Some of our readers have complained about how much work it takes to prep, mix, and serve a proper exotic rum drink. The Bum couldn’t agree more. No one dislikes work as much as he, which is why he often (too often, if you ask the local gendarmerie) will simply drink his rum straight. To that end, he has trawled the few neighborhood liquor stores that haven’t banned him for life to give you the rum-down on what to sip and what to skip.
The average price of these premium rums is in the $30 to $40 range, so we highly recommend you try to find them in those 50 ml mini-bottles. If the mini leaves you wanting more, you know it’s safe to shell out for a whole fifth.
One more thing before we uncork: This list is by no means complete. There are lots of other sipping rums out there that the Bum hasn’t gotten around to sipping. After all, he is a bum. Check back periodically — we’ll file updates as we encounter new bottles. (Speaking of updates, here’s an article we wrote for Saveur magazine that provides some background on our favorite spirit: “Endless Summer: Rum is Sunshine Distilled.”)
COCKSPUR BAJAN CRAFTED 12-YEAR. A whisper of honey, a rumor of lemon, and an innuendo of oak enliven this intimate conversation between palate and spirit. Recommended.
DOORLY’S XO. Aged 8 to 10 years and finished for 6 months in a sherry cask, this is a nuanced yet forthright pour. “It’s got a wonderful flavor,” says rum authority Stephen Remsberg. “When I can find it, I drink more of this than anything else.” ’Nuff said.
MOUNT GAY EXTRA OLD. This blend of aged rums spreads across the palate like a Rubens courtesan across a divan. A generous, full-bodied delight from start to finish.
GOSLINGS OLD RUM. “It gets points for differentness,” says our pal Cass McClure, who dropped a bundle so that we could try this rum. “It reminds me of cherry grappa; it’s also resiny, bark-like, with a root beer taste. For an aged rum, I expect something smoother; this is too sharp.” We agree. If a root beer rum appeals to you, opt for the cheaper — and smoother — Goslings Black Seal.
FLOR DE CAÑA CENTENARIO. We’re big fans of Flor De Caña’s 4-year, 5-year, and 7-year bottlings, so it pains us to report that their 18-year Centenario is not up to their usual high standard. After an interesting bouquet that conjures oak leaves and rose petals, you get a rather prosaic blended-whiskey taste. Granted, there’s a perfumed delicacy on the surface … the problem is, this rum is mostly surface.
MONTECRISTO 12-YEAR. Distilled from sugar cane in Guatemala. Not much individuality here — just a hint of vanilla, which for a gold rum is the equivalent of a gray flannel suit. It’s a good workhorse mixing rum, but an aged agricole should be more than that.
HAVANA CLUB AÑEJO RESERVA. The nose seems a tad medicinal upon decanting, but your first sip belays that olfactory illusion with a burst of mellow, earthy, layered flavor redolent of cigar smoke and afternoon sunlight.
HAVANA CLUB SELECCIÓN DE MAESTROS. A sophisticated pour. In fact, it goes down like a top-shelf Armagnac. And A Bottle Of Rum author Wayne Curtis detects a rubbery end-note, and we always defer to Wayne Curtis. Still, this is by far the Bum’s favorite Havana Club bottling.
DEMERARA (GUYANA) RUMS
EL DORADO 12-YEAR. This is a friendly rum. If you were alone at a party, this rum would walk up to you, extend its hand, and say, “Hey, how are you?” And not just to be polite – it would really want to know. It’s even more ingratiating over an ice cube or two.
EL DORADO SPECIAL RESERVE 15-YEAR. Voluptuous, sweet but not cloyingly so, with so much going on that tasting it is like watching the split-screen scenes in an Imax film: you hardly know where to focus. Cedar, cigar, praline, fig, caramel, and cinnamon all fight for your attention. Ideally, this rum should be sipped from a 16th-century Corinthian leather cask on a voyage of discovery to the New World — it tastes like history brought to life.
EL DORADO 21-YEAR. Dryer and less sweet than the 15-year, with a mustard nose, a vanilla finish, and many interesting layers in between.
LEMON HART. Velvety and intensely smoky, minus the sugariness that afflicts too many dark rums. We don’t leave home without it.
