During the summer—or any warm weather—my favorite time of day is rum o’clock. (Especially when I’m daydreaming about my last Jamaican vacation at Round Hill.) You can’t find it on a watch dial, of course, but by the late afternoon, you know that the hour is fast approaching.
In my mind, drinking rum (neat, on the rocks, or in simple cocktails) is always better when you’re in the Caribbean or wherever the spirit you’re enjoying was made. But as I learned this year, the right rum can quickly make you forget that there’s not a new stamp in your passport. It’s the spirit that spirits you away.
Here are seven stellar standouts to consider this summer.
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TEN TO ONE CARIBBEAN WHITE RUM ($37)
Founded by Trinidad-born and MIT-educated Marc Farrell, who was Starbucks’ youngest-ever vice president, Ten to One’s Caribbean white rum is among one of my all-time-favorites for cocktails. (And therefore perfect for all my summer libations.) Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s 100 percent rum—with zero additives. No added sugar. No added “flavor.” No added coloring. Beyond that, the liquid is just versatile: It’ll work well in any rum-based drink. On the palate, it’s clean and fresh—with notes of citrus zest, honeysuckle, and lemongrass. It’s excellent on daiquiris and jazzed-up mojitos. The brand also offers a dark version, which is also quite the winner—but not for cocktails. This one is to be savored neat—or on the rocks, whichever your preference. One thing that I personally love is the fact that Ten to One expressions are pan-Caribbean blends. (For instance, the white hails from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. While the dark comes from Trinidad, Bardados, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.)
SANTA TERESA 1796 RUM ($45)
Santa Teresa has been one of my go-tos for several years now. It’s the kind of rum you can drink all day long by a pool (or by the ocean). A superb summer libation. It’s slightly sweet and reminiscent of all things summer—but not cloyingly so. But then again, did we expect anything less? Venezuela has some of the stringent rules when it comes to rum production. The blend consists of multiple streams with ages ranging from four to 36 years, all aged in ex-bourbon barrels—before being further aged by way of the solera method. On the palate, it’s balanced and complex at the same time: There’s a lot of honey and caramel notes—complemented by a bittersweet chocolate finish.
RHUM BARBANCOURT RÉSERVE SPÉCIALE 8 YEAR ($23)
Rhum Barbarncourt’s 8 Year Réserve Spéciale is something I’d like to think of as an everyday rum. Not too fancy—but not mediocre in the least. The 86-proof Haitian rum does the job whether you’re in the mood for something to drink as is or in a daiquiri, Barbancourt is a solid choice. And with its price point, it’d also make for an excellent housewarming gift.
EQUIANO RUM ($60)
Billed as the “world’s first African and Caribbean rum,” Equiano is a blend made with liquid sourced from two distilleries in opposite sides of the world: Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados and Grays in Mauritius—just off the east coast of Madagascar. Named after Olaudah Equiano—the Nigerian-born freedom fighter and abolitionist, the rum’s co-creator Ian Burrell (a legend in the industry) made sure that the blend would live up to its namesake. The rum starts out in Mauritius where it is aged for at least ten years in ex-Cognac and French Limousin oak, before being sent to Barbados where it is married with rum aged in ex-bourbon casks. And the result is extraordinary in that it’s balanced and versatile enough for every kind of rum enthusiast—with rich (but not overpowering caramel and butterscotch notes). Enjoy it neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. Whatever you decide, it’ll be a quality pour.
APPLETON ESTATE 8-YEAR-OLD RESERVE ($32)
The last time I was in Jamaica, I exclusively drank Appleton—because hey, when in Jamaica once must enjoy all things local. And while I’m a fan of Appleton’s other expressions, master blender Joy Spence certainly outdid herself with this new one. On the nose, it’s still very emblematic of what Appleton stands for: The DNA is there, with its characteristic vanilla, orange, and honey notes—but with more spice and boldness. The rum is a blend of 20 “reserve stock,” which Spence specifically set aside. And it’s a more nuanced rum that delivers a tad bit of a more of robust flavor.
DIPLOMATÍCO PLANAS ($30)
Not to be confused with the Diplomatico Blanco Reserva (which was discontinued in 2017), the Planas is a complex aged white rum rested in three different casks: ex-bourbon, ex-malt whisky, and American white oak. It’s an outlier in its own way: the blend of distillates is aged for up to six years before it goes through a charcoal filtration system to eliminate the color acquired from the aging process—and to make the liquid smoother. In a sense, it’s kind of like what the tequila industry does with its cristalinos. The result? A white sipping rum that would also work perfectly in any rum-forward cocktail, with its tropical notes of coconut and just a hint of pineapple. “We wanted to create a white rum that would match the premium quality of our other rums,” says José Rafael Ballesteros Meléndez, CEO of Diplomático. “We also understand how key white rum is to bartenders and cocktail mixing, because of its transparency.”
FLOR DE CAÑA 25 ($159)
Flor de Caña has been around for more than 125 years—and that has given the Nicaraguan distillery more than ample time to refine its processes and distilling methods. This particular expression, though, is not something you would break out at the end of a difficult day at work. What I’m saying is that it’s what one would call a “special occasion rum,” something to be enjoyed with a cigar while on vacation. At 25 years, clocking in 40% ABV, the expression is smoother than most—as well as complex. In addition to its dark toffee, chocolate, and vanilla notes, tropical and stone fruits are also discernible on the palate.