Spirits & Liqueurs Rum

Don Q Cristal Rum Review

This light mixing rum can almost pass for vodka—but is that a good thing?

Don Q Cristal Rum bottle

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

liquor.com rating:

Don Q Cristal Rum is a budget-friendly light rum with no additives and a light, clean flavor profile, making it good for mixed drinks. But it’s so light-bodied that it bears more resemblances to vodka than the spirit on the label.

Fast Facts

Classification light/white rum

Company Serrallés USA

Distillery Destilería Serrallés (Ponce, Puerto Rico)

Cask American oak

Still Type column

Released 1978

Proof 80 (40% ABV)

Aged 1 1/2 to 5 years, and carbon filtered to remove color (and some flavor, too)

MSRP $14

Awards Gold, 2019 World Spirits Awards

  • At less than $15 for a bottle, the price is right.

  • Don Q is committed to transparency about what goes in the bottle, and unlike many top brands, doesn't use any additives such as sugar or artificial flavoring post-distillation.

  • Its clean, light flavor makes it a great substitute for vodka in cocktails.

  • Rum drinkers may want a rum that tastes like rum rather than vodka, in which case this bottle doesn’t fit the bill.

Tasting Notes

Color: Absolutely clear, with thick legs that creep slowly down the side of the glass. Clearly, the filters have done their job: Though Cristal contains a blend of rums aged up to five years, it doesn’t look like it spent a day in a barrel.

Nose: It would be easy to mistake the nose for a vodka’s: There’s a slight mustiness and a hint of lemon, but the predominant note is alcohol.

Palate: Lightly sweet, with notes of cane sugar, coconut, banana, and melon, a light citrus tang, and a hint of spearmint

Finish: A dry, slightly harsh charcoal flavor lingers on the back of the tongue and in the throat post-swallow. Given how light the rum is, the finish lingers surprisingly long.

Our Review

Don Q has been making Puerto Rican rum since 1865: a light, column-distilled spirit that may not be as thrilling to rum geeks as, say, a Jamaican pot still rum, but which has a smooth, elegant, approachable style that’s all its own. 

The producer launched Cristal in 1978, when the goal of most spirits was to taste like vodka. “Light” and “smooth” were the watchwords of the day, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Cristal delivers. Don Q goes so far to say on its website that Cristal is a great vodka substitute in cocktails, and indeed, it makes a fine Collins or Gimlet. As for rum cocktails, it makes a perfectly adequate if unspectacular Mojito or Daiquiri

But in the end, the problem with a rum that tastes like vodka is that it doesn’t taste that much like rum. Yes, it has enough telltale sweet tropical fruit notes to peg its origins to the tropics and not the frozen tundra. But while it’s clean and smooth and light, it lacks a certain something—let’s call it pizazz—that separates the really good stuff from the rest of the pack. This is a solid “rest of the pack” brand, featuring no added sugar or flavorings, at a price that encourages mixing on a blowout-party level. But if you want a white/light rum with more personality, it’s best to spend a little more and opt for The Real McCoy, Probitas, or Owney’s. And to get more of a sense of what Don Q can do, check out its excellent aged rums, such as the Gran Reserva.

Interesting Fact

The best-selling Puerto Rican rum in the world—and the best-known, too—is Bacardí. But the bestselling Puerto Rican rum in Puerto Rico is Don Q. The brand’s history on the island goes back decades further than that of Bacardí, which originated in Cuba.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a cheap and pleasant mixer, Don Q Cristal is a solid choice. But if you’re looking for a light rum with character, it may disappoint.