14 Best Rums, According to a Spirits Expert

The best spiced rum, rum for cocktails and 151 rum!

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April 13, 2023

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Pouring glass of whiskey, Close-up whisky on the rocks.


Pouring glass of whiskey, Close-up whisky on the rocks.

Photo by: wiratgasem/Getty Images

wiratgasem/Getty Images

Our Top Rum Picks

Rum is one of the most sprawling and diverse spirit categories. Despite its strong and well-earned association with the Caribbean, rum’s origins can be traced back thousands of years to south and central Asia. And while the go-to mixing move for rum might be a Daiquiri or tropical cocktail, rum can be used in a wide array of applications, from sipping neat to elegant stirred concoctions.

How Is Rum Made?

What unifies the rum category is its reliance on sugar cane as the raw ingredient. The majority of rum is made from molasses, which is — simply put — the leftovers from refining sugar cane juice into white sugar. After fermentation, the rum is distilled in either a pot or column still, and sometimes both. There is a ton of nuance in the difference between pot distillation and column distillation, but the tl;dr version is that pot stilled spirits tend to be a bit more flavorful, while column-distilled ones are more neutral and “clean.” Following distillation, rum is commonly aged in oak barrels, including barrels that have seen other spirits like whiskey. To achieve a white color, aged rum is filtered in charcoal, which is why you might see age statements on a bottle of completely clear rum.

Here is my comprehensive, yet by no means exhaustive, list of some of the most useful and tasty rums on the market.

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This Black-owned brand boasts a blend of column-distilled Dominican rum with pot-distilled Jamaican rum to deliver a bright, floral-and-fruity overall character. I sit on the judging panel for the LA Spirits Awards, and this bottle took home the platinum medal for best rum in 2022. While this is definitely sippable neat or on the rocks, its characteristics come to life when shaken into all manner of vibrant rum cocktails such as a Daiquiri or Mai Tai.

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This Venezuelan rum has been a favorite of mine since my early days bartending at PDT in NYC’s East Village. I rarely had the opportunity to put it into a cocktail, but I often poured this to the occasional guest who wanted a nice sipping rum. This rum’s deep color and satisfying complexity with notes of vanilla, tobacco and molasses make it an ideal night cap, or use it in place of whiskey in a Manhattan riff. Plus, it comes in a cool leather pouch.

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Not every situation calls for an overproof rum, but when it does, Hamilton is one of my top go-tos. Overproof rums tend to play best in complex, tropical cocktails such as a Zombie where you’re adding just enough to give the drink some substantial “heat” without going too overboard. It’s also great if you want to top a drink (or dessert) with a bit of dramatic flames — high proof spirits ignite much more easily. Just be careful, the flames burn blue and hot.

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While the Caribbean as a whole is synonymous with rum, the island of Martinique is a lesser-known but no less important cradle for this spirit. Martinique was colonized by the French and is still a part of the republic, and its rhum agricole (spelled with an “h” to differentiate) is by law made from sugar cane juice, as opposed to most rum which are made from byproducts like molasses. This gives the resulting spirit a bit of a funkier, grassy character and is definitely worth exploring as you expand your knowledge of the category. Agricole rhums are an essential ingredient in the ‘Ti Puch, which is a mashup of an Old Fashioned and a Daiquiri.

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Believe it or not, the Northeast seaboard was a huge center for rum production in the 1700s. While the cane was harvested in the Caribbean, it was often processed in New York or Massachusetts before being sent back to Europe in the form of refined sugar. This means that New England had a lot of molasses that it turned into rum, which was even sometimes used as currency. Owney’s rum harkens back to that tradition with a Brooklyn-based distillery that produces this easy-drinking and cocktail-friendly rum.

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There is a time and a place for everything, and you’d be surprised how often a spiced rum can feel right at home in a Cuba Libre, rum punch or even a spiked hot apple cider. While most people think of Captain Morgan when they think of spiced rum, it’s worth taking a look at Kraken, which has a bit more aromatic complexity in my view. Notes of vanilla, allspice, clove and ginger round out this great addition to anyone’s home bar.

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Australia-based Lyre’s has been making non-alcoholic spirits since 2019, and their range is one of the most extensive. They craft their liquids upon a "proprietary base" that they then add elements to in order to capture the essence of the spirit they’re looking to replicate. Their dark rum offering features notes of citrus, molasses and vanilla, with a slight spice kick — a common feature in zero-proof beverages used to mimic the "heat" from ethanol.

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As someone who’s developed more than a dozen bar and cocktail programs over the course of their career, Flor de Cana 4-year is my perennial go-to for a standard mixing rum. Made in Nicaragua, this rum is aged for four years in former bourbon barrels before charcoal filtration removes the amber color. This rum is fairly neutral, making it a great universal donor in a diverse selection of cocktail recipes but has enough of a subtle funky-banana tinge to give it plenty of character.

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This rum is a spectacular blend of 21 rums from five countries: Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, and most notably, Indonesia, which is known for arrack, a very funky style of rum. This is another bottle that, if you wanted to only stock one rum in your bar, this would be an excellent choice.

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Jamaican rum producer Appleton has been distilling rum for centuries, and their 12-year bottling is one of my favorites. Crafted by master distiller Joy Spence, rum is a blend of pot and column distilled rums made from estate-grown sugar cane and aged in oak for a minimum of 12 years. It’s smooth-yet-funky and accessibly priced considering its age. It offers plenty of the vanilla, caramel and banana notes that are the hallmark of barrel-influenced rums.

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Malibu is by far the most ubiquitous flavored rum out there but this lesser-known offering from Martinique is a superior choice. Rhums from Martinique are spelled with an “h,” as nod to the island’s French colonial history and current status as a French territory—the island literally part of the EU. They’re also unique for their use of sugar cane juice as the distillate base, as opposed to molasses. This gives the rum a characteristic grassy funk that is evident in this rhum despite the addition of coconut. And speaking of, many coconut-flavored beverages taste like a mouthful of sunscreen, but this one gives truly “real” coconut flavor, making it a great way to add a little fun and tropical warmth to your cocktails.

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A former French colony, Haiti — like Martinique — spells “rhum” the French way and makes their spirit in a similar style. Specifically, their rhum is made out of sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses. This white spirit has plenty of pepper and herbal notes that offer a playful compatibility with the mint-saturated Mojito, and the uniqueness of the production style and geographical origin offer some additional interest to an otherwise rather “standard” cocktail.

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To me, the Daiquiri is the perfect quick, cheeky pick-me-up. A simple three-ingredient tipple: rum, lime and sugar, this is technically a spirit-forward drink. In practice, though, they’re usually downed in a few festive sips, so the best choice for rum here is an accessibly priced yet still quite tasty, option like this three-year-old Guyanese rum. Like other white rums with age statements, this rum spends three years in oak barrels before charcoal filtration. The smooth yet zesty notes in this rum are a perfect companion to the fresh lime juice that is the cornerstone of the venerable Daiquiri recipe.

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Some might see this as overkill but I love luxe-ing up the humble rum and coke with a pour of a mildly fancy rum like Zacapa. Despite the number “23” on the label, only a very small portion of this rum spends 23 years aging, while most of it is far younger. Misleading label copy aside, this Guatemalan rum’s rich amber notes of vanilla, caramel and spice offer a satisfying accompaniment to similar flavors found in your favorite cola.

John deBary is the author of Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails; CEO and Founder of Proteau, a zero-proof drinks company; and is also the Co-Founder and Board President of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation.

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