The best rum (2021): 24 rum brands put to the ultimate drinking test
The best rum in the world right now - from Caribbean to American and everything in between.
The word on the street is that rum is the next big trend in the world of spirits. It’s easy to see why. The best rum comes in many different shapes, sizes, styles and importantly, flavours. There’s something for everyone.
In its simplest form, rum is a clear liquid distilled from various forms of sugar, like demerara and molasses. However, this is often followed by barrel ageing in oak casks and, like some of the modern craft beers, some have fruit or spices added.
UPDATE: The Equiano Rum Co has announced a new rum to add to its range. It's a white rum that uses 'lightly aged’ molasses rum from the Caribbean. This is then mixed with fresh sugar cane juice rum from Africa, making this a rather unique Afro-Caribbean rum. Called the Equiano Light rum, this one is apparently perfect for a Daiquiri.
This means you can get white, golden, dark, navy, spiced and fruit rum - and then combinations of those types. Traditionally rum comes from the Caribbean, but these days you can get it from all over the place including Scotland. Here’s a selection every rum lover should try.
If you fancy a rum alternative, then head to our best non-alcoholic spirits guide.
Additional reporting and taste testing: Marc Chacksfield
1. Mount Gay - XO - 43%
Some rum is better taken without a mixer and Mount Gay, which claims to be the oldest rum distillery in the world with a deed from 1703, has created a corker.
‘XO’ stands for extra old and is a blend of different rums aged between seven and 15 years old. It’s dry and oaky on the nose, yet is fruity and slightly sweet in taste, then has a smooth finish.
This is a rum for the whisky lovers, who should try it as an old fashioned
Mount Gay XO has recently gone through a substantial rebrand, with Trudiann Branker, Mount Gay master blender, making it from a broader selection of rums, each aged in three different casks – American whiskey, Bourbon and Cognac.
2. El Dorado - 12 - 40%
When a rum has won no less than seven golds at the Carribean Rum Taste Test you know you’re onto a winner, quite literally.
This 12 year old rum is a blend of Coffey still and double wooden pot still rums. It has a really deep and rich, almost port-like flavour, and a robust body. With notes of caramel, spice, vanilla and prunes it’s really quite moreish.
3. Cut Rum - Spiced - 37.5%
Cut Rum is all about no fuss, authentic rum - strictly “no pirates. No sea monsters. No pin up girls”. No artificial sugars or flavourings allowed here either, this rum is made on the Worthy Park Estate in Jamaica - an estate which has been making rum since the 1740s.
This spiced rum doesn’t pack a punch in the way most spiced rums do (though there’s a definite warmth afterwards). Instead it’s creamy, with flavours of caramel and an aftertaste of vanilla. It’s smooth enough to be enjoyed neat, but would be equally good in a mixer.
4. Diplomatico Reserva Rum
This is a rum a lot of our readers were raving about so we had to get it in and weren't disappointed. It's a dark golden rum, distilled from molasses so expect really strong, rich notes - but these are all cut with a much-needed kick of fruitiness. There is added sugar here, but we loved the taste - it was great with cola, but also decent as sipping rum over ice.
5. The Kraken - Black Spiced Rum - 40%
With its distinctive bottle and branding, Kraken has quickly become a modern classic and a rum you’ll find in pretty much any pub or bar. It’s as dark as squid ink, rich and spicy yet somehow drinks just well neat as it does mixed with coke.
This really is a rum for any home bar.
6. Angostura - No 1 - 40%
Angostura doesn’t just make bitters to go in your cocktails. In fact, it makes some of the best rums in the world and No 1 is one for special occasions and the connoisseur.
This rum has been carefully aged for a total of 16 years, 10 in American oak before being transferred, unusually, to French oak for the remaining six. The result is a sublimely smooth and characterful tipple.
7. Don Papa
This rum is made in the Philippines and has a rich vanilla and honey taste. It's well bodied with a hint of fire. It works well with a mixer (try ginger ale) but we were happy to have it neat, its lemony notes mixing well with what tastes like ripe banana.
8. Appleton Estate - 8 Year Old Reserve
If you’re looking for an affordable rum that’s hugely versatile then Appleton Estate’s 8 Year Old Reserve is a front runner.
It’s got just the right balance of deep and complex flavours to be drunk neat - think along the lines of a classic Jamaican rum with notes of burnt sugar, dried fruit, vanilla, spices and Appleton’s signature orange peel. However, helped by the price point, you won’t feel guilty if you use it for cocktails.
9. Black Tot Rum - Finest Caribbean
Black Tot Rum is a modern take on the old fashioned rum that was enjoyed by sailors. It's packed with fruitiness, thanks to a mix of Barbados and and Jamaican rum but there's also a nice coffee and chocolate hit thanks to the Guyanan rum in there. This is a really accomplished blend that's good for sipping.
