good that you'll be glad you spent the extra money.

If you're planning to make Martinis or Manhattans, you'll need to get some vermouth. Sweet (red) vermouth goes in a Manhattan and dry (white) vermouth goes in a Martini. There are some high-end brands that are delicious. But on the affordable end of things Martini (sweet) and Noilly Pratt (dry) work very well. 

You're not going to get this done without spending a couple hundred bucks. But once you do, you'll be able to make a lot of drinks — and save yourself a ton of dough over what you'd spend in a bar. Plus, with a little practice, you'll be able to whip up some great cocktails that will quickly make you the envy of all your friends and neighbors.

*Except for vermouth. Vermouth is only good for a couple of months once you open it. And only if you keep it in the refrigerator. And yes, I know vermouth isn't a spirit. Neither is orange liqueur.


What to Expect in 2013 According to Professor Cocktail

Everybody likes predictions — especially when the predictor gets things horribly wrong and looks like a dolt. So here are my predictions for the spirituous world in 2013. Bookmark this page so you can come back in a year and see how I did.

An end to whiskey insanity:

The past few years have been crazy ones for the whiskey business. Prices are climbing steadily, yet a shortage of older whiskey remains. More and more rare expressions are hitting the market and there seems to be no ceiling on the demand for them — or the prices they fetch. Bourbons like Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection have become almost impossible to find. Can all of this continue? I doubt it. Consumer trends are nearly always cyclical and there's no reason to think that whiskey will be any different. Eventually things will settle down and return to a more normal state of affairs. It might as well be this year.

Less complicated cocktails:

When the craft cocktail revolution hit full flower, things got a little out of hand. Cocktails with seven ingredients, two of which had to be made from scratch and one that cost $100 an ounce. Did these drinks really taste good enough to justify all the fuss and expense? Probably not. I think we'll see more normalcy coming to our mixology. Skilled bartenders are still going to make great drinks with delicious and unexpected flavors. They're just going to do so without the extra layer of nonsense.

The year for mezcal:

We all know how popular tequila is. But what about mezcal? Tequila's agave cousin from southern Mexico is poised to break through to a larger audience — and this just might be the year it happens. Look for more brands and expressions to hit the shelves. And give one a try.

More wine in cocktails:

We've been seeing this trend picking up steam the last year or two, and I think it's ready to go mainstream. Cocktails with port and sherry especially are going to start popping up everywhere.

Skinny is the new fat:

Although the merits of the "skinny" trend are debatable, it's not going anywhere. Skinny spirits, skinny wine, skinny cocktails — you're going to see plenty of them this year.

Drink local:

It's been years since Alice Waters began her push to encourage people to eat local. In 2013 we're going to see this trend really start to assert itself in the cocktail and spirits world. Fresh, local ingredients in cocktails, accompanied by regionally-made booze, will continue to grow. People want to know where the stuff in their drinks is coming from, and this desire to drink local will help support the growing craft spirits movement.

Carbonated spirits:

Carbonated cocktails have been featured in recent years in several of the high-end cocktail bars — especially when wizards like Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Jamie Boudreau are behind the stick. But now we're going to see booze that comes with the carbonation right in the bottle. Prevu and Nuvo are at the leading edge of this trend.

 What do you foresee on the horizon? Anything you're excited or horrified about?

(Stolen from

Gifts Liqueurs Spirits

Professor Cocktail’s Holiday Gift Guide: Other Spirits

This week we're running our holiday gift guide, with suggestions for spirits in different categories. So far we've offered our rum recommendationsbourbon recommendations and gin recommendations. We're closing the week with other spirits.

Professor Cocktail's Holiday Gift Guide: Other Spirits

Here is a variety of suggestions for booze that didn't fit into the other categories, but would make great gifts.

Grand marnier cherryGrand Marnier Natural Cherry ($40)

A limited edition flavor from the masters of orange liqueur. One of the most delicious cherry liqueurs you'll find. Buy some before it disappears from shelves. (The regular Grand Marnier always makes a great gift as well.)

Tequila avionAvión Silver ($40)

My favorite tequila, and the winner of our Tequila Taste Test. Makes brilliant cocktails or can be savored on its own.

Karlsson's Gold VodkaKarlsson's Gold Vodka ($30)

Vodka with flavor and nuance? Who'da thunk it! Made from seven different kinds of potatoes, this is primo stuff. Leave the Grey Goose on the shelf and give this instead.

Pisco portonPisco Portón ($35)

Pisco, the brandy of South America, is a spirit on the rise, and Portón is the best one I've tasted. Would make a great gift for the drinker who likes to try new things.

Carpano anticaCarpano Antica Sweet Vermouth ($27, 1L)

The champion of all sweet vermouths. Makes delicious cocktails, including perhaps the best Manhattan. It's pricey, so a lot of people wouldn't buy it for themselves. That's why it makes a great gift.

We've included links for each suggestion to K&L Wines (where available). K&L is a great spirits store, with impeccable service and a sterling reputation. You can order from them with confidence. Send them an email to see if they ship to your state. (Note: We're not being compensated for these links.)

Ask the Professor Spirits Vodka

Ask the Professor: Allergic to Yeast and Corn

Jacqui M. writes in to ask:

I have recently developed a severe
allergy to corn and yeast. Can you imagine how difficult it is
to find something to drink for a cocktail? Help would be greatly
appreciated. I love vodka. Can you recommend a brand that would
be safe for me?

I'm not qualified to give medical
advice and you'd be crazy to take it. But I can comment on the booze.

One thing I can say for certain is that all alcohol is made using yeast. It is the key
ingredient in transforming sugar (glucose) into alcohol (ethanol).
Once the process of fermentation and distillation is finished,
however, I do not believe there is any yeast left in the final
product. But whether or not it is safe for you to consume is a
question for your doctor

Vodka is distilled from starch/sugar of
one kind of another. It can be made from corn, other grains (like
wheat or rye), potatoes, grapes, sugar beets and God knows what else.
The same goes for gin (which is basically vodka that is infused with
various botanicals like juniper).

In the United States, all vodka and
gin must be labeled with the commodity from which it was
produced. However, the statements don't have to be terribly specific.
So if you have a vodka "distilled from grain," you wouldn't
necessarily know if it was made from corn or wheat.

If you stick to
potato vodka (e.g., Chopin or Luksusowa) or grape vodka
(e.g., Cîroc), you can be sure it won't have any corn in it.
Some other vodkas trumpet their source ingredient — wheat with Grey
Goose, rye with Belvedere — so those would presumably be safe
as well.

As for other spirits…

Bourbon and corn whiskey are, by law, made from corn. Rye whiskey often has corn in it, although there are some 95% rye whiskeys out there (the other 5% is malted barley) and even a few 100% ryes.

Single malt Scotch is made from malted barley. But other whiskeys — blended Scotch, Irish or Canadian — could potentially contain corn.

Brandy (and Cognac) is made from

Tequila is distilled from the agave
plant. However, unless the label states "100% agave," it
can include other substances and spirits, including vodka. (This is
the case with the basic Jose Cuervo expression, for example.) So if
you want tequila that you're sure isn't made from corn, look for the
100% agave label. (You should do this anyway, as mixto tequila is

Rum is distilled from sugar cane or
sugar cane byproducts like molasses. So in generaly it doesn't contain any
corn. You should be aware, though, that rum can legally have a small
amount of additives in it. So I suppose they could slip some corn
syrup in there, although it's unlikely.

Most liqueurs and cordials — the
fruity, spicy, nutty, sweet stuff that goes into cocktails — are
made from a vodka base, so they could contain corn.

I hope that helps!