You know who knows best which bottles to buy? The people who pour and sell drinks—that’s who. We asked dozens of top bartending and spirits industry professionals to tell us which bottles they love and why.
Heads up: The numerical order below is not organized by importance or quality; it’s an alphabetical list, not a ranking. Prices are averages and can vary from state to state.
“This rum is a steal, and I still can’t figure out why it isn't priced higher. Every home bar needs a quintessential sipping rum that really will warm your insides on a winter evening.”—Johnson
“Clairin, the national spirit of Haiti, focuses on entirely heritage cane varieties and uses wild yeasts. After being fermented for no less than 120 hours, clairin is rapidly distilled on a small-batch still. Consumed locally, at still strength, clairin’s cultural significance in Haiti is huge. Vaval has slightly sharp vegetal flavors and a hint of salinity on the finish, evoking its coastal terroir.”—Selma Slabiak, spirits director and bartender at the Taproom at Evil Twin Brewing in New York City
“This single cane varietal rhum agricole, made from freshly cut sugar cane rather than molasses, is light and vegital, maybe closer to tequila, but makes a gorgeous Daiquiri or even better Ti’ Punch, the official cocktail of the French Caribbean.”—Abigail Gullo, bar manager and assistant general manager at Ben Paris at The State Hotel in Seattle
“It’s spicy, juicy in all the right ways, soft and sweet. You can start to see that the people that have been making rum for a lot longer than the new distilleries popping up near you really do know how to do it better.”—Nathaniel Smith, creative director of bar and drinks at Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Minneapolis
“This rum has the only working wooden pot still in the world. The Demerara River flows through the distillery, causing all the sugar cane in the river to actually leave a subtly sweet finish of sugar cane in the water as well. There’s so much flavor in this beautiful sipping rum.”—Zachary Helton, bartender at Cork & Cow in Franklin, Tenn.
“Blends incorporated here are anywhere from seven to 23 years old. The body speaks for itself. Give it a slight chill, nothing more. It’s absolutely exquisite, as the name suggests. Also, it’s only available in small quantities and will definitely be a future collectors’ item.”—Andra Johnson, bar director at Serenata in Washington, D.C.
“Don't mistake the clear color for a blanco. Neo is actually aged for eight years, which gives it that barrel-aged complexity. But I love this as a gift idea because you can use Neo in any cocktail you were going to use a blanco rum in. The intensity of flavors shines through beautifully.”—Johnson
“You can't beat this pricing, especially for a four-year-old rum. It’s easily accessible and great for punches if you’re having company over. It’s also a drier style, so the aromatics shine through without being aged and cloyingly sweet on the palate.”—Johnson
“From the acclaimed Barbados distillery, where many of its releases have earned the moniker the Pappy of Rum due to the demand, exceedingly high quality and adherence to traditional practices. With tasting notes of honey, butterscotch, red currants, Ceylon tea, dark cocoa, tobacco, and subtle hints of leather, this is the number-one bottle I always reach for when I want to treat myself or others.”—Slabiak
“I guess this would be a baller rum if you wanted to categorize it. It’s not for a first-time rum drinker—a tad more complex, with fruit highlights, spice and berries—and it’s delicious neat. Adding ice will bring another level to this beauty.”—McCoy
“This rum needs only one word to describe it: dank. The nose reeks of resin and allspice. I love it blended with other white rums to create complexity or in a Daiquiri as the base spirit to add some complexity and dimension to the cocktail.”—Johnson
“It has big funk and ester with a punch, but you wouldn’t even think it was coming in at 120 proof. It’s a beautiful escape from the norm.”—McCoy
“Rhum agricole is made from freshly crushed and fermented sugar cane juice rather than molasses, and J.M. is my go-to in split cocktails, like Daiquiris and Mai-Tais, adding an extra dimension to my favorite classics. With ripening tropical fruits—mango, banana and papaya—and the traditional rhum agricole flavor of intensely rich fresh sugar cane, this bottle truly displays the raw power of what’s regarded as one of the best rhums out of Martinique island.”—Slabiak
“Lost Spirits began distilling rum in California in 2013 and quickly won the affection of rum lovers nationwide. This navy-style rum is my personal favorite for high-proof additions to cocktails and has a surprisingly smooth texture despite its strength. It’s adored in many bars, including mine, for its sherry, liquorice, tropical fruits and melon flavor notes.”—Slabiak
“I love a secondary barrel finish in my whiskey and rum. The vinous qualities from the port really elevate the structure of Opthimus. Opthimus 15 Year is delicious in its own right, but the 25 Year is so much more elegant. It’s highly coveted and sought-after but also not totally inaccessible and makes for a great gift for any rum lover.”—Johnson
“Whoa, this is a big-boy rum. This rum stays in my flask at all times. If I'm playing golf with friends, they all expect the bartender to have something cool to sip on. This will always get you nice and loose for golf.”—Helton
“Any bar shelf worth its salt needs a solid silver rum, whether its for mixing or enjoyed straight, and this award-winning rum, named after Bill McCoy, the Prohibition-era rum runner who became a household name for selling only the best-quality unadulterated spirits, still delivers. It’s bright and floral, with hints of toasted coconut, marzipan and nutmeg.”—Slabiak
“This is the first year that a 5 Star will ever be released from Barrilito and it’s a big deal! I would suggest buying one for a friend and one for yourself. Beautiful rums from distinguished families are literally the cream of the crop. 5 Star is the culmination of all of the work put in for the past 138 years. It does not disappoint.”—Johnson
“The flavors are absolutely unmatched when it comes to balance and texture. It's a rum you can't stop wanting to nose and savor. It’s a beautiful blanco for sipping and Puerto Rico's oldest rum, which makes for a great conversation piece.”—Johnson
“Santa Teresa 1796 results from a careful blend of its finest aged spirits that’s further aged in a style borrowed from Spanish sherry producers. It’s the first premium añejo rum in the world to be aged in the solera method, which is unique to the entire rum world. Drier than your average rum, it still packs all the rich flavors you’d expect from a high-end sipping rum: coffee, vanilla bean, tobacco and baking spices.”—Slabiak