Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.

Drinking The Bottom Shelf: Castillo Silver vs. Bacardi Silver Rum

Editor's Note: Your drinking buddy Will is back, tasting all the cheap booze so you don't have to.

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I don't drink nearly enough rum, which doesn't make any sense. I really like the stuff, and it's the exclusive hooch of two of my brightest drinking beacons: my Aunt Mary and Julian from Trailer Park Boys. Plus rum is cheap, and "rummy" has an endearing ring to it.

What can I say, I don't always act in my own best interest—I've worn velour on two different first dates—which is why I doubt I had more than 20 rum drinks last year. That is shameful; I probably had 20 mouthwash drinks in 2010, for hell's sake. But do not despair, sugarcane planters, for I am an avid resolver, and I pledge to ramp up my rumload in the new year.

Darker rums are more likely to show real molasses-type flavor (or at least real barrel-type flavor), whereas the light are more generically sweet. Alas, light is more popular in our rum-dumb country, so that's where we'll start. The silver lining is we still have dark rum to look forward to later, after we've already fallen for the entry-level version. If you're still not sold, I offer the following reasons why you should join me in my light rum immersion therapy:

  • Rum is the most rewarding white spirit to mix. Vodka's too easy and gin's too hard, but rum's just right.
  • Rum seems festive and uplifting, due to its associations with piracy and vacation. Vodka makes me feel like an underachiever, and gin makes me feel like a 19th-century British sociopath.
  • You know how annoying it is when you move in with a person who takes up half the fridge with Diet Coke, so you say, "What's with that? You're already thin!" and she looks you up and down and then side to side, as if to communicate that your non-dieting magnificence takes a while to regard in full, and then she says, "Yes, I am..."? Well, if you have rum, you can say, "You're right, I should drink more Diet Coke myself," and then calmly fix yourself a tall glass of her soda and your sweetener.

So what's our rum going to be? I'll admit I'm quite taken with the Bacardi Corporation's bat logo. When I was 5, my grandparents took me into the bat house at the Bronx Zoo and I spent the next week in constant, shivering fear, which is good for a lad's development. So I don't begrudge Bacardi Silver's domination of the category, but it does make the light rum aisle one of the least interesting sections of the liquor store. But I'm determined to do this right, and that means I must explore my options, such as they are.

Other than Bacardi Silver, what's widely available? Bacardi-owned Castillo Silver and Moët Hennessy's 10 Cane, but 10 Cane's expensive, so who cares if it's any good? Castillo costs $10 a liter at my liquor store and Bacardi is $18; I grabbed one of each and headed back to the lab for a blind tasting.

It just so happens that my research assistant spent a year on a Caribbean island. She is mostly silent on the topic and I have no idea what she was doing there; I would assume she was in prison, except that on the rare occasion she acknowledges the experience, she always mentions beaches and rum. I feel this more than qualifies her to declare that Castillo Silver is significantly better than Bacardi Silver. And after our blind taste test, I agree.

The difference is mostly in the nose, where Castillo is pleasantly if blandly sweet, while Bacardi's sugar is undercut by a hot alcoholic astringency. Castillo tastes like it smells, sweet and simple; Bacardi's deficiencies are muted, though still present, in the mouth. Seedier precincts of the Internet report that Bacardi Silver and Castillo Silver are the exact same product in different bottles, but I suspect the truth is even sunnier for the bottom-shelfer: they are altogether different rums, and the cheaper one is better.

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