Known as the spirit of choice for pirates, and sitting at the heart of many popular, tropical cocktails, rum is one of the most versatile spirits in the world. Every country and every distillery produces its own, unique style of rum, making a little bit of something for everyone, and today rum is gaining a well-deserved reputation for being a complex, artisanal spirit to be enjoyed in its own right.
With so many different styles of rum now available, how do you choose what to try next? The Whisky Exchange has created six rum flavour camps to help – jump in to a style that you like the sound of, or start from you current favourite and see what else is in the same camp.
Light and Uncomplicated
Perfect for the base in almost any rum cocktails, these can making a cracking punch, delicious Daiquiri or mighty Mojito. Those with a little aging before filtration offer a fuller-body and rich, creamy notes on top of the vibrant zest of a standard unaged white rum. Or if you’d like a really rich cocktail, then something with longer ageing will add a layer of nuttier, spicy notes.
- Angostura 7yo – From Trinidad & Tobago, this aged rum is a delight with eloquent vanilla character.
- Flor de Cana 4 – Bone-dry and full of subtle almond and citrus zest, which pairs deliciously with coconut for say, a Piña Colada.
- Havana Club 3yo – One of Cuba’s finest exports, this is oozing with fresh lime and white chocolate.
- Appleton White – This ticks the box if you need something pleasantly straight-forward to add some punch to your, erm, punches.
Herbaceous and Grassy
These notes are the hallmark of sugar-cane juice rhum (as opposed to molasses based rum) and you can expect a range of more unusual aromas from sweet acetate and lemongrass, through oily diesel and freshly cut kitchen herbs. On paper this may seem like a heady mix for even the hardened rum aficionado. You can think of them as the 'peaty' rums of the world – not in the sense they are smoky or earthy, just that they often divide tastes! Well worth trying either way, if not for the experience alone.
- Grogue – Produced in traditional alembics on the striking volcanic islands of Cape Verde, this is a clean, fruity style great for summer cocktails.
- Damoiseau White 50% – A favourite of bartenders, this is well suited to tiki-style concoctions with its pineapple and ripe-banana notes.
- Clairin Vaval 2016 – Truly artisan spirit from Haiti, this is one of the most authentically traditional styles of rum on the market.
- Rhum Rhum PMG – Made from sugar cane that is long-fermented in temperature controlled vats, creating a deeply complex spirit.
Tropical and Fruity
When it comes to rums that almost teleport you to the Caribbean or other tropical locations by simply smelling them, these are the stand-out leaders. Sometimes due to the use of traditional pot stills, or just long or wild fermentation. The more mental-fruity styles are often known as 'high-ester' rums, where the distillery has specifically tried to crank out the ripe-fruit aromas.
- Appleton Estate 12yo – The pedigree Jamaican rum, with and incredible heritage and a world-class range on offer. This is their go-to aged expression.
- Worthy Park 2006 – Very special single vintage rum from a distillery quickly garnering a cult reputation among rum geeks of the world.
- Savanna 2012 Indian Ocean Stills – The less well-known distilleries of the Indian Ocean can produce some exemplary spirit, and this a prime example of clean, grassy agricole rum.
- Hampden Estate 8yo 46% – Another up-and-coming rum producer that is known for super-estery styles, and really has to be experienced to be believed!
Fruity and Spicy
If you’re looking for something just to sip over ice, possibly with a slice of lime, these are the real powerhouses of the rum world. Full of flavour and super-expressive, aged rums, especially with a little pot-still influence, can introduce you to a world of rich, mouth-coating extravagance. And for the more adventurous amongst you, we’d highly recommend giving a rum Old Fashioned a go too…
- Foursquare 2008 – A fine blend of pot and column still rum, for the ultimate fruit loaf and caramel hit.
- Saint James 15yo – Martinique’s esteemed agricole distillery, but this time with a solid 15 years of time in the wood to really accentuate though rich, coffee and allspice aromas.
- Real McCoy 12 – Alluding to the days when spirits were ordered in hush tones at speakeasies around the US, this is a classic easy-going fruit-led rum.
- Black Tot Finest Caribbean – Named after the last day rum was served to crew members on British Royal Navy vessels, this is a fine blend of traditional-style rums.
Dry and Spicy
Not all rums will have that signature sugar-and-syrup smack to them, and often after a long period in oak those sugary notes can dry out significantly. Long ageing in rum terms is a battle against time, and the vast majority of the cask will evaporate into the atmosphere. This is especially true if the casks are aged in a tropical climate (called the ‘duppy share’ in many places). Wood interaction will give rums a much spicier, dried fruit and dark chocolate character, which is perfect to sip on after a hearty meal.
- Ron Abuelo 12yo – Family-owned Panamanian distillery with impressive stocks of aged rums, with deep toffee and fudge character.
- Santa Teresa 1796 – Single estate rum from Venezuela that ages their rum in a solera-type system, and a long favourite amongst rum drinkers.
- Flor de Cana 25yo – Long-aged Nicaraguan rum which has developed a bouquet or rich, nutty fruit cake.
- Brugal 1888 – This rum from the Dominican Republic has a huge hit of leathery walnut and raisins.
Rich and Treacly
These are some of the most popular styles of aged rums, which have an extra layer of sweetness often thanks to a dosage of extra sugar after distillation or ageing. In some situations, you could even have them as pudding or even poured over some ice cream! The thick, viscous mouthfeel gives you a huge depth of flavour, with the rum literally sticking to your palate.
- Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva – One of the most popular aged rums out there, this Venezuelan delight has a deep Madeira and honey-like character.
- Ron Zacapa 23 – Carefully blended together in a solera-style process, the rums in this are between six – 23 years old and packed with dried fruits and treacle aromas.
- El Dorado 15yo – The true demerara rum, this 15-year-old expression from their range strikes a perfect balance between age, complexity and sweetness.
- Zafra 21yo – This lesser-known Panamanian rum his a real hidden gem, with 21 years of aging in ex-bourbon casks to bolster that vanilla and clove hit.