There is no spirit category as globally diverse and varied as rum. Produced everywhere from Mexico to Fiji, its spectrum of flavor is unmatched, ranging from light-bodied, grassy and dry rums, to tannic, robust versions bursting with overripe tropical fruit. Precisely because of this diversity of style, rum can be as daunting as it is exciting, growing only more so with every new release.
“There is more good rum at a great value available to the average consumer than ever before,” says Kevin Beary, beverage director at Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. This proliferation of new rums, however, has not directly translated into a better understanding of the nuances of the category for the average drinker. “Rum is an insanely diverse umbrella category, with myriad subcategories and appellations, DOCs and technical production variables—it makes it endlessly discoverable and interesting, but also very hard to define, communicate and pigeonhole,” says Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in Grand Cayman.
The stark contrast between styles of rum is far greater than that between, say, bourbon and rye. Even from the same country of origin, there can be significant variation depending on the raw material used (sugar cane juice, molasses or both), the fermentation, distillation and aging methods, and whether or not there are additives in the bottle (e.g., caramel coloring, sugar, etc.). Beginning to understand how these variables impact a rum’s flavor makes navigating the sea of rums that much easier.
Unlike whiskey, where a single bottle can cover most classic cocktails, having only one rum stocked is akin to relying only on a paring knife in the kitchen. “When starting your home bar, I would suggest a great bottle of lightly aged rum for your Daiquiris and Mojitos, a bottle of well-aged rum [for spirit-forward serves] and a navy-strength or overproof rum [for tiki cocktails],” says Kyle Jones, owner and managing director at Bon Vivants in the Bahamas. To round up some of the essential rums for mixing in cocktails, we’ve asked an array of rum-loving bartenders from around the world to recommend their go-tos.