Bourbon Vs. Rum: What’s The Difference?

There are few distilled spirits as journeyed as bourbon and rum. These two liquors, both hanging around 40% ABV, share distinctly bold palates, as well as a similar amber color. They are also both aged in wooden barrels.

The two spirits are also common ingredients in cocktails, both displaying extreme versatility as liquors. But despite these similarities, these two drinks differ in practically every other aspect. 

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey aged in American oak barrels. It is primarily made from fermented grains like corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The bourbon name stems from the French Bourbon Dynasty.

On the other hand, Rum is a distilled spirit made from sugar cane molasses or sugar cane juice. It originally comes from the Caribbean and is aged in any type of oak barrels.

Whichever option you choose, you’re bound to have a good time. Continue reading below with 

Saucey to learn more about the differences between bourbon and rum.

A history of bourbon

In terms of classic American liquors, bourbon is one of the oldest and most revered drinks on the market. Simply put, bourbon is as American as it gets. 

You’ll likely see themes of old American pastimes on the packaging of your bourbon bottle. When people hear the term “Kentucky Bourbon,” they think of cowboys, horses, and ranches. 

Just head over to the Kentucky Derby and take a look around. What do you see everybody drinking? Most likely, it’s some bourbon.

The influence of the south is very apparent in bourbon. Distilling was first brought to Kentucky in the late 18th century by Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh, German, and French settlers. There are many conflicting accounts of where bourbon came from, but it most certainly came out of Kentucky.

Some people credit the invention of bourbon to Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, and distiller known for inventing techniques for making cloth, paper, and rope. Apparently, he was the first person to age bourbon in charred, American oak casks. This method of aging gives bourbon its brown appearance.

Across county lines from Craig, though, was another man credited with creating bourbon: Jacob Spears. According to locals, Spears was the first person to label his whiskey as bourbon whiskey.

The story of Spears is commonly repeated in Bourbon County, where he is from. However, it’s failed to gain much traction outside of the county. 

Besides these accounts, it is also possible that the bourbon name was inspired by Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where a major whiskey-selling port was located. It has also been suggested that the drink is named after the Old Bourbon region, which includes the original Bourbon County in Virginia.

A history of rum

The history of rum goes back a bit further than bourbon. Sugar cane was first fermented in India around 350 BC. However, it was only used for medicinal purposes back then. 

By the 1400s, rum began to be enjoyed as a recreational drink. During this time, European explorers started to open up trade routes around the globe. As more remote islands were being discovered, more sugar cane plantations were built. 

Sugar was a high commodity on the trade route. But it took a lot of manpower to cultivate. It also required a ton of water. For these reasons, few farmers were willing to take on the risk of growing sugar. 

In the mid-1600s, this would all change. As thousands of colonists started migrating to the Americas from Europe, rum became an economic necessity. 

At first, they began growing sugar cane because they were running out of beer. Instead of relying on European imports for their alcohol fix, the colonists decided to create their own alcohol. The resulting product was rum. 

In New England, where the first colonists resided, the climate was too rough to grow fruits and grains. Therefore, the colonists moved toward growing sugar cane.

Eventually, rum became such a popular drink in the American colonies that it became their main export. When the British Parliament tried to impose a tax on sugar imports in the colonies, all hell broke loose. 

In many ways, rum was a major catalyst in sparking the American Revolution. It was also a huge contributor to the colonies’ survival. Without rum, it is unlikely that the existence of the colonies would have been economically viable for Great Britain. 

agedrumWhere bourbon and rum are made

Now, it’s time to discuss where these two spirits are made. By law, bourbon must be produced in the United States. Whiskey can be made anywhere globally, but just like how champagne must be made in France, bourbon must specifically be made in America.

In contrast, rum is a much less regulated drink and can be made anywhere. Obviously, it is made in countries where sugar cane is grown. From the Philippines to India, to Jamaica, and to Cuba, you find rum being made. 

Rum is also made in dozens of states in America, including the original rum hotspot, Massachusetts, and New York, Texas, California, Georgia, and many others.

It is even made in Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Notably, Brazil makes the most spirits made from sugar cane than any other nation in the world. 

The style of rum depends on where it was made. For instance, the taste and aesthetic of Dominican rum vary greatly from American rum. 

The rum made in the Dominican Republic comes from sugar cane grown in volcanic soil. As a result, its flavor profile is much richer than most other rums. 


What bourbon and rum are made from

These two spirits are both made from fermentable sugars in liquid form. But the ingredients used are completely different. 

Bourbon is made from a fermented blend of grains, like corn, wheat, rye, and barley. However, its mash bill must contain at least 51 percent corn. It must also not contain any other additives besides water. 

Each grain offers a unique flavor. The overall taste of the bourbon will be affected by the ratios of these grains. 

The barley in bourbon is usually malted, which provides the needed enzymes to turn the grain’s starch into fermentable sugars.

Similarly, rum is made from a variety of different sugar canes. For example, there are rums made from blue sugar cane and others made from red sugar cane. 

However, the difference in flavor between these strains of sugar cane is much less significant than the difference between flavors between bourbon grains.

One important note to make is that rum is not made from sugar. It’s made from sugar cane, a derivative of sugar.  

Rum can also be made from the syrup of sugar cane, but this is less common. The majority of rum in the world is produced from molasses. Using molasses is beneficial because it will not begin fermenting on its own while being stored and transported, unlike sugar cane syrup. 

Most bourbon and rum are made from cultured strains of yeast. Cultured yeast strains maintain the same level of fermentation from each batch, so every batch tastes the same. This consistency is highly desired in the market. 

Typically, when a distillery finds a successful yeast strain, they stick to it. Over time, they’ll have to make sure the strain doesn’t mutate and change the flavor. 

Alternatively, some rum producers use natural, wild yeast to yield a much more inconsistent, all-over-the-place taste. 

How bourbon and rum are fermented

Bourbon is usually fermented for two to four days. As for the rum, it is generally fermented for a day or two.  

There are, in some cases, though, when rum is fermented for several weeks. This fermentation method is used to supercharge the final product with esters, one of the main kinds of flavor compounds. Jamaican rum is a type of rum that is fermented for weeks.

Both spirits also recycle liquids left behind from distillation as a part of the fermentation process. This acidic waste is known as sour mash and is said to enhance the flavor of the drink. 

Bourbon is distilled at no higher than 160 proof and is bottled between 80 and 125 proof. Meanwhile, rum is distilled at 190 proof or lower and is bottled usually at 80 proof.  

The takeaway

With how popular these two spirits are becoming, it is essential to know the differences between them. 

Both drinks have vastly different origin stories, as well as production processes. However, they are both respected as classic spirits that have contributed immensely to the community. 

Either way, you can’t go wrong. Whether you’re looking for a spirit to drink straight up or to include in your next cocktail, bourbon and rum are solid choices. 

For affordable quality bourbon and rum, visit Saucey. We offer thousands of different bottles from hundreds of different brands. We also deliver it straight to your door. Our inventory also includes other spirits, as well as beer, wines, and more.

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