Why Some People Drink Rum With A Splash Of Water Added

Rum is more than just the muscle behind fruity frozen cocktails like mai tais and daiquiris. This complex spirit is dimensional enough to stand on its own for sipping. After all, there's a reason why folks have been enjoying it since the 1600s. Even though it is made from sugarcane (and also perhaps wrongly lumped into a "sweet" category due to its association with tropical drinks), rum is not an inherently sweet liquor. It's a full-strength spirit, with a standard ABV of 40% like tequila, whiskey, mezcal, vodka, and the lot. Like navy strength gin, rum too comes in overproof and cask strength varieties, which is why some sippers like to add a splash of water.

Maybe you've heard of whiskey fans adding a few drops of water to their neat pours. The same function applies when it comes to rum. Not only does this help high-ABV rum go down a little easier, but a splash of water also opens up the liquor, bringing out the more nuanced idiosyncratic flavor and aromatic notes. This technique works with white, gold, and dark rums, which are only marginally different in makeup.

Pro tip: Not all waters are created equal. To avoid imparting a nasty taste, stick to spring or bottled water, and steer clear of tap water, which can carry taste-affecting minerals.

Balance your sip and taste all the notes

There's a scientific reason behind this boozy overpowering: In high-proof spirits, the alcohol vapors confuse the senses and cancel out subtler flavor notes. In other words, stronger sipping rums could actually benefit from a little dilution. Lemon Hart 151, for instance, is revered as the gold standard in overproof rums. It totes flavorful notes of amber, mahogany, dried fruit, burnt caramel, spices, and baked apples. But, even to a discerning palate, these subtler notes have the potential to get lost in the sauce.

Overproof rums have been enjoying a moment in recent months. Pusser's Gunpowder Proof Rum — clocking in at 54.5% ABV — won Gold at the 2023 Tokyo Whiskey & Spirits Competition and the 2023 World Rum Awards. To fully access its acclaimed long finish of molasses, treacle, and toffee, a little water could be in order.

It's worth mentioning that, if you're drinking a low-quality rum, then there's only going to be so much that a splash of water can do to benefit or improve its profile. As a general rule, if there's an immediate sharp burn when you take a sip of the stuff neat, then you're likely drinking a low-quality spirit. Also, if you notice any cloudiness after the initial pour, that's another indicator of a bad rum.