The Magnificent Seven: Premium Dark Rums Worth The Wait
So who makes the best premium dark rums and why should you care? Let's start with the history of this intoxicating beverage and then lay out our options for the present day.
In the 1700s, as the American colonies were growing in population and Caribbean plantations were experimenting with the remnants of sugar production, rum was trending as a popular drink. Many coastal cities virtually ran on rum and it was a prized benefit for early members of the US Navy.
Fast forward to 2020, and again, rum is trending. Not the rough production of early years, but a refined, artisanal, small-batch sip with a more defined profile than ever. These dark, satisfying premium rums deliver all of the pleasure of an expensive whiskey at a comparatively lower price point. Don’t jump to conclusions, however. Some are still quite pricey.
As with anything on the upswing of popularity, imitations abound. Rum is no different. With many labels pretending to be premium dark rums by adding caramel flavor and color then masquerading as a fine, aged dark rum, how does one choose something palatable and authentic?
Buyers should do a little due diligence. Since this is our bailiwick, we’ve done the work for you. Here is a list of the best seven bottles of premium dark rum every spirit lover, rum connoisseur, and respectable pirate should have on the shelf. Enjoy!
From Panama, Zafra has one of the longest aging processes of any modern rums available. Distilled in column stills, then aged 30 years in old oak barrels, this rich, dark spirit boasts a ripe fruit palate paired with Christmas spice and a mid-palate of licorice and cinnamon, topped with buttery caramel and vanilla. The long finish is warm, complex, and balanced, making for a great stand-alone sip and a regular spot on any list of the best premium dark rums.
This is a limited edition dark rum with roughly 7,000 bottles produced by a world-class rum blender. If you are a true enthusiast, it's worth seeking out a bottle before they sell out.
To give you some context, the Appleton Estate was crafting rum in Jamaica before the United States was a free nation. The rum-making skills developed over hundreds of years are on display with the Appleton Estate 21-year release.
Master distiller Joy Spence puts together blends that differ year over year while working to deliver a similar profile along the way. Aged 21-years using old oak, this premium Jamaican rum presents chocolate and coffee on the nose, translating to vanilla, cashew, and brown sugar and a citrus/tropical fruit sip.
The long finish confirms heavy oak, ending with a creamy, nutty finish. Just right in a beautiful glass, up neat. A bit lighter than the others, the Appleton Estate is suitable for warmer weather indulgence that is smooth, sweet, and satisfying.
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This extra delicious high-end rum is a must for the connoisseur. It scored higher than any other dark rum at the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago. It also won gold at the International Rum Festival in Canada, and silver at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.
Blended demerara style in Guyana, it is aged between 21 and 25 years in 45-gallon oak casks just a stone’s throw away from the equator. The smoky, sultry liquid delivers a sip on par with Appleton. Buttery chocolate on the nose, followed by complex layers of ripe banana, dates, blackcurrants, macadamia, and dark chocolate. The rich, fruity finish spices things up with a touch of cinnamon for a perfect winter indulgence. This rum clearly deserves a spot on any list of top dark rums.
Another great winter reward, a glass of this full-bodied rum comes in several varieties, from the original to the navy-strength, XO, and Chilli & Chocolate. All deserve extra style points for the brown paper wrap tied with twine and sealed with black wax, but there is substance to this style as well.
A premium spiced rum in the original format, it delivers Madagascar vanilla, clove, and cinnamon, sharpened with orange citrus. The pleasing palate is sweet with sugar and spice, orange oil, clove, honey, and cola, on to a strong and long finish of creamy vanilla. Navy-strength is, of course, a higher ABV, with similar notes.
The XO, like brandy, is aged a minimum of 15 years, intensifying the flavors of orange, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove. The first two are good mixers, while the XO is perfect solo over ice. The Chilli and Chocolate version is delicious both ways, making the most of jalapeno chilies and Criollo Cocoa nibs.
Once in a while, a cellar master is blessed with a barrel that presents itself in perfect balance just as it is. So it is with Plantation’s Extrême No. 3 from its Long Pond location in the John Dore still in Jamaica.
A catastrophic fire at the distillery destroyed its wood fermentation vats in addition to all the freshly distilled spirits, sparing the stills. After spending eight years in a dormant state, the distillery reopened in July 2017. Thus, Plantation Jamaica HJC 1996 (56.2% ABV and 345g/hlap ester rate) and Plantation Jamaica ITP 1996 (54.8% ABV and 386g/hlap ester rate) were both poured into 2,000 bottles each at cask strength for a double-aged delight. Spending 21 years in bourbon barrels followed by a year in France inside Ferrand casks, these unique vintage rums are packaged in colorful art by Jamaican fine artist Troydel.
Are you ready for a truly unique premium dark rum experience? This is it. You’ll have to be quick about it in the future, though. A recent Extrême release sold out in Sweden in 27 seconds.
Andres Brugal founded this iconic brand in the Dominican Republic in 1881, hence the name. Its distinguishing factor comes from clean, smooth, dry features. Additionally, after aging six to eight years in White American Oak, it benefits from second aging for two to four years in Spanish Sherry oak Bourbon barrels.
Notably smoother, drier, and lighter than many other top-shelf dark rums, Brugal 1881 defies its dark amber coloring with a lighter, fresher, cleaner taste. Smooth and full-bodied, the nose comes on with chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, and dried fruit. The palate is teased by toffee, wood, and licorice, leading to a hint of sweetness on the long finish, making Brugal 1881 a great rum, even for those who love whiskey.
The last option on our list of the best dark rums is of extraordinarily high quality. Smooth-sipping Nicaraguan Flor De Caña rum ages for 25 years in bourbon barrels covered in plantain leaves – nothing added. Just pure nature at work, delivering an ultra-premium rum beneath the San Cristobal Volcano, active to this day.
The fertile soil and mineralized volcanic water work with the equatorial climate to magically mature this delightful rum. From the distillery that dates back to the late 1800s when Alfredo Francisco Pellas Canessa began the legend, Flor de Caña 25-Year exhibits a sophisticated color mix of dark brown and amber, hinting at fig, candied orange, and cocoa as it moves along the palate to an almond and caramel finish.
Best sipped on the rocks, rum aficionados can also consider that this is among the first in the world to operate as a Fair Trade certified spirit, complying with 300+ labor, social, and environmental standards. The company also supports the community by contributing proceeds from every sale to improving life for workers and families. Life is good, especially when sipping on one of the best premium dark rums in the world.
The best dark rums feature a combination of great skill, patience, and high-quality inputs. To properly enjoy a high-end dark rum, you need to treat it as you would a fine scotch. Anyone of these rums can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but never mixed. Consider drinking them as you would a fine wine. Appreciate the balance and complexity that the rum maker teased out of the distilled sugar and barrels. Most of all, relax and enjoy it with friends!