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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. Though each nation has its own regulations about how its rum must be distilled and aged, some research can reveal exactly what's inside each bottle. Here are the best rums to drink for any occasion, from a white rum for summer cocktails to an aged rum for contemplative sipping, to a limited release single barrel expression.
Best Overall: Mount Gay Black Barrel
A lot of great rum comes from Barbados, and Mount Gay is a stellar example of this. New 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 has been 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: Rhum Clement Canne Bleue
Rhum Agricole from Martinique is distilled from sugarcane juice instead of molasses, which many other rum-producing countries use. This white rum from Rhum Clement is extremely popular with the locals, and it’s a key component of the national favorite ‘Ti Punch cocktail. “This bottling showcases not only the elegant character of the cane juice but the expertise of the distillers in honing in on what makes it special,” says Mustipher. “It has restrained floral notes, a bright, sparkling acidity, and a crisp, vegetable finish.” The flavor profile is a bit earthier and less sweet than you might be used to, but it’s a delicious spirit that can be sipped neat, with a splash of lime, or used in different cocktails.
Best Dark Rum: Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry
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, the chief creative officer for 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."
Best Coconut Rum: Koloa Kaua?i
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 flavor that has the right amount of sweetness.
Best Under $50: Barceló Imperial
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 for 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.
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Best for Mojitos: Flor de Ca?a Extra Seco
This light-bodied, white rum is distilled at Nicaraguan distillery Flor de Ca?a. “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. The 4 Year Extra Seco brings notes of oak and vanilla into play without affecting the presentation of this classic summer drink.
Best for Pi?a Coladas: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva
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 Pi?a Coladas.
Best for Daiquiris: Don Q Cristal
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. “Sometimes you just need a solid white rum to make those summertime Mojitos and Daiquiris,” says consulting bartender Pamela Wiznitzer. She adds that not only is 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
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.
Best Spiced Rum: Sailor Jerry
With its iconic hula girl art, this Sailor Jerry spiced rum is bottled at 92 proof, which is a bit 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 Aged Over 10 Years: The Real McCoy 12 Year
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 Aged Less Than 5 Years: Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star
Like Martinique, the rhum made in Haiti is distilled from sugar cane juice instead of molasses. Barbancourt 3 Star is a gold rum aged for four years in French oak, filling the spirit with mild notes of caramel and candied orange. “I can't say enough good things about Rhum Barbancourt,” says Mustipher. “It is bright, fresh, and easy to drink [with] pleasant vanilla notes and hints of white pepper.”
Best Splurge: Appleton Estate 21 Year Old
Aged for a minimum of 21 years, Appleton Estate's Jamaican rum is not overly tannic or bitter. “This is one of my favorite rums in the market,” says 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 the distillery.
Best Single Barrel: Holmes Cay Barbados 2005
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.
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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.