Like most people, my first experience with fine rum was with a pirate. Well, he wasn’t really a pirate, but he certainly could have passed for one. It was in a bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side the middle ’90s. I found myself drinking and talking with an old guy who had a long beard, tons of tattoos and two big gold earrings (long before any of that was fashionable). He was telling interesting stories of the sea, so I decided to buy him a drink. I asked what he was having. “Rum,” he said. Like a noob, I asked “rum and what?” He pondered for a second, then answered: “rum and more rum.” So I asked the bartender for two of what he was having, and I learned something that day — rum, taken neat — is awesome. That is, as long as you have good rum. To prevent you from having to cavort with pirates, we’ve prepared a list of 7 fine rums you can drink straight no chaser with pleasure.
Appleton Estate Reserve
Despite their ubiquity (especially in Jamaica), it’s hard to go wrong with any Appleton rum. But I’m particularly fond of the Reserve. Master blender Joy Spence made this rum with the express mission to convert rum mixers to rum sippers, and she hit it out of the park. Though it looks and drinks like a fine bourbon, its nose is more complex, like a fine scotch. Prepare yourself for a nose of scotch-like oak, leather and caramel with surprising tones of vanilla, orange peel and, best of all, nutmeg. The ever-so-slightly singed caramel dominates and delights on the tongue, with the other flavors from the nose also checking in and bringing along some more floral and spice pals, like freshly cracked black pepper. It finishes much the same way it came in, with light delicate tones preventing the heavier flavors from being overwhelming. Try this with people who still think rum needs juice or soda to be enjoyed, and delight in seeing their horizons broadened.
Brugal Especial Extra Dry
Brugal, from the Dominican Republic, takes a very different track with its fine rum than many others. Instead of going deep and dark and treading into whiskey territory, they are light, refreshing a decidedly dry, competing more with top vodkas and, perhaps, tequila. Crack it open, and you’ll be treated to a delicate nose with hints of marshmallow and grapefruit over toasted coconut. That turns over to a very snappy vanilla-coconut base with overtones of lime and maybe a little fig. And it all ends just as tropically with hints of many of the same fruits and a touch of peach. Try this cold in hot weather like you would vodka, just don’t down it all in one gulp.
El Dorado 15 Year Old
This dark rum is advertised as the “true taste of Demerara.” If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to the Caribbean coast of South America — including Guyana, where this rum is from — and it’s also the British word for brown sugar, from which this rum is made. Harkening back to the old rums of the British Navy, this almost black spirit is bold and makes no apologies. It all begins with a nose that many might find overwhelming with its heady mixture of vanilla, black cherry and orange peel. On a second sniff, you can detect pine nuts and perhaps even a little hard toffee. It’s not for the timid. It’s a very sweet drink with dark chocolate and black cherries on top of smoke. It’s thick and smooth like velvet. If you’re looking for a rum that will let you know you’re in deepest, darkest rum territory, this is the one.
St. Nicholas Abbey 15 Year Old
No important rum comes without history, but this one might have them all beat. The abbey, now a luxury resort, was founded in 1627, and they have been making fine rum from the sugar cane there ever since. Don’t expect this to be a shy rum, either. The nose is complex with honey and butter over a variety of tropical fruits. While sweet, it steers far from cloying. On the tongue, it starts with vanilla and pineapple, and they are quickly joined by mango and coconut. But, unlike its very fruit-centric nose, its flavor is also augmented by spice, including cinnamon and black pepper. What I really love about this rum is that it tastes unpolished in a good way, like it’s been lovingly hand-crafted and never seen the inside of a factory. Sip this with good friends on a warm day; and if someone suggests daiquiris, hand them a different bottle.
Gosling’s Black Seal
Most fine rums come from the Caribbean, but Gosling’s is synonymous with (and the biggest export of) Bermuda, which lies in the Atlantic, not too far from North Carolina. Aged for three years in ex-bourbon barrels, the nose is predictably strong and complicated. It starts with caramel and molasses over smoke, and packs a strong alcohol burn. Very sweet on the tongue, the notes are mainly spice with cinnamon, black pepper and anise fighting for dominance with molasses watching them all go at it. And it ends with all of those flavors together more harmoniously with a slightly herbal edge. Another throwback style of rum, Gosling’s is a fine sipper, especially for those who don’t mind a bit of a burn. This, to me, is a late night rum, perfect for sipping while swapping stories.
Myers’s Original Dark Rum
Spoiler alert: You gotta like molasses if you want to like this rum. While all rum (at least should) come from molasses, Myers’s actually adds more molasses after the distilling process, which explains its very dark color, sweetness and overall molasses-ness. So take it for granted that the nose, taste and finish are all dominated by the big mo’ and we can just move on from there. The nose is intense with caramel, butter and raisins added to the mix. The taste adds wood, smoke and a pleasing alcohol burn. Although many would preclude this as a sipper because they consider it one-dimensional, give it a try and appreciate the subtleties under the intensity.
If you find you’ve gotten really into fine rum, and don’t mind spending a few bucks, by all means head straight for this Venezuelan award-winner. Aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, the result is a velvety masterpiece. The nose hits boldly, but not overwhelmingly, with dark chocolate mingling with orange, banana, almond and a hint of coconut. But it’s even better on the tongue. Smooth and creamy like the best bourbon, the flavor gets the addition of juicy raisins, caramel and complex oak. And it all ends with sherry over mild molasses. Dang. This is a fine spirit and should be regarded as such. It’s a sipping rum that can definitely be used to change the minds of people who don’t think rum should be sipped. But then, it raises a sort-of existential question — do they actually deserve any?