Rums made in Jamaica and Barbados are two very different, but equally delicious, styles. While Barbados rums tend to be rich and luscious, with caramel and spice characteristics further amplified by time spent in former Bourbon casks, Jamaica rums tend to skew a bit lighter and fruitier, with many showing a distinct funkiness.
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.
Interestingly, a handful of rums are one step ahead of that concept, marrying liquid from multiple islands in a single bottle. For example, Plantation Original Dark blends a Barbados rum with a smaller amount of Jamaica rum. The end result is relatively dry rather than lush, teased by fleeting hints of pineapple and baking spice.
While they surely work solo in daiquiris and other tropical libations, many tiki drinks layer on multiple rums to add complexity.
Similarly, two bottlings from Denizen also blend Jamaica rum, to an interesting effect: The three-year-old Aged White Rum mixes a lighter column-stilled Trinidad rum with small amounts of heartier pot-stilled rum from Jamaica. By comparison, the Merchant’s Reserve mixes Jamaican rum with rhum grande arôme, a particularly pungent subcategory of agricole rhum.
Of course, some rums defy categorization. Not all Jamaica rums can be filed under “fruity and bright.” In fact, many of Appleton’s oldest rum blends are downright mellow and rich, like the 21 Year Old or the rare, limited-edition bottling of Joy, which commemorates Master Blender Joy Spence’s 20th anniversary with the producer.
Yet, we can’t get too bent out of shape just because not every rum plays to type. After all, it’s the opportunity for discovery that makes the rum category so interesting.
Appleton Estate 21 Years Old Rum (Jamaica; Campari America, New York, NY); $140, 97 points. Deep amber in the glass, this sipping rum offers tones of fudge, and hazelnut on the nose. The supersoft palate brings flavors of brown sugar and toffee accented with orange peel and clove, winding into an extraordinarily long exhale tinged with espresso, dusty cocoa and allspice. Aged for a minimum of 21 years. Rare Limited Edition. abv: 43%
Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum (Jamaica; W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Stamford, CT); $25, 97 points. Lively and complex, this carries aromas of honey, cedar, Mandarin orange, cooked pineapple and brown sugar. The plush, slightly viscous palate echoes those flavors, layering on bright flickers of cedar and lemon peel, plus a hint of funk reminiscent of agricole rhum. It finishes with a warming clove tingle on the tip of the tongue. Made with 100% pot still Jamaican rum, aged first in Jamaica and then in ex-Cognac casks at the Ferrand estate. Best Buy. abv: 43%
Denizen Merchant’s Reserve 8 Years Old Rum (Jamaica/Martinique; Hotaling & Co., San Francisco, CA); $35, 93 points. The producer describes this blend of two particularly aromatic, intense rums as “unapologetically funky.” That’s an accurate description for this amber-hued rum, which opens with bright tropical fruit aromas and a drying cedar-and-maple palate. Overall, the effect is that of ripe banana drizzled with maple and sprinkled with nutmeg and cayenne. abv: 43%
Plantation 20th Anniversary XO Rum (Barbados; W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Stamford, CT); $50, 97 points. This offers rich caramel, hazelnut and cocoa aromas on the nose. The palate echoes those luscious flavors, but also layers walnut, cocoa powder and hints of orange and grapefruit peel, while allspice warms the finish. Aged first in Barbados, then in ex-Cognac casks at the Ferrand estate in France. abv: 40%
The Real McCoy Aged 14 Years Rum (Barbados; The Real McCoy Spirits, Canandaigua, NY); $70, 96 points. This limited edition opens with the guns a-blazing: it’s spicy and brisk, loaded with cinnamon and clove. The drying midpalate shifts to oak and walnut, then fades away on gentle, dreamy layers of brown sugar, caramel, orange peel and a hint of dried apricot. abv: 46%
Cockspur Old Gold Rum (Barbados; Cockspur USA, Manhasset, NY); $22, 94 points. Tawny and bright in the glass, the brown sugar aroma takes some coaxing to open up. The palate shows vanilla, allspice and a hint of cola, tapering off to tones of maple, almond and toasted coconut. It finishes on accents coffee and clove. Best Buy. abv: 40%
Whistling Andy White Rum (USA; Whistling Andy, Bigfork, MT); $27, 91 points. The aroma is slightly funky, with a hint of banana. The velvety, robust palate echoes that banana note, finishing brisk and clean with hints of almond and cinnamon heat. A respectable choice for a daiquiri. Best Buy. abv: 40%
Bacardi Gran Riserva Diez (Puerto Rico; Bacardi, Coral Gables, FL); $40, 90 points. Aged 10 years. Look for an amber hue and bold allspice and caramel aromas. The silky palate offers bold, rich brown sugar and caramel, finishing long with gentle baking spice. Sip or mix. abv: 40%
Roulaison Rum (USA; Roulaison Distilling, New Orleans, LA); $33, 88 points. Clear in the glass with a distinctly funky aroma. Relatively full-flavored for an unaged rum, the soft palate offers hints of banana, nutmeg and cinnamon. abv: 44%
Stark Spirits California Gold Rum (USA; Stark Spirits, Pasadena, CA); $35, 88 points. Look for a warm, nutty aroma and soft palate that opens with flavors of black cherry, vanilla, caramel and oak. The drying finish brings a flurry of cinnamon and clove. This is a great option for a rum-based Old Fashioned. abv: 46%