With rum, there is relatively little universal regulation, so many producers get away with labeling bottles misleadingly. Moreover, there is no legal definition of “light” or “dark” rum, so it is not possible to provide a definitive difference between the two, and instead gray areas abound.
As far as the two terms go, light (or white) rum is the most straightforward. These rums are often bottled straight off the still and may hence be labeled “unaged” or silver. However, in some instances, a white rum can be aged for a few months, or even years, in oak and then have its color removed or adjusted — or if the barrel was quite used, only a slight amount of coloring may have been transferred. In these instances, the rum is still a white rum, but it is a white rum with age and more complexity. Plantation 3 Stars rum is a good example of this, with Barbados unaged rum, Trinidad 2-3-year-old rum, Jamaica unaged rum, and a touch of Jamaica 10-year-old rum are all blended together to create a white rum perfect for Daiquiris.
When it comes to dark rum, the conversation can become even more confusing, since again, there is no legal definition. Dark rums can also be called golden, black, or aged, and while these colors may lead you to think the rum spent time in oak barrels, that’s not necessarily the case. Some dark or golden rums are actually shaped by caramel coloring, with no age on their liquid at all, while others will be dark thanks to a length of aging time spent in oak.
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So, as it turns out, color is not the best means of determining whether a rum has or hasn’t been aged, or whether it is of high or low quality. Several aged rums may be the color of straw and delicious sipped straight or in a high-end Daiquiri, while others may be dark, syrupy, unaged, and great in a tropical drink. When it comes to rum, read the packaging, ask your spirits shop staff, or do your research. The best rums will publish all the details you need to make an informed decision, and if another brand is trying to hide something, you may want to purchase a different liquid.