1. Appleton’s Reserve (Jamaica)
The good stuff. Darker than Appleton’s Special which is closer in color to my ideal gold but blended smooth and with more flavor from both the barrel and the molasses. Plus it has to take the top spot on my personal list because it was an open bar on Appleton’s at a Coppershot Soundsytem dance inside Kingston’s Caymanas club that first forced me to recognize that rum could taste better than coke. That was in 2005 and it’s taken only 5 short years to go from non-drinker to full-hundred rum snob.
2. Zacapa Centenario 23 (Guatemala)
Actually made from virgin cane honey instead of molasses and aged in a unique process called sistema solera that involves rotating barrels and blending rums from 6-23 years old, then storing them on the slopes of a volcano. Sacrificial maiden optional. Has won all kinds of awards and deservedly so. Probably the darkest rum on this list, but the solera process smooths out any harshness or bitterness.
3. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)
Sweeter than other versions of Diplomatico but also with tons of character. I’ve only had this spirit twice–once at my doops Enrique’s crib and once at Tribeca’s Brandy Library. A third taste might actually put it second but even based on those 2 samplings it beat out Flor de Cana for the bronze. Which leads us to:
4. Flor de Cana 12 (Nicaragua)
My favorite of the classic latin rums, which get their distinctive taste from the spanish expertise in making sherry and are often aged in sherry casks. These kinds of rums are ideal for proper Cuba libres with lots of lime, which balances the aftertaste nicely. Otherwise the rums listed above I recommend neat or with coke but no lime (in fact my favorite thing is to get super-detailed about the quality of rum I’m ordering and then give the bartender a heart attack by mixing it with coke.)
5. Rhum Clement VSOP (Martinique)
An exception to the tastes-like-wood rule, This Martiniquan rum is made from cane juice instead of molasses and as far as I understand it, is really a white rum spirit-wise but takes its (nice) color and flavor from the oak barrels–and then recharred bourbon barrels–it is aged in. Recognizably rum but totally different from anything else on this list. My favorite French-caribbean rum although I still have some exploring to do in that part of the world.
Old New Orleans spiced rum (USA)
Yes. As the name indicates it’s made in New Orleans–which is on the Gulf of Mexico, so fuck it. Miami is the Caribbean, too but they do not, to my knowledge, produce liqs as good as this. Ideal for Christmas-time drinks and hot toddies and such but also has the best flavor of any spiced rum I’ve had neat.
7. Monte Cristo spiced rum
Awarded a Gold Medal at the 2006 San Francisco International Spirits Competition. My appreciation for this one is no doubt subliminally affected by the fact that it shares it’s name and logo with a famous line of high end Cubans which are technically contraband in the U.S.–although, since the rum is made in Guatamala the connection is somewhat mysterious to me. Either way, this is the one that put me on to spiced rum in the 1st place and as a seasoned traveler I can tell you that few things can smooth out the effects of Maharajah’s revenge and malaria pills on your stomach better then a good spiced rum.
8. Rhum Barbancourt (Haiti)
Barbancourt is a rum agricole like Clement but using a less-regulated process than Martinique’s and then double-distilled like a cognac. The end result is unique but to my tongue closer to the taste of latin rums like Havana Club than anything else. Has a pleasant burn as it goes down but not harsh like some inferior rons I’ve had (it almost seems like some latin markets are so used to bad tequila tearing up their esophagi that they demand it from their rum, too). My usual go-to at clubs that don’t have Appleton’s.
9. Zaya (Guatamala and/or Trinidad
Another dark and lovely zyrup from Guatemala, Zaya might be higher on the list except for a few key factors working against it. 1) It’s hard to remember the next morning whether or not it was actually Zacapa. 2) Ever since the brand was bought out by multinational liquor-corp Diageo the word on the lane is that the original production facilities have been shuttered and operations shifted to Trinidad (see labels in photo above) second only to Puerto Rico as a producer of mass-market rums designed to be drowned in sour mix and paper umbrellas. A good one but as with 90s rap music, you got to check the label.
10. Sailor Jerry (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Of all the newly-created brands dreamed up to cash in on the tiki rum-cocktail craze that’s happened over the last few years (10Cane, Tommy Bahama—I’m looking at you) this is the one I am least mad at. Also it’s ridiculously cheap; am i dreaming or did i see it somewhere recently for 3$/bottle?? The taste approximates but doesn’t quite match Appleton Special, but the difference is mainly that this is less smooth. The impurities a smoother rum like Appleton’s blends out don’t necessarily effect the flavor that much but will result in a far crazier hangover if you overindulge or under-hydrate. But then again, that seems only appropriate for a drink named after a famous tattoo artist. This shit is designed to put hair on your tongue, make you irresistible to seaport sugar-dawtas and ultimately, inspire you to get their name inked on your arm so that, Memento-style, you know what to call them when you sober up a week later. Zach Galifianakis, hold your head.