The Rum & Coke: How Not to Ruin This Simple Drink

The Popular and Easy Rum & Coke
Sometimes the simplest drinks get overlooked. Learn how to make the best Rum & Coke. Photo: S&C Design Studios
    3 mins
Ratings (30)

Rum & Coke is an unbelievably simple yet satisfying cocktail. Everything that you need to know about mixing this popular drink is there in the name, right? While that is very true, even the easiest of mixed drinks can be made just a little better (or worse) and deserves a bit more attention than it often receives.

At its most basic level, the Rum & Coke will be as simple as a pour of your favorite rum in a tall glass filled with ice. It is finished off with a cola (Coca-Cola is the soda of choice) and a lime wedge. However, as many drinkers can attest, it is far too easy to get a bad Rum & Coke.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the rum into a highball glass filled with ice.
  2. Top with cola.
  3. Garnish with a lime wedge.

A Quick History on the Rum & Coke

The Rum & Coke is the Americanized version of a popular Cuban drink. The Cuba Libre is the same drink with a splash of lime and is said to have been invented around 1900. When it reached U.S. shores, we got a little lazy and dropped the splash of lime.

By the 1940's the drink was so popular that The Andrews Sisters recorded the calypso song, "Rum and Coca Cola".

It quickly became one of their biggest hits, right behind "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy".

It is now possible to walk into any bar and order a classic Rum & Coke. The best part is that you can (or hope to, anyway) rely on it being a nice drink.

Tips for Making a Great Rum & Coke - The Proportions

Where the Rum & Coke often goes bad is the ratio of the two ingredients. It is such an easy drink that bartenders (pro and amateur alike) typically dismiss the need for flavor balance. This results in a drink that is either "burnt" with alcohol or too sweet with soda.

The problem really comes to light when drinkers try to 'fix' a bad Rum & Coke. All too often, they feel that they did not pour enough rum because they cannot taste it, so they add another shot. Now they have a double shot of rum and unless another splash of Coke is added, the drink is too strong and "burnt". This is great if you want to get drunk, but not so good if you want to taste a good drink.

What are the best proportions for a Rum & Coke? Typically, most drinkers will find a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 to have the best flavor and much of that will depend on the rum you choose. With a spiced rum, I would stick with the 1:3 so the spice does not overpower the drink. With a light rum, go with the stronger 1:2.

  • The 1:2 pour creates a classically-styled Rum & Coke. To make this in the average 10-ounce highball glass, you would pour 2 ounces of rum and 4 ounces of Coke.
  • The 1:3 pour is often preferred by modern drinkers because we tend to like our drinks a little sweeter. This version would use 2 ounces of rum with 6 ounces of Coke.

Don't worry that either of these pours will not fill the 10-ounce glass. You should have already filled your glass with ice, which will take up the rest of the volume. Consider ice to be the Rum & Coke's third ingredient (a step often overlooked by home bartenders).

The Rum

It is far too tempting to pour any old rum that is on the rail or the well into a Rum & Coke. The theory is that this is too simple of a drink and should not be used to waste a perfectly good shot of booze, so we tend to use the cheap stuff.

Would you use the cheapest gin in the bar for a Martini just because it has just two ingredients? I think not! The same theory should be applied to the Rum & Coke.

Don't get me wrong; you do not have to use your very best rum for this drink, but there is also no need to use the worst either. Choose a good, mid-range rum. Rum is, in general, one of the least expensive liquors anyway so this will not be a waste of money.

White rums are the most popular base for a Rum & Coke though I encourage you to try aged rums as well.

Some drinkers prefer their favorite spiced rum and that is fine. I have personally found the contrasting flavors to be less appealing. The mix of spiced rum and cola can also upset any digestive issues you may have.

The Coke

By rights, the Rum & Coke is made with Coca-Cola and this is what the bartender will give you at the bar. Some drinkers prefer Pepsi because it is a softer cola and that is perfectly fine. Be sure to order a "Rum & Pepsi" at the bar if this is your preference.

You will also notice a big difference in Coke that is sold in the U.S. and that meant for the Mexican market. Mexican Coke uses real sugar! Whenever possible, pick this up because the high fructose corn syrup we are used to pales in comparison, particularly in mixed drinks.

As we step away from tradition and custom, I also encourage you to try the Rum & Coke with different colas. There are some fantastic new soda companies out there and I have recently found that Q Kola makes this drink ten times better than Coke. This is because the focus of this new soda is less on sugary sweetness and more on the natural flavor of the kola nut, which pairs very well with an aged rum.

How Strong Is the Rum & Coke?

Despite its reputation, the properly poured Rum & Coke is a surprisingly light drink because the cola and ice make up the most of the drink's volume.

With an 80-proof rum, the 1:2 Rum & Coke weighs in at 12% ABV (24 proof) and the 1:3 is a little lighter at 9.5% ABV (19 proof). I would put this in the "nice and casual" drink category, exactly where the Rum & Coke should be.

Of course, if you fall victim to that over-pouring "fix", all of this is void and you will have a much stronger drink but you will never know because you didn't measure the rum!