Rum is the world’s most versatile spirit,

meaning there’s a rum for just about anyone: clear, light-bodied expressions for vodka fans; fruity, grassy rhum agricoles for cognac aficionados; dry sipping rums for whiskey lovers; oddball funk bombs for fans of the cutting edge. While we focus on aged sippers here, their flavors are as vast as their origins; rum is literally made worldwide. The common thread is that these are all “clean” rums that do not contain additives like sugar, glycerin, or vanillin, all ingredients commonly added after distillation. Bonus! Finely aged rums are a steal compared to their pricy whiskey counterparts. Happy hunting!

Photo courtesy of Chairman's Reserve

Chairman’s Reserve 2009

St. Lucia
Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV), $70

The secret behind St. Lucia Distillers’ signature spice comes from rums made in different still styles and combos of molasses and cane juice recipes. Chairman’s Reserve is a blend of pot and column still rums from molasses and cane distillates. Chairman’s Reserve 2009, a single-vintage release, is entirely molasses-based. Both rums were aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 11 years, making them a steal at $70.

How It Tastes

A dry, savory nose leads to a spicy palate with banana, raisins, and cloves with hints of oak and tobacco.

Photo courtesy of Proof and Wood

Proof & Wood 3/2

Jamaica and Kentucky
Vitals: 108 Proof (54% ABV), $75

Jamaican pot still rum is not for everyone, but fans of the vegetal, robust signature flavor called “hogo” love it, and this stellar example has an American whiskey connection. Proof & Wood is distilled in Jamaica and aged two years in ex-bourbon barrels before heading to Kentucky, where it’s finished in rye barrels for an additional three years. This limited edition bottling is scarce, so score a bottle while it lasts.

How It Tastes

Vanilla, overripe banana, bright citrus, and rye barrel spice.

Photo courtesy of Holmes Cay

Holmes Cay Fiji 2004

Vitals: 116 Proof (58% ABV), $159

Holmes Cay is an independent bottler that sources casks of top-notch rum from around the world and bottles them at cask strength. Fiji only has one distillery on the island— South Pacific Distillers — so their rums will share common flavors and aromas. But since some casks are better than others, buying Holmes Cay guarantees a winner every time.

How It Tastes

Citrus, butterscotch, and clove lead into a dry grassiness and a flavor best described as burnt rubber in the best possible way.

Photo courtesy of Transcontinental Rum Line

Transcontinental Rum Line: Trinidad 2001

Vitals: 133.6 Proof (66.8% ABV), $140

This is from the Angostura distillery — that’s right, the same folks who make the famous cocktail bitters. Angostura’s own rum bottlings contain added sugar, so this is a rare chance to try it unadulterated, in all its cask-strength glory. Aged for 17 years in Trinidad and two more in Europe, this is a rare collectible, but it’s too delicious not to drink.

How It Tastes

Huge notes of clove and dark fruit, along with a curious hint of eucalyptus.


Photo courtesy of Mount Gay

Mount Gay Andean Oak

Vitals: 96 Proof (48% ABV), $195

After 318 years, the world’s oldest rum distillery knows its stuff, and this approachable but complex sipper is a perfect example of a quintessential Barbadian rum. Here is a 14-year-old pot still distillate finished in Andean oak casks, which until now has never been used for aging rum. Limited to less than 3,000 bottles, this one-time release makes a fantastic gift — as long as the lucky recipient pours you a dram.

How It Tastes

A spice rack of flavors from the Andean wood adds to Mount Gay’s traditional toffee, vanilla, and apricot notes.

Photo courtesy of Balcones

Balcones Texas Rum

United States
Vitals: 126-132 Proof (63-66% ABV), $100

This Texan rum by whiskey distiller Jared Himstedt is predictably an excellent choice for bold whiskey lovers. Balcones is a straightforward molasses-based rum that’s double distilled in copper pots, aged in various barrels, and bottled at cask strength ranging from 125-130 proof, so a splash of water or an ice cube is encouraged. While you probably won’t mistake this rum for bourbon, there’s more than a passing resemblance.

How It Tastes

Raisins, bitter dark chocolate, caramel, and a hint of campfire smokiness.

Photo courtesy of Black Tot

Black Tot Rum

Vitals: 92.4 Proof (46.2% ABV), $60

Black Tot Day” refers to July 31, 1970, the day the British Royal Navy stopped issuing its seamen a daily rum ration, or “tot.” This homage is a blend sourced from the same locales as the actual Royal Navy rum — Jamaica, Barbados, and (mostly) Guyana). It’s a perfect gift for history buffs, optimally sipped in a plush armchair while reading The Naval History of Great Britain by John Barrow.

How It Tastes

Molasses forward with a meaty vibe that’s a hallmark of many Guyanese rums. Supporting players include dried fruit, cinnamon, and allspice.

Ko Hana Koho Hawaiian Agricole Rum

Vitals: 90 Proof (45% ABV), $45/375ml bottle

While most rum is made from molasses, a sugarcane by-product, agricole-style rum is made from cane juice. Oahu-based Ko Hana specializes in sugarcane varietals that are native to Hawaii, and they only bottle single varietal rums, so you can taste your way through the spectrum of Hawaiian cane spirits. Koho, which employs the Ko Kea strain, is aged for two years in American oak and bottled at 90 proof. Ke Aloha!

How It Tastes

This rum sits between a dry, grassy rhum agricole and a sweet molasses-based rum with notes of vanilla, caramel, and banana.

Photo courtesy of Rhum J.M.

Rhum J.M. XO

Vitals: 90 Proof (45% ABV), $75

J.M. has been made in Martinique since the 18th century, but it’s never gained the same name recognition as Rhum Clement, J.M.’s agricole sibling. One sip of this XO, aged in ex-bourbon casks for at least six years, proves its relative obscurity has nothing to do with quality. On the contrary, this complex sipper rewards repeated tastings. A terrific gift for the contemplative drinker.

How It Tastes

Vegetal and grassy notes typical of an agricole are present without overpowering delicate baking spice undertones.

Photo courtesy of Don Q

Don Q Gran Reserva XO

Puerto Rico
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV), $50

Bacardi may be the rum most associated with Puerto Rico, but the best-selling rum on the island is Don Q, made by the Serralles family for more than 150 years. Their premium sipper is this Gran Reserva Añejo XO, aged 9-12 years in ex-bourbon barrels capped with a touch of solera-aged rum for good measure. Light and easy-drinking, Gran Reserva is perfect sipped neat or in a yummy rum Old Fashioned.

How It Tastes

Burnt sugar, cinnamon, caramel, leather, and a bit of dark fruit.

Tony Sachs has been writing about spirits, cocktails, bars and the boozy life in general since 2007 for the Huffington Post, Robb Report, Serious Eats, Whisky Advocate,, and Esquire. Tony has judged cocktail competitions for several brands, including Jack Daniel’s, Stoli Elit, and Chivas Regal. Tony is a member of the Bourbon Roundtable, which helps select batches of Booker’s Bourbon for release.