This definitive guide to the best rums of 2021 covers everything you need to know about the spirit that's sick and tired of being second to whiskey, from the bottles to buy to what to know about the stuff inside.
Best Rums of 2021
- Best Overall Rum: Plantation Barbados 5 Year
- Best Splurge Rum: Foursquare Rum 2008 Single Blended 12 Year
- Best Budget Rum: Cruzan Light Aged Rum
- Best Gateway Rum: Diplomático Mantuano
- Best Overproof Rum: Lemon Hart 151
- Best White Rum: Flor De Caña 4 Year Extra Seco
- Best Spiced Rum: Chairman’s Reserve Spiced
- Best Dark Rum: Koloa Kaua‘i Dark Rum
- Best Gold Rum: Rhum J.M E.S.B. Gold
- Best Rum for Cocktails: Don Pancho Origenes Reserva 8 Year
- Best Multipurpose Rum: Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rum
- Best Bourbon-Like Rum: Real McCoy 12-Year
- Best Rum to Gift: Hampden Great House Distillery Edition Single Jamaican Rum
- Best Craft Rum: Privateer Navy Yard Barrel Proof
With rum-focused bars opening at an increasing speed and top-shelf bottles popping up on liquor store shelves across the country, rum has come a long way since the days of pirate-laden jugs and soap-scented vacation crushers. But despite a recent status boost, it’s hard out here for a would-be rum guy. This guide breaks down everything you need to know to get into the rum game, from crucial terms to key label identifiers and a curated list of the best bottles for every boozy situation at every price point.
The Short List
Best Overall Rum: Plantation Barbados 5 Years
Distiller: Plantation Rum/Maison Ferrand
Country of Origin: Barbados
It’s not the cheapest on the shelf, but this crowdpleaser from Cognac powerhouse Maison Ferrand is worth every penny. The pot and column still blend sits in spent bourbon barrels for three to four years before jetting across the pond for a one to two year stay in French oak at its lauded parent company’s Château de Bonbonnet. The result is mahogany-hued layers of toasted coconut, orange peel and vanilla, finished with a hit of cinnamon-dusted marzipan.
Best Splurge Rum: Foursquare Rum 2008 Single Blended 12 Year
Distiller: Foursquare Distillery (R.L. Seale & Co. Ltd)
Country of Origin: Barbados
Dubbed “the Pappy of rum,” the celebrated distillery behind this limited edition expression is helmed by fourth-generation trader and distiller and renowned rum advocate Richard Seale. This formidable cask strength expression — a pot and column still blend aged separately in ex-Bourbon barrels for 12 years before marrying in the bottle — is as exceptional as it is accessible. Cream and apple pie bursts on the nose while tropical fruit plays across the palate, followed by a rush of toffee and peppery oak that lingers.
Best Budget Rum: Cruzan Light Aged Rum
Distiller: Cruzan Rum Distillery
Country of Origin: US Virgin Islands
If you’re looking to jazz up your Coke or spike a tropical party punch without breaking the bank, this Virgin Islands stalwart will do the trick. The newmake spirit is aged on oak for one to four years then filtered to remove the wood-influenced color, making for a surprisingly sturdy white option with light vanilla flavors. It drinks clean and dry, complemented by a relaxed oakiness ideal for mixing.
Rum Terms to Know
Column Still: One of two basic rum distilling methods employed since the 19th Century. Setups typically consists of two tall, stainless steel tubes filled with metal plates that extract impurities from heated alcohol vapors as they rise through the system.
Pot Still: The older and more straight-forward of rum’s two basic distilling methods. The typical setup includes a wide pot-shaped kettle topped by a taller, thinner gooseneck which connects to a condenser for trapping and separating heated alcoholic vapors.
Agricole/Rhum Agricole: Rum produced in the French West Indies, namely Martinique and Guadeloupe. French for “agricultural rum,” this category is more strictly regulated and must be distilled from freshly extracted sugarcane juice as opposed to molasses. Rhums Agricole are often brighter, grassier and more herbaceous than their molasses-derived counterparts.
