8 Top-Rated Summer Rums
This month’s reviews cover rums made in Jamaica and Barbados. The countries produce different—but equally delicious—styles.
In general, Jamaican rum is distilled from sugar-cane molasses and is usually (though not always) pungent and full-bodied. Quite a few exhibit a funkiness in the aroma known as “hogo,” which comes from the fermented raw sugar-cane juice. This is considered a desirable quality. It’s odd but amazing: if you enjoy rancio in your Cognac, consider seeking out hogo in your rum.
Ever since British Royal Navy sailors received their first rum rations during the British assault on Jamaica in 1655, Jamaica’s rum history has intertwined with naval rum. It seems fitting that a couple of high-proof “Navy strength” rums are reviewed below.
Barbadian rum has an equally rich history; the West Indian island claims to have first invented rum. Many of these rums are aged in former Bourbon barrels, adding layers of vanilla and spice flavors to the caramel-like base.
How to use these rums? While they surely work solo in daiquiris and other tropical libations, many tiki drinks layer on multiple rums to add complexity. In the Tiki Reviver cocktail from author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, gold Barbados rum (like Cockspur) and dark Jamaican rum (like Appleton) are combined to ambrosial effect. Grab a bottle of each, and give this recipe a try:
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce nutmeg syrup (simple syrup simmered with several crushed whole nutmeg pods)
1 ounce gold Barbados rum
1¼ ounces dark Jamaican rum
1 teaspoon apricot brandy
Pour all the ingredients into a shaker. Shake well with plenty of ice cubes, then pour unstrained into a tiki mug or a tall glass. If necessary, add more ice to fill. Top with a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg.
(Jamaica; Campari America, San Francisco, CA). This gorgeous copper-hued rum seems to shift flavors with every sip, encouraging contemplation. It starts with dry notes of espresso and bittersweet chocolate, then morphs into dark, mouthwatering brown sugar, toffee and clove, before easing into a spiced finish reminiscent of chai tea with a hint of white peach.
abv: 43% Price: $140
(Barbados; Cockspur USA, Manhasset, NY). Bold and flavorful, this amber sipping rum offers sweet allspice, birch beer, brown sugar and caramel, plus darker notes of espresso and fudge. Finishes long, with a delicately spicy fade. Best Buy.
abv: 40% Price: $21
(Jamaica; Haus Alpenz, Edina, MN). A top pick for tiki and tropical drinks, this practically begs for lime juice. Scented with warm honey notes, the palate shows lots of brown sugar and spice, plus an enticingly untamed, funky finish (the fabled “hogo”). Since it’s “Navy Strength,” you might not want to sip it straight up—the producer wisely recommends exploring the profile first in a daiquiri—though it’s smooth and interesting enough if you want to try.
abv: 57% Price: $29
(Barbados; Remy Cointreau, New York, NY). Golden and mild. Look for notes of brown sugar, oak and warming baking spice throughout, ending on a crisp, bright finish.
abv: 43% Price: $30
(Jamaica; Deutsch Family Wines & Spirits, White Plains, NY). This honey-hued rum is richly aromatic, suggesting creamy caramel and baking spice, with just a hint of banana in the background. On the palate, look for lots of spicy fireworks upfront—black pepper, hot cinnamon, clove—followed by a gentle fade of brown sugar and butterscotch. Mix for a mind-blowing mai tai.
abv: 42% Price: $45
(Barbados; Real McCoy Spirits, West Palm Beach, FL). Aged in former Bourbon barrels, this bright topaz rum has notes of resin and vanilla on the nose. On the palate, it’s silky, bold with vanilla and a prickle of baking spice on the finish.
abv: 40% Price: $29
(Barbados; Fishbowl Spirits, Nashville, TN). “Inspired by” country singer Kenny Chesney, this clear rum is meant for mixing. It has a mild, lightly sweet aroma and flavor, with fleeting notes of vanilla and white pepper leading to a crisp finish.
abv: 40% Price: $19
(Jamaica; Campari America, San Francisco, CA). Despite the fact that at 126 proof it may be best suited for lighting your tiki torches, it has body and a juicy, apple-like sweetness. However, it finishes so fiery it’s literally tongue-numbing. Use sparingly as a float on top of tiki drinks.
abv: 63% Price: $23
- 198 Appleton Estate Aged 21 Years
- 296 Cockspur Old Gold
- 395 Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum
- 494 Mount Gay Black Barrel
- 594 Old Reserve 2001 Plantation Rum Jamaica
- 688 The Real McCoy Rum Aged 5 Years
- 787 Blue Chair Bay White Rum
- 885 Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum