The 24 Most Interesting Rums to Try in 2021
Our list favors diversity in distillers, flavors and locations — and eschews pirates.
Rum is an old spirit with a somewhat troubled history (see: colonialism and slavery).
But today, rum is a strikingly diverse category with producers around the globe, from Trinidad to the Philippines (to, as you’ll see, New England). Its breadth of locations and flavors can be rewarding, although it makes the spirit somewhat hard to define — like when you want to discuss the nebulous concept of “dark rum” or the very real category of “rhum.”
For National Rum Day, we’re going to spotlight some brands and distilleries that may not offer the same mass appeal or ubiquitousness of, say, Captain Morgan (no offense; we certainly drink our share). Instead, while we do embrace some rum history here, we’re also looking at distilled sugarcane and sugarcane molasses-based spirits owned or crafted by women and/or BIPOC; rums that hail from unique parts of the world; and rums that tell a different or unique story.
Of course, they all have to be quality rums, but the good news is that several of these excellent expressions are also quite inexpensive, if not always easy to find. (And yes, we certainly didn’t list some we liked. There are plenty of additional rum suggestions here and here.)
If you want to try these interesting rums, ReserveBar has some of them in stock.
In no particular order:
The world’s most-awarded rum distillery is sometimes referred to as “The Pappy of Rum,” for both its quality and the sometimes difficulty of finding their limited-edition bottles. Based in Barbados, the distillery — reopened in 1996 — is known for distilling both in pot and column stills and for keeping things honest (meaning no added color, sugar, additives or filtration).
Drink: The Exceptional Cask Selection releases, overseen by Richard Seale, 4th Generation Trader/Distiller of R.L. Seale & Co, are the rare releases that rack up all the awards (and reel in bourbon fans).
Plantation is a family-run, award-winning Caribbean rum with, unfortunately, a hurtful name (their words). Beloved by bartenders, most of this rum is distilled at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados with a heavy emphasis on terroir. The company noted last year that they were changing their name in the near future; we hope that happens sooner rather than later.
Drink: A blend of heavy pot-still rums from around the Caribbean, Plantation OFTD is all about bold flavor and high proof.
The first collaboration of African and Caribbean rum distilleries, this direct-to-consumer brand was co-founded, in part, by rum aficionado Ian Burrell (it’s also a collaboration with Richard Seale at Foursquare). The rum is named after 18th-century writer, entrepreneur and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano.
Drink: The core release features dried fruits on the nose and a heavy hint of butterscotch. The oak from the ex-bourbon barrels is apparent on first sip, along with a bit of orange peel and peppers. Overall, nice and soft.
Unaged heavy pot still rum from Jamaica and bottled in Kentucky from Proof and Wood, a company better known for its whiskey releases.
Drink: The core release here has notes of banana, pineapple and earthiness. A little bit in a classic rum cocktail goes a long way. As described by Spirits Review: “It reminds me of the descriptions of the Black Meat in Naked Lunch by William Burroughs.”
The Bermuda-based distillers, who started in the mid-19th century, are best known for the Dark ‘n Stormy, one of just five trademarked cocktails. You’ll buy the Black Seal Rum for that one, and that bottle will add notes of butterscotch, vanilla and caramel to that and any other cocktail you’re drinking — for under $30.
Drink: That said, the overproof Goslings Black Seal 151 Rum is surprisingly rich and can elevate your rum cocktails that go beyond ginger beer.
This family-owned, independent Venezuelan rum is crafted at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Utilizing three different distillation methods, the award-winning brand is also known for its commitment to eco-friendly practices and sustainability. And hey, you can cook with it.
Drink: Ambassador is part of their Prestige range; the time spent in sherry casks will appeal to single malt fans.
This pot still rum is crafted from heirloom sugar cane, yeast and rainforest canopy water sourced from the distillery’s Belizean farm, which sits next to a luxurious eco-resort called the Copal Tree Lodge, located within 22,000 acres of rainforest preserve within the Maya Mountains of Punta Gorda.
Drink: While their core release won “White Rum of the Year” at the 2019 New York International Spirits Competition, their upcoming cacao expression — out this fall, but we tried it a few years back at the distillery — uses the organic cacao grown on their farm, and it’s excellent as a twist for any whiskey-based drink.
An excellent single-estate rum that pre-dates the current involvement of Bruno Mars. Distilled in Panama, their white rum and the chocolate rum earned the highest scores ever in their respective categories in the trade publication The Tasting Panel (which is affiliated with the San Francisco World Spirits Competition).
Drink: SelvaRey’s Chocolate Rum is a five-year-old, 35% ABV rum infused with natural chocolate. Heavy cocoa notes on the nose, and some baking spices creep with the chocolate notes on the palette, slightly akin to a Tootsie Roll.
Not rum, but “rhum.” A shortened version of rhum agricole (“agricultural rum”), this is the spirit you’ll find on French Caribbean islands. It’s distilled from fresh sugarcane juice instead of molasses, and it’s full of grassy, fruity and funky notes. This Martinique-based brand was the first recorded distillery to produce rhum agricole.
Drink: Combine their white rum, their cane syrup and some lime and you have a perfect (and easy) Ti Punch.
Recommended to us by the team at San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove a few years back, this elegant and refined pot distilled rum from Colorado is woman-owned and distilled, and crafted from Louisiana sugar cane.
Drink: Can a rum be tannic and delicious? Their Exclusiva is barrel aged for a total of three years, mostly in an American White Oak barrel that previously held Colorado whiskey, followed by six months in a French Oak barrel that previously aged Sutcliffe Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Port.
Flor de Caña
The world’s first spirit to obtain carbon‐neutral certification and Fair Trade status, the Nicaragua-based distillery — located at the base of the San Cristóbal volcano, the tallest and most active volcano in the country — is now celebrating its 130th anniversary.
Drink: The distillery offers plenty of premium rums, but the Flor de Caña 4 Year Extra Seco might be the best mixing rum for cocktails that’s under $30.
The Real McCoy
Named after Bill McCoy, a pioneer rum runner of the Prohibition era, this is another Barbados rum that hails from master distiller and rum legend Richard Seale (Foursquare Distillery). The rum is small batch distilled in a combination of copper pot & column stills, then aged in heavy char American Oak bourbon barrels.
Drink: The 12 Year brings out oak, chocolate, caramel, orange and tobacco — it’s the elevated rum that’ll bring in bourbon fans.
Yes, sailors used to get rum rations. “Pusser’s” is just a variation on “purser,” the Royal Navy’s word for a supply officer. It’s a rum blended in Guyana in accordance with the Royal Navy specifications last used when it discontinued its daily rum in 1970.
Drink: Pusser’s Rum Gunpowder Proof is an aged, brandy-like, overproofed expression (54.5% ABV) distilled from vintage wooden pot stills that were first put in use in the early 1700s. As the distillery notes, these pots “impregnate the rum with esters (naturally occurring organic flavoring compounds) far beyond those of any other rum.”
Wray & Nephew
A full-strengh rum that’s extremely popular in Jamiaca, Wray & Nephew is produced at the Appleton Estate and owned by Campari.
Drink: Wray & Nephew White Overproof gets a hearty recommendation from Kevin Beary at Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash. Look for a hearty dose of overripe bananas and earthy molasses in this 126-proof Jamaican blend, followed by a “fiery wash of caramelized fruit, cloves and candied nuts.”
Ten to One
A relative newcomer, Ten to One showcases the best in Caribbean rums (as in, not bound by just one country or island). The brand was started by Marc Farrell, a Trinidadian who attended MIT at the age of 16 and went on to become Starbucks’ youngest V.P.
Drink: Their Dark Rum is a blend of 8-year old Barbados and Dominican column still rums, combined with high ester Jamaican pot still rum and Trinidadian rum. Versatile, it works neat, on the rocks and in cocktails.
Yes, not technically a rum. And this is a distilled “spirit” that is not actually alcoholic. While I find most booze-free tipples to closely resemble gin, this Netherlands-based brand — just launched in the U.S. this year — is aiming to expand the concept of alcohol-free.