LEMON HART 151-PROOF. When the Bum was a kid watching pirate movies, this is how he imagined the rum they drank tasted. Gunpowder, ship’s wood and pitch, and sea-spray and mutiny in a bottle; one sip and you’ve been blackbirded by Robert Newton and Wallace Beery. Serve over crushed ice.
UITVLUGT 1990. A double-distilled, pure pot still rum barrel-aged for 18 years — which gives the resulting 122-proof spirit pelagic depth and heroic character. (For information on other Demerara expressions of this magnitude, scroll down to the bottom of our Bottle Fatigue Grog Blog post.)
WOOD’S OLD NAVY 114-PROOF CANE RUM. Avast, ye swabs. When you decant this rum, cannons boom, swords clash, and timbers shiver. Not for fans of subtlety: black as tar, strongly woody, with a heavy molasses vibe. But considering the proof, surprisingly smooth going down.
MATUSALEM GRAN RESERVA. Undertones of hazlenut and candied orange tease the nose, but all the tongue registers is caramelized sugar. Skip this one, unless you have a sweet tooth — several of them.
RON BARCELÓ IMPERIAL. A tasty 10-year rum, lush, layered, approachable.
VIZCAYA VXOP CASK 21. At first sip, a liquid gingerbread cookie — but then comes a wave of coffee and cloves, creating a unique flavor mix that avoids the samey-sameness of so many other Caribbean sipping rums. Distinct and engaging.
WESTERHALL PLANTATION. Aged in small batches, this light-bodied gold rum makes a great first impression with an aroma of jungle gardenia. But alas, when sipped straight it outstays its welcome with a harsh alcoholic finish. Dilution is the solution: ease the burn by serving Westerhall over ice cubes.
BARBANCOURT 15-YEAR RÉSERVE DU DOMAINE. Many aged rums tend to hit the same notes, but this cognac-like Haitian elixir has a character unique unto itself. Full-bodied yet delicate, it is magnificent in its contradictions.
OLD MONK. This 7-year dark rum is produced in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in the city of Ghazibad. (You don’t really need to know that; we just like saying “Ghazibad.”) Included here because of its sui generis flavor, which is mostly maple. Old Monk finishes a little rough, but ice takes the edge off.
APPLETON ESTATE 21-YEAR. Satiny, butterscotchy, and lighter than air on the tongue. Nevertheless, it fails to scale the heights you’d expect after shelling out over $100 a bottle.
MYERS’S LEGEND. After a few sips of this bold, pungent 10-year-old dark Jamaican, you might find yourself falling out of love and into a funk over its somewhat anonymous, factory-tooled character.
PLANTATION. An 8-year gold that starts a tad sugary, but finishes strong with flavors of toasted coconut and baked plantain. For a 90-proof rum, exceptionally smooth.
SMITH & CROSS. Don’t ask this rum to wipe its feet before entering the house, put the toilet seat down, or remember your birthday. It’s an undomesticated, downright feral spirit. This is what rum used to taste like before industrialized production methods filtered out the raw spirit’s esters and congeners — the impurities that give rum its flavor and personality. Smith & Cross is a blend of unfiltered, high-ester Jamaican rums bottled at “navy strength” (read: 114-proof). It tastes Scotchy and butterscotchy, with a whiff of roasted chestnuts. A rough and ready tot.
CLÉMENT CUVÉE HOMÈRE. A blend of Clément vintages from the past 15 years. Around $80 a bottle — and worth every penny we pick out of the town wishing-well. Splendid from start to finish, Cuvée Homère rivals the finest cognac, but is still very much a rum, with a luxuriantly rich, toasty, browned-butter essence.
J.M. MILLÉSIMÉ 1997. A haughty 10-year agricole with hints of sage and lemon; its long, spun-sugar finish makes it the perfect dessert rum.
J.M. VSOP. Dry, brawny, and peaty, when this rum first hits your tongue, you’d almost think you were drinking a single malt Scotch (Macallan 18-year comes to mind). Then comes the rhum agricole sunsplash, with a grand finale of 90-proof equatorial heat. A delicious way to reward yourself after a long day of doing nothing.
NEISSON RÉSERVE SPÉCIAL. Beautifully balanced, with a sensual, silky, elegant charm; butterscotch and almond predominate.
