Rum is a sprawling drinks category, both stylistically and geographically. Made from sugarcane products, rum is distilled in roughly 50 countries, with varying traditions and technologies, which gives you plenty of options to choose from if you’re a rum lover.
From mixable white rums to dark and spiced rums, there’s a style to suit every palate. As a result, rum is a perfect drinking companion practically round the clock, but it’s particularly special to sip as the sun goes down and the night draws in.
So what makes a good sipping rum? Essentially it needs to be delicious and have depth of flavour, allowing the taster to sip, savour and contemplate the liquid that’s in their glass. This could be a white rum, but more often than not it will be an aged rum, so that’s what my selection below focuses upon.
Drinking rum can be an intense sensory experience because of the high number of esters that are often found in this group of spirits. Esters are formed through a reaction between alcohols and phenolic or carboxylic acids, and have characteristic aromas. The higher the amount of esters, the more expressive the drink will be. To really understand this concept, sample a glass of J Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum, which is an unapologetic tropical party in a glass.
Also read: Learn about rum
How to taste neat rum
In order to appreciate a rum’s aromas and flavours, swirl it around the glass, as you do with wine. Have a very quick initial sniff, then inhale more deeply to start to appreciate the nose. Do the same with the palate – a quick sip, before returning for a longer taste that you roll around the mouth. Consider adding a drop of water to the glass, like whisky drinkers do, to open the flavours and aromas up. I find this especially useful for higher abv rums, which can take some easing into when you’re enjoying them neat.
Also read: Rum cocktails to make at home
A note on glassware: when drinking rum neat, consider a Glencairn, or glass with a tapered neck, which helps to channel the aromas. If sipping on the rocks, then use a rocks glass, although the shape won’t really help to accentuate the rum’s character.
While we’re on ice, if you do decide to use it, make it a single large cube or ice sphere, rather than lots of smaller cubes. This will ensure dilution is slow and steady.
Now just open one of the bottles below, dive in, and be prepared to be transported to heady, tropical destinations, where vast sugar cane fields sit under alternately bright and brooding skies. Heaven.
Best sipping rums: Eight to try
Appleton 12 Year Old Rum
Situated in the southwest of Jamaica, Appleton Estate is overseen by master blender Joy Spence. Made from molasses, Appleton’s 12 Year Old has a juicy nose of crunchy red fruits, raspberries, crème brûlée and hazelnuts. The fresh red fruits give way to orange peel and darker stone fruits with a crumble topping and whisper of violets. Alcohol 43%
Doorly’s 14 Year Old Rum
Made at the venerated Foursquare distillery in Barbados, which blends column- and pot-still spirits together to produce its rums. This expression has been aged in former bourbon and Madeira casks. A fruity nose of peaches, apricots, chocolate-covered cherries and Galia melon belie a powerful, dry spice bomb of a rum, with sour cherries, Szechuan pepper and fiery ginger. Alc 48%
El Dorado 15 Year Old Rum
Made in Guyana by Demerara Distillers Limited, which uses a number of original stills from three of the country’s key sugar estates of the 18th and 19th centuries. Sipping this rum paints an evocative picture of an old wingback leather chair, mahogany sideboard, the dying embers of a fire and a plate of dark chocolate truffles and gingerbread biscuits. Alc 40%
Equiano Original Rum
Equiano is named after Oloudah Equiano, a Nigerian sold into slavery in the 17th century, who eventually bought his freedom and became an important voice in the abolitionist movement. Original is a limited-batch blend, mixing African rum from Gray’s distillery in Mauritius with Caribbean rum from Foursquare in Barbados. The palate is zippy and dry, with worn leather, cocoa nibs, crème brûlée, sea salt and forest floor. Alc 43%
Foursquare 2009 Mark XVII Exceptional Cask Selection Rum
Part of the 17th release of Barbados distillery Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask Selection series, this 12-year-old rum has been aged in ex-bourbon casks. Aromas of Solero ice lollies, red currants, coconut oil and ginger biscuits hint at a big and bold palate, with mouth-watering passion fruit and a pineapple juiciness that’s balanced out with a big tannic grip. Warming ginger and cinnamon spice are sprinkled on top. Alc 60%
Hampden Estate Overproof Rum
Despite producing rum since 1753, Hampden only recently launched two rums under its own label – and this overproof number (at 60% abv) is one of them. Hampden is renowned for producing high-ester, funky rums, and this is no exception. An unctuous, warming palate with ripe banana, pear, papaya and black fruits. Butterscotch and charcoal round things off. Alc 60%
Mount Gay 1703 Master Select 2020 Rum
Every year, Mount Gay Master Blender Trudiann Branker selects the distillery’s best pot- and column-still rums with a minimum age of 10 years and blends them together to create the annual 1703 Master Select release. The 2020 release of this series has an expressive palate of honey, vanilla pod, butterscotch and banana, dried cherries, orange zest and leather. Alc 43%
Santiago de Cuba 11 Year Old Rum
The clue is in the name – Ron Santiago is the second biggest Cuban rum distillery after Havana Club. Distilled from molasses and aged in white oak barrels, a nose of cooked apples and pears with brown butter and a herbal edge of bouquet garni leads onto a palate of grilled pineapple, dulce de leche and cinnamon, with a red chilli heat. Alc 40%