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Best dark rums: Eight to try

Aged in oak barrels and blended to produce smooth, complex flavours and aromas, dark rums are a drinker’s delight. Julie Sheppard explains how dark rum is made, how to drink it and recommends eight great bottles.

The rum category is currently on a roll in the UK. More people than ever are choosing to drink rum in bars, as well as buying bottles to enjoy at home. In fact last year rum sales overtook whisky for the first time, with sales in the 12 months to July 2022 worth over £1bn, according to analyst NielsenIQ.

No doubt, part of rum’s appeal is its variety. Distilled in roughly 50 different countries around the world, rum is produced in different styles – including white, spiced and golden – meaning it can be enjoyed in a number of ways.

How is dark rum made?

All rum is made from sugar cane. It can either be distilled from sugar cane juice, or more frequently from molasses, which is a by-product of sugar production. As a general rule molasses-based rums will have richer flavours, while cane juice rums are fresher and fruitier.

A hand holding a piece of sugar cane

Diplomatico’s sugar cane fields in Venezuela

Water and yeast are added to the juice or molasses to cause fermentation. Then the liquid is distilled, in either a pot still or a column still. Typically rums that are destined to be aged are produced in pot stills, which produce a more robust spirit, while unaged rums are made in column stills. But producers frequently blend spirits from both types of stills to create a particular flavour profile.

After distillation the rum can be drawn straight off the still to be bottled, or briefly rested in oak casks, then filtered, producing unaged – light or white – rum. Dark rums are made by keeping the spirit in oak casks for a number of years. The type of cask influences the final flavour: used bourbon and whisky casks are used to produce rich and complex flavours.

Typically the final dark rum is created by blending different barrels together – these can be various ages, finishes, production methods and even from different countries. This is the art of the Master Blenders, who have trained and tasted extensively to hone their skills.

Bottle of rum and a cocktail

How to drink dark rum

Because dark rums have a complex flavour profile you can just enjoy them neat, over ice, sipping and savouring the layers of flavours. But there are also some classic cocktails that call for dark rum. Try a Dark N Stormy: combine 50ml dark rum, 25ml fresh lime juice and 100ml ginger beer in a highball glass filled with ice. Add two dashes of Angostura Bitters and garnish with a lime wedge.

Dark rum can also be used instead of whisky in an Old Fashioned. To make a Rum Old Fashioned put 60ml rum, 10ml sugar syrup and three dashes of Angostura Bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir well for several minutes to chill and dilute the mix. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with an orange twist.

I also enjoy using dark rum in a Daiquiri, instead of the usual white rum – especially in the winter months – to create a more mellow, flavoursome take on this classic. Put 50ml rum, 15ml freshly squeezed lime juice and 10ml sugar syrup into a cocktail shaker. Half fill with ice and shake until your hands are cold. Strain into a chilled coupe, garnished with a lime wedge on the rim.

What rum to use? Here are some suggestions – a mix of old favourites and new releases – to get you started…

Eight dark rums to try

Appleton Estate 15 Year Old Black River Casks

Jamaica’s Black River is the water source for Appleton Estate’s rums, including this long-aged blend of pot and column still rums created by Master Blender Joy Spence. Caramel and vanilla nose with notes of dried orange peel, light fruit cake, ginger and dark spices. Intense palate layered with woody spice, black toffee, ripe banana, coffee, pink pepper and leather, with a lingering, complex finish. One to sip and savour. Alc 43%

Barceló Organic Rum

Based in the Dominican Republic, Ron Barceló is a certified carbon-neutral rum producer. The latest addition to its range, Barceló Organic Rum, is the first Dominican organic rum; it’s made from fresh sugar-cane juice, extracted from 150ha of organically farmed sugar cane and aged in US oak. Satisfying, mellow fruity aromas – banana and cherry – plus fruit cake, cocoa and a hit of pink peppercorns. The rich and velvety palate is layered with tropical fruit, caramel, Madeira cake and ginger, with darker hints of tobacco and chocolate on the finish. Try it in a Rum Old Fashioned. Alc 37.5%

Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva Dark Rum

Hailing from Venezuela, Diplomático has recently been acquired by spirits giant Brown-Forman – becoming the first rum in the company’s global portfolio. Diplomático’s flagship Reserva Exclusiva delivers rich, smooth aromas with harmonious notes of dried fruit, figs, creamy caramel, toffee apple, vanilla and spice. Soft, velvety texture, but with plenty of spicy punch and lots of depth: layers of golden toffee, dark fruit cake, vanilla, bourbon, butterscotch, spice, banana, ripe mango. Long, long finish. Lovely! Alc 40%

Eminente Gran Reserva Edition No 1

Cuba’s Eminente is a newcomer to the world of rum, launching just three years ago. This new 10-year-old release is a follow-up to Eminente Amber Claro (three years old) and Eminente Reserva (seven years old). Made by César Marti, the youngest Cuban Maestro Ronero, it’s notable for a high percentage of aguardiente in the blend. Roasted pineapple, butterscotch, lemon tart, ginger cake, fresh citrus aromas on the nose. The spicy palate has notes of dark chocolate, dried orange peel, toasted coconut and ripe mango, alongside fresh grassy and woody notes. Alc 43.5%

La Hechicera

Meaning ‘the enchantress’ in Spanish, this Colombian rum is a bewitching blend, aged in an ex-bourbon barrel solera. On the nose you’ll find notes of toffee, coffee, chocolate, green banana and banana leaf. The elegant, dry palate has lots of woody spice, plus notes of chilli, pepper corns and cassia bark, leading to a long finish with notes of caramel sauce, dried fruit, fresh lemon and black pepper. Alc 40%

Mount Gay The Master Blender Collection: The PX Sherry Cask Expression

Mount Gay in Barbados is the oldest rum distillery in the world – and this special release is the sixth in its Master Blender Collection. A blend of pot and column still rums, aged in bourbon casks for a minimum of 20 years, then finished for an extra year in Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks – a first for Mount Gay – it was created by Master Blender Trudiann Branker. Long, complex and layered: give it a little time to open up in your glass and reveal fruity notes of plum and cherry, plus caramel, bananas, salted nuts and toasty vanilla. Alc 45%

Ron Santiago de Cuba Extra Añejo 20 Años

The second-biggest Cuban rum distillery after Havana Club, Ron Santiago has recently repackaged and relaunched its oldest expression, which is aged for a minimum of 20 years. Warm, woody aromas with notes of muscovado sugar dark Jamaica ginger cake and plenty of spice. More spiciness on the complex palate, where you’ll discover rich creamy toffee plus tropical fruit – banana and mango – with star anise and clove notes lingering on the finish. Alc 40%

Takamaka Pti Lakaz

Produced on the island of Mahé in the Seychelles, Takamaka rums showcase different production techniques, making use of both molasses and cane sugar rums, and pot- and column-distillation, with ageing in a variety of casks. Pti Lakaz is a blend of two Seychelles rums – a pot-distilled cane rum matured in three types of oak and a molasses rum rested in ex-bourbon casks – with an eight-year-old molasses rum from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. It kicks off with a nose of spice, toffee and tropical fruit. Rich and rounded, with mellow brown spices, malted milk biscuits, Madeira cake, bananas, caramel and ripe tropical fruit, and a long, spicy finish. Perfect for a fruity rum punch. Alc 45.1%

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