Vodka and rum – particularly white rum – are popular cocktail ingredients. They also make great thirst-quenching long drinks. Think vodka and tonic or lemonade, or Bacardi and Coke, and you get the picture. While these two spirits have some things in common, the two spirits are very different drinks.
The main difference between vodka and rum is in the core ingredients. Rum is made from molasses and sugar cane juice, while vodka is produced from grains, and sometimes potatoes. Rum is manufactured in tropical areas such as the Caribbean, Australia and India, whereas vodka is a European product. The most popular brands are produced in Russia and Poland, although Sweden makes Absolut – one of the most popular premium vodkas.
There are several styles of rum – dark rum, white rum and golden rum. Rum is usually aged in oak casks after distillation. Vodka is vodka – although these days flavoured vodkas seem to be all the rage. However, the flavouring is added after distillation, whereas the method of production determines the style of rum.
Neat rum is generally sweeter and smoother than neat vodka, owing to the molasses and sugar cane juice, and some premium rums have an attractive bouquet, almost like a good wine. Vodka has no smell or real flavour, which is why it’s so popular for cocktails. It adds alcoholic strength, without imparting a strong flavour on the cocktail.
The biggest difference between the two spirits is not in their production or flavour, but in their cultural associations. Rum is associated with pirates – largely owing to the sea shanty in ‘Treasure Island,’ which goes, ’15 men on a dead man’s chest, Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum.’ So rum is romantic and disreputable at the same time.
From the mid 1600’s until 1970, sailors in the British Royal Navy received a daily rum ration, and Nelson’s body was brought back from Trafalgar preserved in a barrel of rum – although the sailors allegedly drilled holes in the cask and drank the rum, as they considered it a waste of good spirit. From that time, rum was known in the Navy as ‘Nelson’s Blood.’
Vodka is a more prosaic drink, associated with the cold lands of Russia, Poland and Sweden, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was often seen in public ‘tired and emotional’ due to a surplus of vodka. Not much romance there, then, although there’s plenty of disreputable.
Rum and vodka are two totally different drinks, and rum drinkers can be quite disparaging about vodka drinkers. Similarly, vodka afficionados are often baffled as to the attractions of rum. Still, whatever floats your boat. Cheers!