Rum served straight in glass

Tips for Enjoying Rum Neat

Rum is one of the world’s most intriguing spirits, not only for its wide range of flavors but for exotic rum-running tales of pirates and smugglers on the high seas. Even through civil wars and America’s Prohibition years, swarthy seafaring bootleggers managed to sail right past regulators to bring rum from Caribbean islands to American ones, including, infamously, the Florida Keys. 

The enduring rum rummer cocktail, reportedly invented at a tiki bar in the Keys, still pays homage to those mysterious “days of glory.” But plenty of people today take issue with diluting pure rum with sugary or citric add-ins, preferring instead to savor the unadulterated essence of this magical elixir. To better understand the intricacies of drinking rum on its own, either neat or on the rocks, we turned to an expert in the field, Molly Horn, Chief Mixologist and Spirits Educator for Total Wine & More. 

As expected, there are a lot of “it depends” when determining an individual’s experience with rum sipping, especially when drinking it unadorned. It basically comes down to the type of rum and its characteristics, which determines things like whether to enjoy it neat or chilled. Even more important, according to Horn, is to immerse yourself in the origin of each rum. “The best way to really dive into rum is to taste aged rums from different countries to really see how the terroir and stylistic differences impact the flavors and characteristics of this extremely versatile spirit!” she says.

Aging is a big factor in drinking rum neat or on the rocks

Shot glasses of rum or cachaca

As with many spirits, how long a rum ages is a major factor in the tasting experience. Especially when drinking rum on its own, it matters whether it’s dark or light, largely determined by the aging process. Clear rums, known as light, silver, or white, go through little if any aging after distillation, while golden and darker rums typically age in charred oak barrels to reach increasingly deeper and bolder flavor levels.

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It’s pretty much universally agreed that light rums excel in those famous cocktails we love, including mojitos and daiquiris, while darker rums really shine on their own. Horn, as a hands-on expert mixologist, concurs, noting how the aging process mellows the sharpness often present in white rums. Aged rum is best for sipping neat, she explains, “as it spends time in oak that adds depth of flavor, sweetness, complexity, and overall deliciousness!” 

Horn also digs deeper into the merits of drinking these darker rums neat, meaning at room temperature with no ice, compared to on the rocks, with ice cubes. At this level of rum tasting, it comes down to the style of the rum and its characteristics. For example, Horn notes that Jamaican rum is “known for being big, bold, and often funky, as well as higher in proof,” making it best enjoyed on the rocks. On the other hand, Nicaraguan rum is considered a more delicate spirit, ideal for sipping neat. 

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