Difference between Rum and Brandy
By Theydiffer - March 6, 2016

Rum or brandy, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, right? Wrong! While it may seem that both can provide you with the same level of intoxication, there are a few differences that should be noted. More importantly, it could even influence one’s own health conditions.


Rum is an alcoholic beverage that is made from fermenting sugarcane juice and its byproducts such as molasses. As with all spirits, rum goes through the processes of fermentation and distillation. There is one thing that separates rum from other spirits however; rum has no defined production methods. It is solely based on traditional styles that may vary between locations and distillers.

Rum is mainly produced in the Caribbean and Latin America. The first distillation of rum dates back to the 17th century, on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean. Interestingly enough, it was the plantation slaves that first discovered that molasses, the byproduct of refining sugar, can be fermented into alcohol. It then went through distillation which removed impurities, producing the first true rums.


  • Fermentation – Depending on location, the primary ingredient may either be molasses or sugarcane juice. Yeast and water is then added to the primary ingredient to start the fermentation process. The flavor and aroma of the rum will depend on the yeast employed.
  • Distillation – Normally uses column still, but some distillers use pot stills for more congeners. Congeners are substances produced during fermentation such as methanol, fusel alcohols, acetone, acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins, and aldehyds. They are responsible for most of the taste and aroma.
  • Aging– Generally, rum is aged for at least a year. The aging process determines the color of the final product. If aged in stainless steel tanks, the output will remain colorless, but if aged in oak casks, it becomes dark. Rum also matures at a faster rate than the average whiskey or brandy.
  • Blending – The final step in the rum-making process, it is a way to ensure a consistent flavor. For light rums, it is to remove color gained during the aging process. For dark rums, an extra ingredient may be added to adjust the color of the final product, caramel for instance.

Rum Grades

  • Dark rums – Usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses and generally aged longer in heavily charred barrels. It has a much stronger flavor than light or gold rums.
  • Flavored rums – These are rums that are infused with flavors of fruit such as mango, orange, banana, citrus, coconut, lime, or starfruit. They usually have under 40% ABV (Alcohol by Volume).
  • Gold rums – Also known as amber rums, are aged in wooden barrels. They also have a stronger taste than that of the light rum.
  • Light rums – Also referred to as ‘silver’ or ‘white’ rums have very little flavor and are generally sweet. They are also often filtered after aging to remove color.
  • Overproof rums – These are rums with a higher alcohol content than the standard 40% ABV. Proof can go as high as 160 (80% ABV).
  • Premium rums – These are from boutique brands that are carefully produced and aged. These rums have more character and flavor.
  • Spiced rums – Rums that obtain flavors through addition of spices and sometimes, caramel.

Getty Images/Moment/Anton Petrus

Brandy, also known as ‘brandywine’, derived its name from the Dutch word ‘brandewijn’ which means burnt wine. Same as rum, it is a spirit that goes through the processes of distilling and fermenting. The primary ingredient however is not sugarcane, but wine. With its 35% to 60% ABV, it is normally used as an after-dinner drink. Brandy is made by distilling wine or fruit mash, and is usually aged in wooden casks. Some of the most renowned brandies are Cognac and Armagnac.

The origin of the brandy was kind of accidental. Initially, wine was distilled for preservation for trading and transport, and it was soon found that the result was acceptable as a beverage. The first commercial distillation of brandy from wine was in the 16th century.

Brandy Labels

  • V.S. – Known as the ‘Very Special’ or ‘Three Stars’, is a brandy that is aged for at least 2 years in a cask.
  • V.S.O.P. – Known as the ‘Very Superior Old Pale’ or ‘Five Stars’, is a brandy that is aged for at least 4 years in a cask.
  • XO – Known as the ‘Extra Old’ or Napoleon, is a brandy that is aged for at least 6 years in a cask.
  • Hors d’âge – Known as the ‘Beyond Age’, is a brandy that is formally equal to XO for Cognac, but for Armagnac, it is at least 10 years old.

Rum vs Brandy

What’s the difference between rum and brandy? While the color, alcohol by volume, and production of both may be similar in some way, these are two different types of spirits that shouldn’t be confused as the same.

In terms of their primary ingredient, rum is generally made from sugarcane byproducts such as the juice and molasses, while a brandy is made from wine, grapes, and other fruit juices. This may not be that important to most, but it is for those with allergic reactions. Regarding their alcohol content, rums normally have 37.5% to 80%, while brandies normally have 35% to 60%. In terms of their uses, brandy is usually consumed as an after dinner-drink, while rum is normally consumed as an alcoholic beverage for all kinds of occasions and, unlike brandy, is often served mixed with other drinks like coca-cola.

Comparison Chart

Made from sugarcane byproductsMade from wine, grapes, and other fruit juices
Normally 37.5% to 80% ABVNormally 35% to 60% ABV
First distillation was in the 17th centuryFirst distillation was in the 16th century
Preferred as an occasional drinkPreferred as an after-dinner drink