For far too long now, rum has been met with a whiff of disdain by whiskey fanatics who see it more as blender fuel than a brown spirit worthy of sipping and savoring. But that’s all starting to change, as drinkers are becoming more familiar with aged rum, a spirit that when distilled, blended and aged thoughtfully can hold its weight against the finest cognac or single-malt scotch. These are eight great sipping rums that feature rum that has been aged for at least 12 years and have the body and palate to show for it.
During Prohibition, the famous rum runner Bill McCoy was your best bet for quality product. If you got your rum from him during those dark, dry days, you could count on it being legit. The Real McCoy founder and CEO Bailey Pryor is a virtual fount of rum knowledge and insists on producing rum with integrity, honesty and transparency. The Real McCoy is distilled at Barbados’ Foursquare distillery in Coffey and pot stills. In the 12-year-old, look for notes of caramel and wood, with some spice and chocolate on the nose.
Venezuela’s Diplomático rum distillery has a wide range of expressions. But Ambassador, part of the distillery’s Prestige Range, may be one of its best, a fantastic sipping rum with prominent notes of raisin, chocolate and baking spice on the palate. Ambassador is a blend of 100 percent pot-still rums aged in American oak for at least 12 years, followed by two years in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, a one-two punch that diversifies and amplifies the flavor.
A great deal of rum is aged in the solera system, meaning there’s both older and younger liquid in the blend. Kirk and Sweeney employs this practice as well for some of its age-statement expressions. But its 18-year-old rum is composed entirely of juice that has spent at least that amount of time in used American oak before being batch-blended. The result is a deep amber-colored rum with notes of sherry, raisin, vanilla and oak on the palate.
Parce, a relative newcomer to the scene, was founded by three brothers who were infatuated with Colombian rum. They paired up with a father-and-son distilling team based in Bogotá to source and blend their product. Parce bottles eight- and three-year-old expressions, but the 12-year-old is the richest and most flavorful of the bunch, with big notes of toffee, tobacco and vanilla and a surprisingly dry finish.
Yes, there’s an actual Don Pancho. He’s originally from Cuba but has been distilling rum in Panama for many years for various brands. His own project is this eponymous rum, and the 18-year-old is a fine example of his craft. The rum was aged in new American oak casks from Kentucky, giving it notes of vanilla, oak and nutmeg. Sip neat or on the rocks, and pair with a nice cigar if that’s your thing.
Guyana may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of rum, but this small South American nation produces some high-quality spirits. El Dorado 12-year-old is a blend of rums aged for a minimum of 12 years in ex-bourbon casks, which gives it an undercurrent of spice, topped with hints of honey and oak that permeate the liquid throughout.
Plantation, a brand owned by cognac producer Maison Ferrand, gives its juice a bit of a French twist. The Barbados 2002 vintage was aged for 15 years—12 in bourbon casks in Barbados and three in cognac casks in France. This double-aging technique allows the rum to spend some time in a cooler climate, reducing the angel’s share and also imparting unique flavors from the cognac casks, like tropical fruit, tobacco and vanilla.
Joy Spence is the first female master blender in the rum industry and something of a legend. At Jamaica’s Appleton Estate, she helps oversee the distillery’s cane-to-cup method, where the sugar cane is grown on the same property in which the rum is distilled and aged. Appleton stocks several outstanding aged products, but the 21-year-old shines brightest—a funky but complex spirit that could turn on the geekiest of whiskey nerds.