Cachaça: A Brazillian spirit distilled from sugarcane juice and bottled at no more than 54 percent ABV. While not widely considered a true rum on the consumer side, US regulators officially categorize it as one.
Demerara: Rums hailing from Guyana, the name is a reference to the Demerara river. Despite the name, these rums are not necessarily made with high-quality demerara sugar.
Esters: Flavorful chemical compounds produced when alcohol mixes with acid during fermentation and barrel-aging. A rum’s ester quantity signifies the intensity of key taste and aroma components like bananas and tropical fruit.
Dunder: Yeasty, ester-rich liquid left over after distillation is complete. Jamaican distilleries often conserve this funky byproduct and use it to facilitate the fermentation of future batches of rum.
Molasses: The thick, sweet, vicious, and dark-hued syrup left over after raw sugar has been crystallized out of cane or sugar beet juice during the refining process. Fermented molasses serves as the primary base liquid for most of the world’s rums.
Vésou: The French word for the freshly-extracted sugarcane juice used in the production of Rhum Agricole.
Quick Guide to Rum Labels
Proof/ABV: All rum imported into the US must list its alcohol content on its label. Most rum is bottled in the 80 proof range, or 40 percent ABV, with overproof running between 75 percent to 80 percent ABV and flavored rums dipping slightly below to 35 percent ABV. As a rule of thumb, rums between 80 and 110 proof are more suitable for sipping while weaker and stronger rums are better suited for layered cocktails.
Age Statements: Distillers aren’t required to state barrel-aging information, though some elect to anyway. If a label clearly reads “Aged 10 years,” that’s an indication of the final product’s youngest component. Be mindful of brands that add numbers to their names but avoid mentioning “years” (see: Zacapa 23), as these don’t necessarily reflect the blend’s age. The rules around aging rum and age statement requirements differ from country to country, so age statement purists are out of luck.
Rum, Rhum, Ron: Broadly, rum can be separated into three styles: English, French and Spanish. When the label reads “rum,” it’s probably an English-style rum, derived from molasses and produced by a former or current British colony. “Rhum” indicates French-style rums made with fresh sugar cane while Spanish-style “ron” is distilled from molasses and comes from Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands and Latin America.
Country of Origin: Different regions are associated with different fermenting, distilling and bottling practices, resulting in distinct flavor profiles that vary wildly from country to country. In general, English-style rums from Jamaica, Trinidad and St. Lucia are known for their funky, banana-laden boldness and spicy heat; French rhums are often earthier, lighter and more verdant; and Spanish-style rums from Cuba and Puerto Rico tend to be a bit sweeter, rounder and more oily.
Best Everyday Rum
Best Gateway Rum: Diplomático Mantuano
Distiller: Ron Diplomatico Diplomático
Country of Origin: Venezuela
Spanish-style rums are great sipping rums as they tend to share flavor profiles with familiar brown spirits like bourbon and brandy. This Venezuelan mainstay is a blend of column, batch kettle and pot still rums aged for a maximum of eight years in used bourbon and malt whiskey barrels. Notes of stone fruit and juicy dates dominate the nose, giving way to warm vanilla, chestnut and a tinge of oak that finishes long and dry.
Best Overproof Rum: Lemon Hart 151
Distiller: Lemon Hart Rum
Country of Origin: Guyana
Overproof rums are tricky. Notoriously powerful, unrepentantly bold and literally explosive, most home bartenders have no clue how to handle them. Here’s a hint: they were made to tiki. Take this brazen Demerara—loaded with salted caramel, fruity esters, baking spices, bitter citrus peel and a heaping spoonful of black pepper. It’s perfect for adding heat, dimension and depth to everything from basic Planters Punches and Hurricanes to more complicated Zombies and Mai Tais.
Best White Rum: Flor De Caña 4 Year Extra Seco
Distiller: Flor De Caña
Country of Origin: Nicaragua
This bargain-priced Nicaraguan refresher opens with a nuanced bouquet of almond butter, vanilla, and orange blossoms followed by crisp green apple, banana, and tobacco on the mid-palate. It’s versatile and reliable and an excellent go-to for warm weather classics like mojitos, punches and daiquiris.