Drink: Their Spiced Cane Dark Roast is crafted from Dominican sugar cane and features notes of chocolate and coffee. Which pretty much sounds like rum.
Santa Teresa 1796
Based in Venezuela, this family-owned distillery is over 200 years old (though 1796 itself dates back to the ‘90s) and uses the Spanish “solera” method during its maturation process — meaning each time a bottle is drawn, the cask is topped up with a slightly younger rum.
Drink: Their core (and very elegant) Solera Rum release is the opposite of hogo. ST 1796 features notes of vanilla, dark chocolate, dried fruits and nuts, and it made for the best non-whiskey Old Fashioned I had during quarantine in 2020.
The world’s oldest running rum distillery, this Barbados favorite — now overseen by their first female Master Blender, Trudiann Branker — has become far more experimental in the past few years, introducing limited-edition peat smoke and pot still releases.
Drink: Their 1703 Master Blender Collection The Port Cask Expression just won the Ultimate Spirits Competition for best aged rum (5+ years); cherry, coconut, dried fruits and oak notes abound in this complex (and very limited-edition) sipper.
A New England distillery that sources its molasses from a single-origin, family-run source in Guatemala.The rum is non-sweetened, non-filtered and undergoes a longer, cooler fermentation process (and they use a lot of interesting yeasts, too).
Drink: If you can find it, Privateer’s cask strength Queen’s Share foregoes the usual distillation rules and focuses on the unique flavors created between the “hearts” and “tails” parts of the distillate. These “seconds” are redistilled together and aged in a unique barrel.
Ron del Barrilito
A bold Puerto Rican rum with modesty — it’s strange to have to pick between a two-star and a five-star rum, especially when those are the actual names on the bottle. “Ron del Barrilito’s timeline isn’t very exciting,” as their site explains, ignoring their 140-year history and the more recent introduction of bottles incorporating rums up to 35 years old, all aged in American white oak sherry barrels.
Drink: As SF-based mixologist Alex Perez told us last year, Ron del Barrilito 3 Estrellas personifies what people consider (the not-real-category of) “dark rum.” Says Perez: “This is what I think personifies the category — not sweet, straight-up oak, sugar cane and a rich history with a meaningful package that celebrates rum.”
The world’s first female master blender, Joy Spence, just marked her 40th anniversary this year at this tropical Jamaican distillery, which releases a number of single-estate expressions featuring both pot and column still rums.
Drink: Their just-released 15 Year Old Black River Casks expression features notes of almond, hazelnut, orange, vanilla and coffee.
This new, small-batch rum hails from Alexandra Dorda, the daughter of Tad Dorda (co-founder of Belvedere and Chopin Vodka); she honors both her parents via the rum’s distillation in the Philippines (where her mom grew up) and the bottling at her family’s distillery in Poland.
Drink: Their core release is beautifully rich in the mouth and full of notes of pineapple, vanilla and even a bit of sea salt.
Barrell Craft Spirits
We’ve lauded Barrell for its limited-edition whiskey releases over the years. But since they’re not a distillery per se — it’s all about sourcing, blending and secondary maturation processes — their techniques certainly can work with rum. Here, these Caribbean-sourced rums spend some time in Kentucky in different barrels.
Drink: A 2021 best rum winner, Barrell Private Release Rum B646 Finished in a Ruby Port Barrel takes rums from Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, along with Rhum Agricôle from Martinique, and finishes them in a Ruby Port Barrel. Funky and bold (note the 130 proof).
A brand that started in New Zealand utilizing Trinidadian rum, Stolen is still rum-centric but has branched out into whiskeys and, at one point, even offered a Coffee & Cigarettes spiced rum. They’re definitely a “lifestyle” brand, but the liquid is well regarded (and usually under $30).
Drink: Bartenders swear by Stolen’s Overproof release, but we have an affinity for their Smoked Rum release, which (we believe) is the only smoked rum in the world. It’s crafted in Trinidad, aged in ex-whiskey barrels, and imbued with flavors from Arabica coffee beans, fenugreek seeds and vanilla beans. Then it’s smoked here domestically using American hardwood.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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