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Rum is finally gaining the attention it deserves, and with it, a variety of great bottles to choose from. There are different styles produced in many countries, each with its own unique flavor profile.
This can be confusing at times, as each nation has its own regulations about how its rum must be distilled and aged, but fortunately, a little research can help reveal exactly what is inside the bottle. Here are the best rums to drink for any occasion, from white rums for refreshing cocktails to aged rums for contemplative sipping.
Best Overall: Mount Gay Black Barrel
Region: Barbados | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Gingerbread, Vanilla, Toffee
A lot of great rum comes from Barbados, and Mount Gay is a stellar example of this. Master blender Trudiann Branker recently made some significant changes to the Black Barrel expression: it’s aged for three to seven years, has a bit more pot still distillate in the blend, and the finish in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels increased from one to six months, resulting in an even more flavorful rum.
"Finished in bourbon barrels with a heavy char, as opposed to the typical practice of finishing in a used cask," says Shannon Mustipher, bartender and author of “Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails,” "It has more pepper and spice than the other rums from Mount Gay.”
Best White Rum: Ten To One White Rum
Region: Dominican Republic, Jamaica | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Banana, Grass, Citrus
This is a blend of Dominican column still rum with Jamaican pot still rum, with no sugar, color, or flavor added. Ten To One takes great pride in these last points, with the MO of the brand being all about bringing high-quality rum at an affordable price that doesn’t try to augment or mask the true character of the spirit.
Try this in any classic rum cocktail, or go ahead and sip it on its own, as this is a white rum that is complex enough to be enjoyed on its own.
Best Dark Rum: Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry
Region: Jamaica | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Grape, Coconut, Bread
Though not an officially recognized category, dark rum is aged rum that is dark in appearance from the time spent in a barrel interacting with wood. Of course, there might be caramel coloring or molasses in the liquid to darken the color, too. Plantation rum makes a great dark rum with just a bit of caramel color. Given its French ownership, the rum gives off a distinctly French twist—Xaymaca Special Dry is a blend of Jamaican pot still rum aged for one to three years in Jamaica, then another year in cognac casks in France.
“Plantation is one of my favorite rum producers,” says Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer of New York's The Rum House. “Extremely aromatic, tons of fruity cinnamon, banana and coconut, [Xaymaca] is one of my new favorite rums I’ve had lately; it’s amazing neat or on the rocks but equally wonderful in a Daiquiri and Mojito."
Related: The Best Dark Rums
Best for Sipping: Barrell Rum "Tale Of Two Islands" 8 Year
Region: Jamaica | ABV: 66.4% | Tasting Notes: Smoke, Tropical Fruit, Grapefruit
Barrell Bourbon consistently sources and blends excellent bourbon from distilleries around the country. A few years ago, the company got into the rum game as well and has released a few different expressions. Perhaps the most interesting is called Tale of Two Islands: this Jamaican pot still rum was aged for eight years in Jamaica before being finished in Islay whiskey casks, adding a nice layer of smoke to the spirit’s funky sweetness.
“This is not a rum people see everywhere and was never designed to be that,” says Brendan Bartley of Bathtub Gin and The 18th Room. “There isn’t a lot being done with former Islay barrels, so it’s good to see someone putting them to good use.” At a cask strength of 132.8 proof, add a bit of water and take your time sipping this complex rum.
Related: The Best Sipping Rums
Best Coconut Rum: Kōloa Kauaʻi
Region: Hawaii | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Coconut, Vanilla, Lime
There are many different coconut rums to choose from, but most are artificially sweetened. Hawaii’s Kōloa Rum Company does things a bit differently, though. This is not some low-proof coconut-flavored rum liquor; made from a mash of raw cane sugar, this is a full-proof rum that's flavored with coconut and other natural flavors, giving it a fresh fruit taste that has the right amount of sweetness.
Best Under $50: Barceló Imperial
Region: Dominican Republic | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Brown Sugar, Caramel
This Dominican rum from Barceló is a blend of rum aged up to 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels and veers toward the sweeter side of the flavor spectrum. "It has notes of brown sugar and sweet caramel, along with dried cherry, vanilla and some cinnamon,” says Lynnette Marrero, bar director at Llama Inn and Llama San NYC. “It is distilled from cane juice, but distilled five times so that grassy note is not present; this allows some of the spice notes to shine.”
Barceló Imperial is a premium rum that's still affordable and tastes just as good in an Old Fashioned as it does sipped neat or poured over a large ice cube.
Related: The Best Ice Cube Trays
Best for Mojitos: Flor de Caña 4 Year Old Extra Seco
Region: Nicaragua | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: White Chocolate, Orange, Vanilla
This light-bodied, white rum is distilled at Nicaraguan distillery Flor de Caña. “Aged for four years then filtered, this white rum retains all the beautiful notes of vanilla from the barrel,” says Marrero. Using this barrel-aged rum adds some complexity to the refreshing mint, sugar, and lime flavors of a classic Mojito. It also brings notes of oak and white chocolate into play without affecting the presentation of this classic summer drink.
Related: The Best White Rums
Best for Piña Coladas: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva
Region: Venezuela | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Orange, Honey, Vanilla
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is “a stand-out rum to drink neat or on the rocks,” according to McCoy. “This is a blend of rums up to 12 years old with super smooth orange tobacco wood notes from a great Venezuelan distillery.”