ORONOCO RESERVA. Chocolate and cherries … but where has the rum gone? This Brazilian spirit tastes like spiked Cherry Garcia ice cream. On the other hand, who doesn’t like Cherry Garcia ice cream? If you’re looking to jog your jaded palate with something different, you could do worse than a slug of this over ice.
PAMPERO ANIVERSARIO. If the pipe-smoking, cravat-wearing, classics-quoting members of an oak-paneled, Edwardian gentlemen’s club had their kind souls preserved in amber and then fermented, they might taste like this. A memorable experience from Venezuela.
SANTA TERESA 1796. Another Venezuelan, which blends rums aged between four and 35 years. While you may be hard put to tell Santa Teresa 1796 apart from other super-premium sipping rums, it has all of their virtues and none of their vices. What it lacks in individuality it makes up for in smooth, concentrated, voluptuous rumminess.
INNER CIRCLE BLUE DOT. From Australia. An aggressive, fiery, charred-wood beginning whipsaws you to an unexpectedly sweet midpalate … and then back full-circle to an endnote of aromatic burning embers. Provocative.
INNER CIRCLE RED DOT. Much less interesting than the Blue Dot. Hits the same notes as Cockspur 12, Mount Gay Extra Old, and other aged rums — namely, honey and oak. A decent pour, but an inessential one. Best with ice cubes.
MAUI RESERVE GOLD. Hand-crafted by a gent named Braddah Kimo, who built his own distillery on the slope of Mount Haleakala. Output is limited — not only so Kimo can hit the beach when the surf’s up, but so he can personally monitor every small batch of this pressed sugar-cane rum before bottling. The result is a unique, polyphonic symphony of tastes: cashew, lychee, mango, black tea, and tangerine all harmonically converge.
DOS MADERAS 5+5. A blend of Bajan and Demerara rums, aged for 5 years in the Caribbean, then shipped to Spain and transferred to sherry casks for another 5 years of aging (hence the “5+5” moniker). The result of all that trouble is a rich, full flavor spectrum of clove, pipe tobacco, espresso, tawny Port, and a hint of orange. Different and delicious.
TRINDAD & TOBAGO
CARONI 1991. At one time Trinidad’s best-known brand — we’ve found many a Prohibition-era recipe calling specifically for it — Caroni went out of business in 2002. But some barrels of dead stock have been rescued and bottled in Italy. Of these, the 1991 vintage is the standout: impossibly rich and, considering it weighs in at 122-proof, impossibly mellow.
FORRES PARK PUNCHEON RUM. At 150 proof, the fumes emitted by this white lightning from Tobago can burn you a third nostril. But once you get past that doctor’s office smell, the flavor is surprisingly subtle, teasingly elusive, downright sneaky. The stuff practically evaporates in your mouth on contact, leaving a parting gift of crisp, clean, pure cane sugar. Pour it over crushed ice to improve the aroma, then sip slowly to improve your outlook on life.
SCARLET IBIS. A Trinidad rum-blend originally commissioned by Death & Company bar in Manhattan, tailored for use in their signature drinks (two ounces of it makes for a spectacular Mai Tai). None of the usual ho-hum vanilla notes here: the first thing you taste is a heady, bracing blast of burnt brown sugar, followed by coffee on the midpalate, with a toffee finish. At 98-proof, a little hot for sipping neat, but one ice cube will mellow it to perfection.
HURRICANE RUM. From a boutique distillery on Nantucket. Pretty mellow for 88.8-proof, with overtones of vanilla and cinnamon. Nice on ice — but at upwards of $40, not a good value.
OLD NEW ORLEANS 10-YEAR EXTRA PREMIUM. A Grand Marnier-like orange base flavor, tempered with vanilla and honey; full-bodied, with a mellow but warming finish.
PRITCHARD’S FINE RUM. An aged amber rum distilled in Kelso, Tennessee. It’s a well-crafted spirit possessed of a curious buoyancy, with a pleasant midpalate hint of lemon peel.
CRUZAN SINGLE BARREL ESTATE. A creamy, silken, satisfying blend of rums up to 12 years old. A shot of this just might be the best way to convert non-rum drinkers, and it’s a bargain at under $30.