10. Wood’s - 100 Old Navy Rum - 57%
Navy rum must be at least 57% abv (alcohol by volume). Wood’s is one of the few rums you’ll find at this strength. Not only is it like drinking alcoholic toffee, it’s affordable too.
If it’s too much for you neat, try using it in cocktails for a real depth of flavour and body.
11. Two Drifters - Overproof Spiced Pineapple
Pineapple rum is often overly sweet and artificial tasting but Two Drifters has produced one of the best we’ve ever tasted. As the name suggests, it packs a punch at 63% but also in flavour with gorgeous flambeed pineapple bringing a burnt caramel balance to the fruit and vanilla sweetness.
It tastes great neat but equally delicious mixed with coke. The Devon-based business makes rum from raw ingredients and is also the world’s first rum distillery to be carbon negative.
12. Plantation - Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy - 40%
Fruited rum is great but can often be over the top. Plantation has got it spot on here, delivering authentic fruit flavour alongside others, such as ginger, cola and vanilla.
Pineapples are infused with Original Dark then distilled, later to be blended with 3 Star white rum, which has had the rind added. The name, if you’re wondering, comes from Reverend Stiggins in Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, whose favourite drink is pineapple rum.
13. Pampero Aniversario Rum
If we were basing this one purely on looks, then the awesome leather bag packaging would win this list hands down. Thankfully the taste is great, too, with a rich, Christmas pudding taste. It's got a bit of heat on the way down, so it's better paired with a glug of cola.
14. Gosling's Black Seal rum
If you were looking to make a Dark'n'Stormy then Gosling's is the official rum to do this with - using the brand's ginger ale at the same time. The rum is rich in taste, with a caramel palate. This rum is the winner of The Beverage Tasting Institute's Platinum Medal and it's easy to see why - it's a great all-round dark rum.
15. Spirited Union - Lemon & Leaf
White rum can be a little boring and typically one you keep in a home bar for making cocktails like a Mojito. However, Spirited Union has taken a different approach as the world’s first botanical rum distillery.
You can think of it as a sort of gin-rum hybrid and a great gateway drink for gin lovers to get into this spirit. A range of flavours is available with Lemon & Leaf being the original, distilled with - apart from lemon - a combination of earthy, herbal and spicy notes from kina bark Sarawak pepper, Sarsaparilla root, eucalyptus leaves and black tea.
16. Grander Panama Rum
Unlike many rums on this list, Grander has one point of origin for its rum and that is Panama. This gives it a fruity feel with more than a hint of bourbon and vanilla. It's matured in the tropics, so those eight years really go a long way to give this rum a distinctive taste. Don't be fooled by the colour - there's a deep taste here.
17. The Duppy Share - Aged
The Duppy Share is named after the dark duppy spirits that would, as legend has it, swoop between Caribbean islands stealing the best share of the rum.
The spiced edition is a great rum but this blend of 3-year-old Jamaican rum from Worthy Park and Foursquare Distillery’s 5-year-old is our favourite. The younger rum brings vibrant hits of sweet tropical fruit while the older expression balances things with earthy oak and spice.
18. Pirate's Grog Spiced Rum
Another spiced rum that is better than its non-spiced variant - Pirate's Grog is a tasty, golden rum with hints of vanilla and all spice. It's not too sweet but there's a subtlety there. Everything has been matured in American oak, bourbon barrels for five years which seems to add to the smoothness.
19. Banks 7 - 43%
Blending spirits is an art, not a science and this example contains no less than 23 hand-selected rums. The ‘7’ in the name doesn’t refer to age but the places they are from: Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Guatemala, Panama, Guyana and Java.
The result is a complex golden rum with a darker side of molasses but balanced with fruitiness and spice. A great rum to drink neat or in cocktails.
20. Ableforth's Rumbullion! - 42.6%
Go big with this award-winning spiced rum. It kicks off with an intense hit of vanilla and orange peel on the nose. This continues upon sipping, but with a lot more complexity with clove, cardamom and cinnamon.
It’s a reminder of colder months eating toffee apples and Christingles. To top it off, each bottle is wrapped in brown paper, wound with twine and sealed with black wax.
21. Havana Club - 3 Year Old - 40%
You’ll need a white rum in your home bar for making cocktails like mojitos and daiquiris, and you really can’t go wrong with Havana Club as a staple.
Partly because it’s one of the most affordable rums out there but also due to its clean and crisp profile with some subtle flavours in the background including citrus, oak and a nice sweetness.
22. East London Liquor Company - Demerara Rum - 40%
You might know East London Liquor for its gin but this rum is definitely worth a go, partly because it’s so affordable despite the quality on offer.