Best Spiced Rum: Chairman’s Reserve Spiced
Average Price: $27
Distiller: St. Lucia Distillers
Country of Origin: St. Lucia
Spiced rums get a bad rap because the category was long defined by overly sweet frat party juice, rife with artificial colors and other additives. Done right, a good spiced rum goes hard. This column and pot still combo spends five years on American oak before being dosed with an all-natural mix of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut, allspice, lemon and orange. After blending, it goes back into the barrel for six months to seal in all those flavors. Herby, refined and intoxicatingly festive, it’s a dessert in a glass.
Best Dark Rum: Koloa Kaua‘i Dark Rum
Distiller: Koloa Rum Company
Country of Origin: USA
Much like its spiced sister, dark rum doesn’t typically make it onto a rum connoisseur’s hit list, but this bottle from Hawaii’s Koloa Rum Company is worth trying (for a solid Dark ‘n Stormy, at least). Distilled in a copper pot still from crystallized sugar, it’s left unaged and instead infused with an extra serving of caramelized sugar for a sexy espresso-toned exterior and a dry, vanilla-laden finish.
Best Gold Rum: Rhum J.M E.S.B. Gold
Distiller: Rhum J.M
Country of Origin: Martinique
Despite tipping the scales at 50 percent ABV and spending just one year aging in re-charred bourbon barrels, Rhum J.M’s award-winning gold rhum agricole exudes remarkable maturity. Complex yet approachable, the spirit ably showcases Martinique’s rich terroir in its brilliant amber hue, snickerdoodle spice and satisfying notes of hazelnut, cedar, fresh hay and banana.
Best Rum for Cocktails: Don Pancho Origenes Reserva 8 Year
Distiller: Don Pancho Origenes
Country of Origin: Panama
A quality cocktail rum should always aim to strike a happy medium—dark but not too sweet, light but not too dry, bold but mutable, interesting enough to stand on its own but mellow enough to cushion an onslaught of sugar and acid. This Panamanian head-turner, aged for a minimum of eight years in used Kentucky bourbon casks, hits all the marks by delivering a steady stream of supple brown butter, vanilla, roasted chestnut, and spiced wet tobacco.
Best Multipurpose Rum: Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rum
Country of Origin: Puerto Rico
Forego the Bacardi Superior for its truly superior counterpart, Bacardi Reserva Ocho. The eight years of aging gives the rum time to develop its nuanced flavors of dried stone fruit and baking spices. Enjoy this on its own to truly appreciate the rum, or go ahead and mix it in a cocktail to bring your go-to mixed drink to a new level.
Best Bourbon-Like Rum: Real McCoy 12-Year
Distiller: Foursquare Distillery
Country of Origin: Barbados
They call this the Real McCoy because it's named after a Prohibition-era rum smuggler, William McCoy, who was bringing in the good stuff among a wave of fakes. The rum is aged in bourbon casks, and it tastes exactly like bourbon went on a tropical vacation. Read any review, and you'll immediately notice that fans of the Real McCoy also tend to be fans of whiskey. So if you're trying to broaden your horizons in the liquor store, stock up on bottles of this before everyone gets in on the fun.
Best Rum to Gift: Hampden Great House Distillery Edition Single Jamaican Rum
Distiller: Hampden Estate
Country of Origin: Jamaica
Owing to its old-school fermentation traditions of being fermented from airborne yeasts, this rum is full-bodied and bold, offering up the potential of rum can be, and why it should be a spirit you drink on its own. It's intensely rich on the palate and deliciously sweet on the nose. While you may gift this, it's certainly a beautiful addition to your own bar cart.
Best Craft Rum: Privateer Navy Yard Barrel Proof
Distiller: Privateer Rum
Country of Origin: USA
It’s no exaggeration to say that Massachusetts’s Privateer Rum is putting out some of the country’s most impressive and inspired small-batch spirits. Derived from 100 percent Grade A Molasses under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Maggie Campbell, the copper-colored charmer rests for a minimum of two years on new American oak before landing in the bottle at a deceptively quaffable 55 percent ABV. It smells like vanilla and tastes like Dr. Pepper.