Think of spiced rum as the pumpkin spice latte of the spirits world: sweet and easy-drinking, laced with a mystery blend of “spices” and other flavorings… and it gets no respect. Just like hard-core coffee geeks turn up their noses at a frothy flavored latte, it’s typical for diehard rum aficionados to scoff at spiced rum.
However, that may be slowly changing. While spiced rum will never be the bottle bartenders reach for when mixing a Daiquiri, the rum-soaked tiki drink trend has helped put spiced rum into more glasses.
Quite a few spiced rums are relatively dry and encompass the complexity and variety of the entire spice rack.
Tiki-phile bartender Garret Richard, who goes through plenty of the spiced stuff making fanciful tropical drinks at ZZ’s Clam Bar, The Happiest Hour and other New York City bars, explains that spiced rum functions as a kind of shortcut for all the spiced syrups that many tiki drinks require, like falernum or allspice dram. “Sometimes you don’t necessarily want the spices—allspice, vanilla, cinnamon—to come from something that’s sweet,” he continues. But a good spiced rum can add flavor and depth without sugary sweetness.
At the same time, bartenders and others have been clamoring for better and more interesting spiced rums—and that call has been heard. Just a few years ago, almost all spiced rums were dominated by a vanilla-forward sweetness. That’s no longer true; quite a few spiced rums are relatively dry and encompass the complexity and variety of the entire spice rack. It’s possible to detect outlier flavors like wisps of fruit or espresso in some bottles.
Every year, more and more spiced rum bottlings are rolled out. There’s a reason for that. Just like it’s fashionable to sneer at the poor pumpkin spice latte, it returns every season because, frankly, people love it. The same thing holds true for spiced rum: Push past the haters, and you’ll find plenty of people who genuinely enjoy it. And, when done right, why not?
Largo Bay Spiced Rum (Puerto Rico; Saranty Imports, Stamford, CT); $10, 92 points. The aroma suggests allspice and sarsaparilla, and the palate is fleetingly sweet, with dusty notes of nutmeg, allspice and vanilla bean. The long, lip-smacking finish delivers a spicy hit of clove and black pepper. Best Buy. abv: 35%
Wicked Dolphin Spiced Rum (USA; Wicked Dolphin, Cape Coral, FL); $20, 92 points. Honey-hued and made with 100% Florida sugar, this small-batch spiced rum offers complex aromatics: vanilla, allspice, nutmeg and a surprising lemon-peel note. That citrus note sings out on the palate, accompanied by vanilla and baking spice, leading into hotter cinnamon and black pepper. Sip or mix. abv: 40%
The Baron Samedi Spiced Rum (Jamaica; Campari America, San Francisco, CA); $22, 92 points. This robust rum has a deep, ruddy hue and cola-like vanilla and allspice scent. Despite an initial flicker of brown sugar and black cherry sweetness on the palate, it quickly morphs into a relatively dry finish, with hints of leather, clove, allspice, and cocoa. Sip with an ice cube to cool the alcohol heat, or mix. According to the producer, the spirit is Caribbean column still rum enhanced with Jamaican pot still rum. abv: 45%
Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum (US Virgin Islands; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $16, 90 points. Burnished gold in the glass, this rum has a mild vanilla cookie-dough scent. The silky, almost creamy palate shows concentrated vanilla up front, finishing long and relatively hot, with ginger and black pepper heat. Best Buy. abv: 40%
Humboldt Distillery Spiced Rum (USA; Humboldt Distillery, Fortuna, CA); $24, 90 points. This small batch, certified organic rum has a golden hue and earthy, honeyed scent. It’s relatively viscous and palate coating, starting with a dry oak note up front and rounding out to mellow honeysuckle sweetness tinged with nutmeg and cardamom. abv: 40%