Dark rum is a great choice this time of year. The aged spirit often carries deep flavor notes of wintry spices, dark fruits, and rich sweetness that speak to fall and winter vibes. That’s not to say that dark rum isn’t as good on a hot beach with the waves lapping at your feet because it absolutely is. It’s more speaking the versatility of the aged sugar-based spirit.
Since dark rum is so wide-reaching, I figured it was time for another dark rum blind taste test. Yes, even as we head into winter. Specifically, as we head into winter.
For this blind tasting, I grabbed some hardcore classics and a couple of newbies across several regions and price points. It’s a smorgasbord of dark rums that suit every level of interest (and cash flow). As for the ranking itself, I’m going on taste alone. That means that I’m looking for depth (how short or long does that flavor profile go and does it take you on a journey?) and balance (does everything make sense and create a cohesive entity?).
At the end of the day, it’s the taste and experience that matter most, folks. Since I do this for a living, be assured that you’re in good hands for this ranking. The lineup today is as follows:
- Papa’s Pilar Bourbon Barrel Finished 24 Solera Profile Dark Rum (New)
- Botran Ron de Guatemala No. 18 (New)
- Flor de Caña 18 Years Old (Classic)
- Don Papa Rye Aged Rum (New)
- Tommy Bahama Tommy No. 2 Rum Finished in Bourbon Whisky Barrels (New)
- Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Classic)
- Ron Zacapa XO Solera Gran Reserva Especial (Classic)
- Mount Gay Andean Oak Cask Barbados Rum (New)
Let’s dive in and find you a great dark rum to sip as the holidays kick off!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Blind Taste Test Posts Of The Last Six Months
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Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a mild sense of tannic old oak on the nose with a dark and dry chili pepper spice and maybe some molasses sweetness but not much. The palate holds onto that charcoal-filled tannic note while adding wet brown sugar that turns into buttery caramel sauce. Finally, the sip fades through vanilla husks and maybe a hint of orchard fruit with woody spices lurking underneath.
This was pretty good overall. It feels very whiskey adjacent with a good amount of vanilla and fruit on the end next to all that spice.
There’s a brief moment of sour funk that gives way to white pepper, waxy chili pepper skins, and apple pie. The palate has a mild sense of caramel and sugar cane juice next to maybe some rum-raisin. The sip ultimately fades out pretty fast into a light sense of pepper, chocolate, and spice.
This started off so strong and then sort of petered out into very little.
There’s a mild sense of old oak and leather next to dark winter spices, dark berries, and a whisper of potpourri. The palate has a rich blackstrap molasses sweetness and bitterness that leads to woody winter spices, red berries with a candied edge, and a hint of that dried floral vibe. The end gets a little light but it’s more minerality than watery proofing as wet pipe tobacco and sweet vanilla candies dominate.
This is a pretty nice pour. It’s balanced and has some depth without being too washed out on the finish.
Holy f*ck, this is wildly weird. The nose pops with lemon iced tea powder and wet tobacco next to celery salt, caraway, and cardamom pods. The palate leans into the sweet and citrusy iced tea with a clear sense of tobacco juice (yes, like having a chaw in your mouth). The end sort of leans into woody winter spices, old vanilla, and a hint of rock candy.
This is outlandish yet somehow enticing. It beckons you back for more because it feels like there’s no way it can taste that … kooky.
There’s a mild sense of dark spices next to fruity tobacco, a layer of vanilla, and some mild candied sweetness. The palate is very light and delivers molasses, spice, and maybe some tropical fruit notes but eventually feels a little washed out.
This is pretty weak but does have a sense of dark rum in there.
There’s a very sweet sense of molasses and brown sugar on the nose with a touch of bright florals and dark berries. The palate is very caramel-forward with a bold sweetness that’s part rock candy and part molasses with a hint of pancake syrup and vanilla. The end has a sharp tobacco bite with orange zest and a touch of walnut cake cut with raisins and wintry spices.
This was nice but very sweet.
The nose opens with a sense of vanilla beans next to old leather, salted butter, mild dried florals, and new pipe tobacco with a hint of cedar humidor. The palate adds in layers of salted caramel with dried fruits and dates alongside plenty of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove with a hint of dark chocolate tobacco. The end has a distinct edge of lush caramel-chocolate cake feel with a return of that pipe tobacco and cedar from the nose on the very end.
This was complex and distinct. It’s a solid pour.