It is made in Guyana by Demerara Distillers with the last remaining wooden Coffey still in the world, and aged for three years in ex-bourbon casks. The sugar really comes through here along with big fruity notes.
23. OVD - Demerara - 40%
If you don’t like the idea of using white rum in cocktails then look to OVD and this extremely dark and rich demerara rum.
It really is like drinking alcoholic brown sugar in liquid form and works great in any situation - neat, with any mixer, particularly ginger beer - and in all rum based cocktails to create dark versions. Oh and it’s really affordable, too.
24. Sweetdram - Smoked Spiced Rum - 41%
Probably not one for the rum purists out there, but this intriguing rum is worth a try for gin-lovers and the adventurous.
Sweetdram adds various botanicals to a base of aged Guyanese rum including macerated lime leaf, chamomile, cardamom, fennel, grains of paradise and fig.
All that creates a hugely complex and interesting flavour. And, to finish off, lapsang souchong tea imparts some smokiness. You’ll get something different with each sip. Sweetdram is brewed in Edinburgh.
The best rum: a buying guide
Rum is one of the most complex drinks on the market. There are many varieties of rum, made in a number of different ways, but it’s a drink that isn’t that well regulated (like the whisky world is) which means that there are a lot of mistruths.
Here we will try and give you a rundown of rum and what you should be looking for when buying the best rum for you.
What is rum made of?
This is an easy one: sugar cane. Rum isn’t like vodka, where many things can be used to distill the spirit. Rum has to come from sugar cane and depending on where it is distilled and what technique is used, this will change the colour of the rum. But...
Classifying rum by its colour isn’t great
Imagine if we classified whisky as being amber, red or yellow. That would be doing the spirit a massive disservice. But that’s what many do with rum: break it down by colour.
Yes, there is dark rum in the market and white rum in the market (simply put, this is down to maturation) but look beyond the colour when buying and more at where the ingredients come from and, most importantly, where they have been distilled.
Look at rum by the region and the provenance instead
This is something we learned while on a rum tasting session with Black Tot, one of the rums in our best rum guide.
Mitch Wilson, Black Tot’s global brand ambassador, told ShortList that: “We have been bad at educating people. Rum is sometimes described as white, gold and dark - this is a shit way to describe anything.
“Try and drop the simplification and chat about the regions themselves and the provenance of the rums. For example, Black Tot uses Jamaican, Barbados and Guyana for its classification.”
Taking this rather brilliant advice, a really simple rule of thumb is as follows (and don’t forget that most rums will actually be a mixture of rums from different regions):
Rums from the Americas
Rums from the likes of Guyana, Panama and Venezuela will have a much richer, sweeter palette than other rums and this is because, for the most part, they distill using sugarcane honey and not the usual sugarcane juice.
We’d recommend the Diplomatico Reserva Rum, from Venezuela, if you want to try something from this region - it’s a dark rum with a real fruity kick.
Rums from The Caribbean
If you want to pinpoint the home of rum, then Barbados is a great place to start. Its rum-making techniques make it pretty much the modern home for rum, creating a rum that’s usually fruity but well balanced.
A similar rum, but we reckon even fruitier, is one that’s made in Jamaica. Then there’s the more fragrant rum that comes from Cuba, which is where the likes of Havana Club comes from.
Our personal pick of Caribbean rum would have to be Mount Gay, which is our current top best rum pick and from Barbados. It’s recently gone through something of a rebrand and is fruity with a lovely smooth finish.
Rums from elsewhere
You can, of course, make rum anywhere as long as you have the right ingredients. Creating rum on the shores of Scotland, though, is quite different from the balmy climates of Barbados so the tastes will differ, a lot.
You have the likes of Don Papa which is made in the Philippines and renowned for its honey-like taste. Then Ableforth's Rumbullion! Is based in Kent but this rum is made from selected Caribbean rum and Madagascan vanilla. There is, of course, Australian favourite Bundaberg which uses its own sugar cane.
How does rum age? Does this affect the colour?
It’s worth noting that rums made in a colder climate will take longer to mature. It’s all about the ‘angel share’ here - the amount of evaporation that takes place.
When something is aged in somewhere like the Caribbean then this is called, rather obviously, tropical ageing. Here the climate, heat and humidity play a big role in how it ages in a barrel.
To put this type of ageing into context: 5 years’ ageing in Barbados is around the same as 10-15 years if it was aged in somewhere like Scotland.
This means that the angel share in somewhere like Barbados would be around 6% compared to 2% in a colder climate.
Ageing rum in a barrel makes the rum darker, although some rum brands will also throw in some burnt sugar to make the colour appear darker, too.
If you like your rum very dark, and packed with caramel tastes, then Gosling's Black Seal Rum is worth a shout, mainly because it is the official rum to use in a Dark’n’Stormy.