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Rum is best known as the preferred sip of pirates and smugglers, but there is a world of uses for the versatile sugar-distilled spirit. Vibrant and light white rums make for a great base in refreshing cocktails—think mojitos, daiquiris, and more. Or, pick an older, aged rum for rich, barrel-driven flavors best enjoyed neat or in spirit-forward cocktails like Old Fashioneds. Whether you're looking for an inexpensive option or a higher-end spirit, here are the best bottles for every occasion, ranging from breezy beach rums to smooth sipping rums and more.
When building out a rum collection, Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer of The Rum House in New York, recommends buying Banks Five Island Blend Rum. “You’ll want a white Rum for daiquiris, and this rum makes an exceptional daiquiri.”
Jim Meehan, Banks co-founder and famed bartender, formerly of PDT, worked to create a rum with excellent mixability. “It’s great in cocktails, like a Negroni variation or a Hemingway Daiquiri,” says McCoy.
The name "Five Islands" derives from the 21 different rums (aged between three and 12 years) sourced from five different areas, including Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Barbados. Banks blends them together and adds Batavia Arrack from Java, Indonesia to make a grassy, characterful rum. The name is a nod to Joseph Banks, an 18th-century naturalist who traveled with Captain Cook.
“People view rum as some bad ’80s party drink, but rum has been around forever—it’s one of the world’s original spirits! There are amazing rums made in so many different areas, and that creates many different styles of rum, like Rhum Agricole and Guyanese rum, as well as many different methods of production.” — Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer, The Rum House, New York
Another essential bottle for any home bar is Real McCoy’s 12-year-old rum. “And not just because we have the same name! They are one of my favorite rum makers.” The brand is named after William McCoy, one of the most infamous rum runners of the prohibition era, who only delivered the most premium product. Today, the term "the real McCoy" now means authenticity.
The rum is aged for 12 years in heavily charred bourbon barrels, giving it a rich flavor with notes of demerara sugar and oak. “The flavor profile of wood, caramel, and spice is perfect neat or on the rocks,” says McCoy. “It’s smooth, delicious, and drinks like whiskey.”
Puerto Rico’s Don Q ages its spiced rum in American white oak barrels for a minimum of three years before infusing it with a naturally sourced spice mixture of cinnamon, vanilla, clove, and nutmeg. It’s bottled at a spicy 45% ABV for a bold, spicy vanilla-driven flavor. If spiced rum conjures images of pirates, this premium rum will change your perception of the category. It drinks with robust toasty coffee flavors and a warm hit of cinnamon and vanilla. Stir it into a rum and cola to give it backbone, or mix the spiced rum with tonic water and a slice of orange and lime.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for Diamond White Rum because it’s our well rum in our bars,” says McCoy. The cane sugar-based rum is the little sister brand to El Dorado, and both are made in Guyana’s only rum distillery, located on the banks of the Demerara River. The brands are keeping Guyana’s rum heritage alive—Christopher Columbus first planted sugar cane on the island in 1498, and at its peak, there were over 300 sugar cane estates and distilleries on the island.
The crowd-pleasing light rum works marvelously in a cocktail, but it’s a great workhorse rum: smooth, budget-friendly, and full of character. “It’s cheap and great for a daiquiri or a rum and Coke.”
For those who prefer their spirits sipped, like Cognacs or single malts, try a rich rum with a long finish. Though you may associate Bacardi with the budget bottle poured in dive bar rum and colas, the brand also offers surprisingly excellent higher-end iterations.
The Bacardi Diez is aged for a minimum of 12 years in the Caribbean, then filtered through charcoal for smoothness (the same process expert Tennessee Whiskey makers use). Expect caramelized tropical fruits on the palate, with notes of aged oak and smoke.
Despite what its quirky name might suggest, Wicked Dolphin’s coconut-flavored rum is one of the best available. The rum is made in Cape Coral, Florida (hence the "dolphin" in the name), where it’s distilled from local sugar canes. The rums are produced in small batches—first, it’s distilled in a copper pot still, then flavored with coconut and aged in used Kentucky Bourbon Barrels before it’s bottled at 60 proof. Made with real coconut water and other organic ingredients, the flavored rum has a natural tropical sweetness, skipping the overly saccharine taste most flavored rums have. It’s milky, creamy, and gentle, perfect for pouring into a piña colada.
For a home bar, “You’re going to want something dark for making rum Old Fashioneds, Dark and Stormys, and rum and colas,” says McCoy. “I recommend Plantation Original Dark for its versatility.”
Plantation Original starts with a blend of one to three-year-old Barbadian rums and 10 to 15-year-old Jamaican rums. The two are blended together, then left to age in a wooden vat in the southwest of France for three to six months—not unusual considering the brand was founded by Alexandre Gabriel, the mastermind behind Maison Ferrand Cognac. The rich, elegant rum holds notes of plum, cinnamon, clove, and smoke and a long-lasting finish. Try it in a tiki cocktail.
The company has announced that it will change its name to support racial equality, so we'll update accordingly as we learn more about the rebrand.
Thanks to its easy-drinking mellow nature, this Jamaican rum brand has been a staple for centuries—250 years, to be exact—and its newly launched reserve commemorates the anniversary. The celebratory bottle is a dark rum blended from 20 different Jamaican pot and column still rums, then aged for a minimum of eight years to give the spirit a honey character and the brand’s signature orange peel.
Each rum is made with care by Joy Spence, a living legend in the spirits world. She has served as Appleton’s master blender for over 20 years and is the first woman to ever hold the title of master blender. The lush aroma and rich taste make it a great base for a tropical rum punch or a brown sugar daiquiri.
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Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and spirits writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years and has her BarSmarts and WSET certification.