Rum is a sunshine spirit. Just saying the word ‘rum’ makes me think of holidays: enjoying tropical Tiki cocktails at a beach bar or mixing up a fruity rum punch for summer parties.
Sun is crucial for rum production too; it’s made from sugar cane, which can only be grown in warm tropical and subtropical climates. Look just above the equator on a map and you’ll find rum-producing countries. From Venezuela and Guyana in South America, to Barbados and Jamaica in the Caribbean, across to India and the Philippines.
To make rum, the sugarcane juice or molasses are fermented and then distilled. After distillation this sunshine spirit can take a darker turn though, dividing into light and dark styles depending on whether it is aged or not.
What is light rum?
Light rum – also known as white, silver or carta blanca – is, as the name suggests, the lightest style of rum. Light rums are either unaged or lightly aged in oak barrels and then filtered. The filtration removes any colour that has been imparted to the spirit from the oak, and also some of the heavier oaky flavours. It means you get a white rum with more complexity.
Either way, the result is a lighter taste profile than dark rum, with freshness to balance rum’s naturally sweeter notes. As a result light rum is a versatile spirit that can be enjoyed in simple serves with a mixer – think rum and cola or rum and ginger beer – and plenty of ice.
It also forms the base of classic cocktails from the Mojito to the Daiquiri and Piña Colada. Meanwhile other cocktails such as the Mai Tai or Cuba Libre can be made with light or dark rum. If you are keen to mix up your own, why not try these rum cocktails to make at home?
But which light rums should you be using? Here are a few of my favourites, with tips on how to enjoy them.
The best light rums: eight to try
Bacardí Carta Blanca
Bacardí is the original Daiquiri rum. The classic cocktail is named after the Cuban town where American engineer Jennings Cox first combined Carta Blanca, lime juice and sugar in 1898. Although Bacardi was founded in Cuba in 1862, its rums are now made in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Carta Blanca has sweet tropical aromas with banana and coconut and a touch of peppery spice, leading to a light, creamy palate with notes of tropical fruit, and a vanilla toffee edge. Lingering spiciness on the finish. A good value choice for cocktails and punches. Alcohol 37.5%
This delicious Venezuelan rum is aged in barrels for six years and then charcoal-filtered. It means you get more complexity in your glass, with the evolved toffee, spice and creamy vanilla notes of a dark rum alongside the fresher grassy notes of a white rum. Coconut, fresh lemon, green chilli, tropical and stone fruit notes also feature. Smooth enough to sip over ice or use it to upgrade your Daiquiri for a sophisticated sip. Alc 47%
Don Q Cristal
Made in Puerto Rico by the Serrallés family, which established its distillery back in 1865. Don Q is named after Don Quixote, protagonist in the classic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes, which was a favourite family read. This light rum spends 18 months in American oak and is then carbon filtered. It’s a fruity little number: I love using it in rum punches. Expect lively notes of pineapple, citrus and banana, with gentle spice hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Alc 40%
El Dorado 3 Year Old
El Dorado is a range of demerara rums made in Guyana. The Diamond Distillery is located on the banks of the Demerara River, just six degrees away from the equator in South America. This is the youngest rum in the range, which is better known for its aged expressions, including 5-, 8-, 12-, 15- and 21-year-old rums. It spends three years in cask and is charcoal-filtered. There’s an appealing nutty-toffee-brown sugar character alongside coconut, light spice and grassy notes. Try it in a Cuba Libre with cola and lime. Alc 40%
The world’s first Afro-Caribbean rum is a blend of fresh unaged sugar cane juice rum from Grays Distillery in Mauritius and three-year-old molasses rum from Foursquare distillery in Barbados. It’s named in honour of Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave and a prominent abolitionist in the 18th century. A percentage of company profits goes to the charitable Equiano Rum Co Foundation, currently supporting Anti-Slavery International. A very light and subtle palate, with lovely freshness. Carries its alcohol lightly. Grassy, creamy, with vanilla, and a spicy note on the finish. Alc 43%
Havana Club Original Añejo 3 Años
The leading Cuban rum brand, Havana Club’s light rum is aged in ex-bourbon casks for three years and then filtered to remove the colour. Sweet and fresh aromas, with tropical fruit notes – lots of pineapple, mango, banana and some fudge. The palate is grassy and spicy, with a refreshing fruitiness and honeyed sweetness. Pineapple, green apple, plus vanilla and lemon bonbons. A touch of the florality on the finish, plus lots of green chilli spice and some toffee. Great for the classic Cuban cocktail, a Mojito. Alc 40%
Plantation 3 Stars
The three stars are Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad: top sites for rum production in the Caribbean. This engaging blend mixes unaged spirits from Barbados and Jamaica with two- to three-year-old spirit from Trinidad, then adds a dash of Jamaican 10-year-old for good measure. A bartender favourite, 3 Stars is crisp and fresh, with plenty of spice and a grassy, almost agave-like note on the palate that’s balanced by honeyed sweetness and a creamy custard note. Great choice for Daiquiris. Alc 41.2%
Ron Santiago de Cuba Carta Blanca
This Cuban molasses-based rum is aged in white oak barrels for three years and filtered. The fresh, grassy nose is laced with banana, fudge and tropical fruit. While the palate is smooth, fresh and creamy, with banana toffee, vanilla and spice balanced by fresh green grassy notes too. A well rounded cocktail rum – try it in a Hurricane, which blends light and dark rums with passionfruit syrup and lemon juice. Alc 38%