The rum is slightly sweet, as Venezuelan law allows for the addition of sugar, but there are some really bright, rich fruit notes throughout, along with a healthy dose of vanilla and banana flavors. So, instead of using a cheaper white rum, splurge on this bottle to make Piña Coladas.
Best for Daiquiris: Don Q Cristal
Region: Puerto Rico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Citrus, Banana
The classic Daiquiri is a cocktail admired for its simplicity and brightness. Just three ingredients are required: lime juice, simple syrup and a good white rum. Pamela Wiznitzer, a consulting bartender, says that not only is Don Q Cristal a great value, but it's "also made in one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world.” A blend of rum aged up to five years, then filtered to remove the color, this is a classic, no-frills Puerto Rican rum that does the job well.
Best for Dark ’n Stormy: Goslings Black Seal
Region: Bermuda | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Spice, Vanilla, Butterscotch
Technically, the Dark 'n Stormy should only be made with Goslings, given this Bermuda-based brand owns the trademark of the drink’s name. Though you can make it with any rum you like, it tastes especially good with this dark rum.
“With its big body and long-lasting taste of butterscotch, caramel and molasses, this rum is a must for making classic cocktails,” says Paul Gonzalez of The Allegory Bar at Eaton DC. Goslings sources a secret blend of rum from various Caribbean countries, which it blends and ages in Bermuda. “Every cocktail bar should have a bottle of Goslings behind it,” he adds.
Related: The Best Cheap Rums
Best Spiced Rum: Sailor Jerry
Region: US Virgin Islands | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Vanilla
With its iconic hula girl art, this Sailor Jerry spiced rum is bottled at 92 proof—a higher proof than many others of its kind. This makes it an even better cocktail component, as the higher ABV allows the rum to shine through when mixed with other ingredients. The baking spice and vanilla notes stand out in almost any cocktail, from a Mai Tai to an Old Fashioned.
Best Rum Aged Over Ten Years: The Real McCoy Single Blended
Region: Barbados | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Oak, Orange
The Real McCoy sources its rum from the Foursquare distillery in Barbados, firmly believing in making rum without additives or coloring. This dark rum was aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels, giving it layers of brown sugar, vanilla, black cherry and even some mild smoky notes. “These guys are making truly great unadulterated juice,” says McCoy. “Get your hands on any of their expressions, from the white three-year-old and up.”
Best Single Barrel: Holmes Cay Barbados 2005
Region: Barbados | ABV: 64% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Butterscotch, Tangerine
Holmes Cay imports some truly excellent single cask rums, including this Barbados 2005 bottling. No color or sugar is added to this rum, which is distilled at the Foursquare distillery. It's aged for 14 years in ex-bourbon barrels (three of those in the U.K.) and bottled at a cask strength of close to 64 percent ABV. This drinks easily even at that high proof, but a bit of water opens it up and reveals an exciting range of spice, fruit and vanilla on the palate.
Best Rum Aged Less Than Five Years: Brugal Añejo Superior
Region: Puerto Rico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, Oak, Brown Sugar
This Puerto Rican rum is aged between two and five years in American oak before bottling, picking up notes of vanilla, spice, and wood along the way. It’s not the oldest rum out there, but it certainly sips like something way beyond its years. It also works great as a substitute for whiskey in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
Best Rum Aged More Than 20 Years: Appleton Estate 21
Region: Jamaica | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Cocoa, Banana, Pineapple
This bottle is a bit of a splurge, but it’s well worth the expense. Aged for a minimum of 21 years, this Jamaican rum is not overly tannic or bitter. “This is one of my favorite rums in the market,” said Gonzalez. “It has a big body with tons of stewed fruits and rich molasses.
This rum does a great job at creating a complex flavor that walks the line between an aged rum and a younger dark rum.” No sugar is added to the spirit, and none is needed, as master blender Joy Spence carefully selects the liquid that fits the distinctive flavor profile of Appleton Estate.
Best Whiskey Substitute: Bacardí Reserva Ocho
Region: Puerto Rico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Stone Fruit, Citrus, Vanilla
Bacardí, one of the best-known rum brands in the world, has some excellent premium expressions with age statements, like this eight-year-old gold rum. This is a fine sipping rum, although it also works well in classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Look for notes of oak, spice and dates, along with just a hint of smokiness from nearly a decade inside a barrel. If you've only tried some of Bacardí's cheaper rums, give this one a try and get ready for a completely different sipping experience.
The best overall rum is Mount Gay Black Barrel. This is an affordable rum with rich and complex flavors that drinks well on its own as a sipper and works splendidly in any variety of cocktails.
What is rum made from?
Rum is made from molasses or sugarcane juice, water, and yeast. Sometimes coloring and sugar or other flavoring is added to the spirit before bottling.
How is rum made?
Rum is made by fermenting molasses or sugarcane juice, and then distilling with column or pot stills into a high-proof spirit. This distillate is often aged in barrels for a period of time, frequently American oak ex-bourbon casks, to add flavor and color to the spirit. It’s cut with water before bottling unless it’s bottled at cask strength.
What are the different types of rum?
Rum varies based on its country of origin, but generally speaking, there are a few different types of rum - white rum (sometimes unaged, sometimes aged, and then charcoal filtered), dark rum (aged or with caramel color added), aged rum, spiced rum, rhum agricole (made from sugarcane juice in countries like Haiti and Martinique), and overproof rum.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for the past six years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.