The nose on this one is deep with notes of old oak staves next to a spiced holiday cake full of candied fruits, raisins, dark spices, and buttery vanilla with a hint of espresso bitterness and maybe a whisper of gooseberry. The palate leans into the wintry cake spice with a focus on nutmeg and clove creating a lush eggnog feel next to candied ginger, woody huckleberry, pine resin, and Almond Joy. The end has a flourish of marzipan and fresh mint next to pineapple tobacco and more of those dark holiday cake spices all wrapped up with soft cedar bark and dry sweetgrass.
This is the best pour by a country mile.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Tommy Bahama Tommy No. 2 Rum Finished in Bourbon Whisky Barrels — Taste 5
Average Price: $39
This is a sourced “Central American” rum. The juice was aged in American oak (bourbon barrels) for a minimum of five years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This was fine, but only just. It was super light on the finish. I’d probably just pass on this one.
7. Botran Ron de Guatemala No. 18 — Taste 2
Average Price: $54
This Guatemalan rum uses estate-grown sugar cane varieties to create sugar cane honey (instead of molasses). After distillation, the hot juice is aged using the solera method (by never fully emptying aging containers). The rum ages for five to eight years in bourbon, sherry, and port casks before it’s blended, proofed, and bottled.
This was fine but really dropped off into the proofing water my the mid-palate. That said, this would be perfectly fine for building cocktails.
6. Don Papa Rye Aged Rum — Taste 4
Average Price: $240
This new Filipino rum is fully matured in American rye casks. The molasses comes from the Philippine island of Negros Occidental. Once distilled, the hot juice rests in those rye barrels for about four years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This was so out there. It didn’t taste like a classic dark rum at all. And that’s what kind of endeared it to me. It was interesting and felt fresh and new. That said, if you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing classic dark rum, look elsewhere. This is not that in any way.
5. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva — Taste 6
Average Price: $40
This Venezuelan rum is a blend of a minimum of 12-year-old juice made from both sugarcane honey and molasses. The rums were aged in ex-bourbon barrels high up in the Amazonia before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This read very sweet today. It wasn’t bad. There was serious depth and nuance beyond that sweetness. Still, this felt more like something I’d make a solid Tiki-style cocktail with rather than use as a sipper.
4. Flor de Caña 18 Years Old — Taste 3
Average Price: $50
This Nicaraguan rum is made on the slopes of the San Cristóbal Volcano. The molasses is made from estate-grown sugar cane from that volcanic soil. The rums are then aged in ex-bourbon barrels for varying amounts of time before blending. It’s important to note that “18” is the average age of the barrels involved and not the age of the expression.
This was a nice all-around easy-to-drink dark rum. It didn’t pop as a sipper but certainly would as a really solid cocktail base. You can build some great flavor notes off of this one’s profile.
3. Papa’s Pilar Bourbon Barrel Finished 24 Solera Profile Dark Rum — Taste 1
Average Price: $60
Named after Hemingway (or Papa if you will), this is a blend of sourced rums from all over. Both column still and pot still rums from the Caribbean, U.S.A, and Central America are in the mix. Those rums were aged in bourbon barrels, port wine casks, and sherry casks before batching and going on a final finishing run in more bourbon casks.
This was pretty nice overall. There was some depth at play and the finish wasn’t washed out. I can see sipping this over some rocks or mixing it into a decent cocktail.
2. Ron Zacapa XO Solera Gran Reserva Especial — Taste 7
Average Price: $124
This expression is a blend of Guatemalan rums that spent six to 25 years resting in their solera warehouse in former sherry casks at high elevations. The rum is then finished in French cognac casks to add that little extra refinement to the final taste.
This was clearly built for easy sipping. There’s some nice depth to the flavor profile with balance. Overall, this is an easy sipper that won’t challenge your palate.
1. Mount Gay Andean Oak Cask Barbados Rum — Taste 8
Average Price: $210
Master Blender Trudiann Branker is creating some amazing Barbadian blends with Mount Gay’s Master Blender Collection. The fourth release takes Mount Gay rum that spent 14 years mellowing if former bourbon barrels just a stone’s throw from a beach and finishes that rum in South American oak from the Andies. After eleven months in those barrels, the rum is proofed and bottled as-is.
This was far and away the best rum on this panel. The depth and nuance were extraordinary with a real freshness to it. Overall, this feels like the best and more rewarding sipper on the list — and it wasn’t even close.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
That Mount Gay Andean Cask is a stellar rum. It’s so refreshing yet familiar. It’s also spendy but worth it this time of year. After all, what are the holidays for if not to treat yourself and/or your loved ones with great rum pours?
Naturally, that bottle is pricey. So, I’d recommend grabbing Papa’s Pilar rum as a good alternative, especially if you’re looking to make some killer cocktails too. Or any of the rest really, except for maybe the bottom two. You can safely skip those.