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Some of the best bottles of rum are coming out of old distilleries and new brands alike, with new iterations of the sugar-based liquor inspiring slower sipping and upgraded cocktails. These premium rums are challenging the long-held association between rum and sugary beach bar drinks. Now, people are approaching the rum as you might drink, say, expensive whiskey.
Despite rum’s recent evolution, trying to find nice examples of the stuff can still be overwhelming. To help you find your next bottle of rum, we’ve picked some of the best rum brands to try right now.
What Are the Different Types of Rum?
For a liquor to be considered rum it must use sugar-based products as its base ingredient (usually sugarcane or molasses). Most countries also require aging of at least a year. There are a few key terms to get acquainted with before embarking on a rum tasting expedition.
White Rum: Most rum cocktails, including mojitos, pina coladas and daiquiris, use white rum as their base (it also goes by light rum). It’s a clean, fresh variety that’s sometimes aged for a short period of around one to three years. White rums are typically less flavorful than their darker counterparts, making them excellent cocktail mixers but not the best for sipping.
Gold Rum: Gold rums are the middle child, typically aged several years for a light amber tone and a more rich flavor. If you’re only going to have one bottle of rum in your bar, we’d recommend a premium gold rum. A good bottle will taste great neat and will work in just about any rum cocktail (yes, you can get away with using gold rum in white rum recipes).
Dark Rum: Dark rum — also called aged rum — is the designation for extra old rum (typically more than 10 years). The line between dark rum and gold rum is blurry, but most aged or dark rums will deliver a full-bodied, rich flavor that’s ideal for sipping and using in specific cocktails such as a Dark N’ Stormy.
Aging: As with cognac, aging is the primary differentiator between rum varieties. Most rums are categorized as white, gold or dark, with darker tones resulting from longer aging and sometimes added spices. These terms don’t mean much, but you’ll see them on labels or when looking at rum cocktail recipes. Also, because rums are almost always distilled and aged in tropical climates, the aging process is accelerated.
What Are the Best Rum Brands?
1. Ron del Barrilito
This Puerto Rican rum brand is well known for its small-batch artisanal rum that tastes great both in cocktails or served neat. The brand prides itself on using no artificial coloring or ingredients and each blend is aged in vintage American white oak sherry barrels.
The company’s most well-known rum is the Ron del Barrilito Three Stars which combines blends aged between six to 10 years. The result is a smooth, easy-to-drink, fruity rum with a smoky finish that stays on your palette far after your drink is over. It’s best enjoyed on the rocks or in your favorite Old Fashioned cocktail.
If you’re looking for something a bit more exclusive with a lingering finish, go with the Ron del Barrilito Five Stars, made from rum blends aged for up to 35 years. It’s some of the smoothest rum we’ve ever tried and features a smoky wood finish coupled with notes of vanilla, nuts and tropical fruit.
2. Diplomatico Rum Reserva Exclusiva
Venezuelan brand Diplomatico’s Reserva Exclusiva is arguably its best. It’s extremely versatile that lends to sipping, as well as a straightforward rum flavor that can be used to make some killer cocktails. The base ingredients are molasses and sugarcane honey. After distillation in copper pot stills and 12 years of aging, the Reserva Exclusiva becomes something that will impress connoisseurs and shut down any rum skeptic.
3. Bumbu Original Rum
This gold rum from Lil Wayne-approved brand Bumbu is the brand’s flagship bottle, boasting a naturally sweet flavor and a drinkable 35 percent ABV (Bumbu’s 18-year XO is also excellent). Like the rums of old, Bumbu Original is a small-batch concoction that’s blended by hand in Barbados. The flavor is balanced with a leaning towards caramel, cinnamon and nuts, making it another versatile choice for drinking neat or making cocktails.
4. Ten To One White Rum
The white rum market is flooded with cheap bottles, which makes this bottle of Ten To One special. The white rum is a blend, sourcing batches from Dominican column stills and Jamaican pot stills. Unlike some white rums, the Caribbean brand uses zero added sugar, colors or flavorings. It’s on the strong side at 45 percent ABV, making it an excellent choice for delicious mojitos and daiquiris.
5. The Real McCoy 14 Year Rum
If you’re looking for a premium go-to rum to rival any whiskey experience, check out this 14 year bottle from The Real McCoy. The rum originates in copper pot and column stills before being blended and subsequently aged for 14 years in ex-bourbon barrels. And, because it’s aged in Barbados, 14 years goes a long way. The resulting flavor is complex, bringing toffee and spice, and ends with a smooth finish. It’s garnered high praise at competitions (including Double Gold by the 2019 International Spirits Challenge) and deserves to be sipped without ice or mixers.
6. Rhum J.M. XO Aged Rum
Rhum J.M. is based in the tropical French territory of Martinique. Therefore, the brand is subject to France’s laws around Rhum (no molasses — only sugarcane juice). This Rhum J.M. XO is a safe bet if you’re looking for a rich, complex rum — ahem — rhum. It’s on the sweet side, but maintains the fruit and vanilla you’d expect from a classic rhum.
7. El Dorado 21 Year Old Special Reserve
For special occasions (on the beach or otherwise), bust out some of this El Dorado 21 Year Special Reserve. The distillery is based in Guyana’s Demerara county, where they source 100 percent of the sugar and age the rums used in this bottle. This is especially important for El Dorado because Demerara is very close to the equator, making those 21 years very meaningful (I.e. tons of flavor). Expect a rich drinking experience, complete with aromas of espresso and brown sugar, along with a palate of fruit, toffee and smoke.
8. Mount Gay Rum 1703 Master Select
If you’re ready to go all-out with a truly top-of-the-line rum, we recommend this 1703 Master Select from Mount Gay. The name, 1703, refers to Mount Gay’s founding date and heritage as the oldest rum distillery. In other words, Mount Gay is the brand that can pull off an ultra-premium, 30 year old rum such as the 1703 Master Select. The complex flavor comes in multiple layers that include banana, smokey sweetness, and roasted nuts with oak undertones. In short, it’s a top-tier rum that should be part of your collection.
9. Don Papa Rum
Started by a former exec from Remy Cointreau, Don Papa Rum is a small-batch rum is distilled from molasses, then aged for 7 years in American oak barrels in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon. It’s widely considered to be the first “sipping rum” of the Philippines, where the majority of rum is mass-produced, and mainly meant to be mixed into a cocktail. But Don Papa’s rum is pristine, incredibly smooth, with a sweet, caramel finish. This is also a bottle you’ll definitely want to show off — in fact, there are 50 animals hidden in the label.