Bottom Line: very easy to tell the difference between the two. Brugal is a dryer, lightly oak-driven rum. Captain Morgan is sweetened… almost like there’s a cane syrup inside of it. But the distinctions here are as mild as they are in vodka and can quickly vanish in a cocktail. For those who would sip silver rums, then Brugal is the victor here though perhaps not quite as full of molasses and complexity as others. Captain Morgan, however, serves only cocktails but that serviceably.
Now the details.
Bacardi is the unquestioned dominant force in silver rum. They’re also one of those irritating brands in that the mass-marketed, Big Liquor, find-it-anywhere bottle is also of decent quality in its own light. What is a company to do if they want to take it on? We don’t often combine reviews of spirits but in this case we have two different theories in how to wrench market share from Bacardi so it was worthwhile tasting them both against the unquestioned giant in a common setting.
Brugal Extra Dry Silver Rum comes in at $20 or so from the Dominican Republic. It is aged for 2 years and aims for the high-styled sophisticated flavors of what silver rum could be. The theory is that, for (very roughly) the same price, why wouldn’t you have a better rum?
Captain Morgan White Rum, on the other hand, comes in at a slightly lower price point. They also come from the absolute dominant position of owning the spiced rum category. They bring marketing muscle and name brand recognition. Clearly they feel that they have enough name brand recognition to take on Bacardi on their own turf.
We set up our tasting to try each spirit neat and then in a run of cocktails with the principal aim of trying to determine if
a) Is there a difference and
b) If so, which one is better?
Tasting Neat—first, we need to get acquainted with the spirit by perceiving it naked!
Bacardi rum: here’s our baseline. Tastes spicy and hot. Molasses on the palate. Very short finish… a little char on the finish. Our assessment is competent… un-enlightening but highly competent. If you had to make millions of cases a year, could you do better?
Captain Morgan: very different. More of an up-front flavor. Where the Bacardi is all on the finish, this has an upfront flavor and burn. It is smoother, no needles. Is there added vanilla? It’s definitely sweetened… in fact, the dominant character here is sweetness. But many in our company do like it better than the Bacardi (though the committed whiskey drinkers in our crowd find it overly sweet).
Brugal White: some feel it’s a lot smoother… no burn (though some people like the burn). Lots of herbal and floral elements. A nice dry sweetness. The finish lingers… an impressive long time for a silver. Almost a sipping rum, if you can believe it. The Brugal is cleaner yet more complex than the Bacardi. Sadly, the complexity is a bit muted… almost like a vodka. Perhaps “extra dry” meant “vodka-like.”
Initial impressions: we’re beginning to see something that we see a lot in that there are people who like added sugar and those who do not. Those who like a sweeter profile are gravitating towards the Captain Morgan but those who like the dry flavors are gravitating towards the Brugal. Not to be ignored is the fact that Bacardi is charting a middle ground here.
Mojito—that classic drink that we prepare the old-fashioned way. We muddle some simple syrup with fresh-squeezed lime juice, mint leaves, shake it all up and top with club soda. One of the most delicious, theatric, but easy-to-prepare drinks around.
Bacardi: minty and good… refreshing. Delicious. Even several anti-mint people like it. Balanced. From a bartending perspective—even with this undeniably pedestrian rum—it is a pleasure to serve this drink.
Captain Morgan: We can’t really tell the difference between this and the Bacardi, if truth be told. Maybe a little smoother and not as much flavor. A little less mint and syrup. If there is some kind of difference, then the extra little sugar in Captain’s is masking some of the mint and syrup. If true, that is a depressing outcome for something we had pegged as a mixer.
Brugal: this version is a little dryer and not as sweet… the general preference is for Bacardi. This is just not as sweet, crisp, or pleasing. Maybe it’s in the preparation but we were pretty careful in trying to make the drinks identically.
What we think now is that the Captain Morgan is falling behind. Major bummer for the Captain! The Bacardi is showing well, as it should in a signature Cuban drink.
Sharkbite—this is something we pulled off of the internet that was originally intended for spiced rum (and courtesy of Drink Mixer). It called for equal parts rum, sweet-and-sour, one-half part of blue curacao, and a couple of drops of grenadine. It’s exactly the kind of drink that a young, hip bar would offer up as a shooter at $2 a shot or something.
Bacardi: the comment of the night came here: “Now I can get drunk off that!” We suppose that’s the point. Surprisingly not sweet… tastes a little dry. Bacardi is performing well here, though it’s hard to know if we’d used vodka if we would really know.
Captain Morgan: still good… not sure if we can tell the difference between the Bacardi and this at all. But still good. Maybe a little sweeter. Actually, upon reflection, definitely a little sweeter. This is not necessarily better… but the sexy bartender pouring the shots would easily make a person forget about any subtle nuances in this kind of a drink.
Brugal: unsurprisingly it has a dryer, crisper flavor. The char gives this a deeper complex flavor. This is better. Clearly better. Can this mean that Brugal is recommended for more complex, martini styled drinks that are spirit forward?
Now we feel that the Bacardi has a universal appeal that appeals to the sweeter tooth but we’re starting to guess that Brugal has a special place for special drinks.
Freestyling: we took rum, and we dropped in a tincture of citrus tea liqueur, a couple drops of grenadine. This was our try at creating something that had very modest supporting flavors to let the rum sing. If there were a drink designed to showcase the Brugal, this is it.
Altogether now: we think there is a subtle not difference with the Brugal. It is there. But it is so light, so fleeting, and so quickly diluted with even ice melt that we can’t claim it’s persistent enough to call it.
What Have We Learned?
When comparing these three rums, we’re finding that Captain Morgan is bringing up the rear simply because of the sweet. Even for those who prefer it in neat settings or a straight shot find the sweet a little overpowering in cocktails.
After that, there is a subtle difference between the Bacardi and the Brugal. The Brugal certainly looks more exciting with its net around the bottle. But we can’t say that the difference is stark enough to go out of your way to buy it. Is it good? Yes. Is it competent? Yes. Would we drink it? Certainly. Would we pass up Bacardi to get it? Probably if it were the same price. But would we seek it out for its own sake? No… we would grab a fifth of Bacardi and be perfectly happy with that if we were looking for a sliver rum.
[Disclosures: we received a 750ml bottle from Brugal and Captain Morgan for review purposes for free. All other products mentioned were acquired on our own.]
by Neal MacDonald, Editor