Age Statements on Clear Rum?
You'll notice that some of these rum have an age statements, despite being clear. That's because most white rums are actually barrel aged and then filtered through charcoal to remove color and any impurities. This adds richness to the rum while retaining it's a light and clean profile, the best of both worlds. Of course, some barrel flavor will be lost through filtration, but plenty stays behind.
In fact, in many countries a spirt can't even be labeled as rum until it's been aged for a desginated time. In Cuba, it needs to be two years to be rum, before that it’s considered augardiente. So Havana Club 3 year, Cuba’s flagship rum, is actually 5 years old (unfortunately not available in the U.S., for now). Venezuela also needs to be aged for at least two years, while Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Panama each require one year.
These rums are clear, refreshing and one of the most mixable spirits alongside gin and vodka. They are also the base of the iconic classic cocktails including the Daiquiri, Mojito and Cuba Libre (rum and coke with a lime wedge). Just so there's no confusion, here white rum refers specifically to clear molasses based rum, as opposed to clear cane juice based rum, or agricole rum, which is quite different, but still very tasty.
While you'll find no shortage of white rum options at the liquor store, getting your hands on a good one can be frustratingly difficult. Many of the larger rum brands are designed to have a broader appeal, so they are distilled to very high proofs and heavily filtered to taste more neutral.
Of course, a good white rum will always be lighter tasting, but it should still have flavor derived from the sugar cane. You'll often gets notes of tropical fruit like coconut and banana or spices such as vanilla or clove, but still with a very clean finish. The experience of tasting a good white rum for the first time, say in a daiquiri, is a revelation. Your cocktail life will never be the same. Mine wasn't.
Below you'll see some references to different rum making "traditions." For a more in depth look at those, check out the rum main page.
Classic White Rums - These are the more traditional light and clean tasting white rums. They originated in Cuba and are common in Puerto Rico, the Domincan Republic among others regions and are made what's also known as the Spanish tradition. These are the rums that popularized this style and rum in general on a global scale.
Cana Brava (Panama) - A bit higher proof (43% ABV) which is nice. Probably my favorite of the classic bunch.
Brugal Extra Dry (Dominican Republic) - Very light, with notes of tropical fruit and coconut.
Bacardi Heritage (Mexico) - Not to be confused with the baseline Superior.
El Dorado 3 year (Guyana) - Richer and a little buttery, but still clean.
Don Q Cristol (Puerto Rico)
Blended White Rums - These are blends that bring together elements of multiple rum-making traditions. Most notably, an English style rum, usually from Jamaica, which adds a distinctly earthy note for some depth alongside with the clean, fruit flavors of the traditional Spanish style whites.
Plantation 3 Star (blend of Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica) - My personal favorite white rum at the moment. Just the right balance of clean fruit and rustic funkiness.
Denizen Aged White (Trinidad and Jamaica) - Excellent and the best price of the bunch.
Banks 5 Island (blend of Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Arrack from Java) - The robust arrack is what really sets this one apart. It's a little bit heartier and a great choice to add some complexity to a daiquiri or fruity tiki drink.
I separate white rum into two broad categories: classic and blended. Any will serve beautfiully as the stock white rum in your bar, though there are some differences between them that are good to be aware of. One isn't better than the other, I use both. It's just more varied options to choose from.