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According to an expert, the 13 best sips of 2020

best sip rums

Courtesy Bacardi / Getty Images / Courtesy Flor de Caña

From mojitos to mai tais to daiquiris, rum is the basis for a large selection of delicious cocktails. But unlike bourbon, scotch, or even tequila, rum is nowhere near enough respected for its ability to stand on its own. While you may be more used to tossing a bottle of the cheap stuff into a sugary, pre-made mix and parking it by the pool, there are a number of top-notch sip rums worth adding to your liquor cabinet or home bar.

Rum is made by fermenting and then distilling molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, which is then usually aged in oak barrels. Similar to other brown liquors, the smoothest rums rely on a combination of craftsmanship and patience. Rum comes in a variety of grades, with lighter rums generally being better suited for cocktails, while golden and dark rums are more accessible on the rocks or on the street. However, there are rums in the entire color and aging spectrum that are great for slurping. An inexperienced palate might taste rum and say, “Yes, it tastes like rum.” But the more rums you taste, the more you will notice subtle citrus, fruit, caramel, vanilla or other notes that come from the aging process and give individual rums their distinctive character.

To compile this list, we consulted with liquor expert and master bartender Shannon Mustipher, author of Tiki: Modern tropical cocktailswho graciously shared some of her favorites. Whether you’re shopping for a top-notch rum or just looking for an affordable rum to enjoy properly, here’s our rundown of the best sip rums:

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Appleton Estate 12 years


Established in 1745, Appleton Estate is the oldest sugar estate and longest running distillery in Jamaica. This aged rum has a lower ester content than other Jamaican rums, which means it is a little less funky and a little more universally appealing. You will notice a slight bite at the end, but there is mango and banana on the nose and coffee and toffee on the finish. Mustipher is a fan of the newly updated packaging, which pays homage to its downright curvy original shape while still giving it a little more visual stature on the shelf.

Flor de Caña 25 years of rum


Best rum under $ 200

This high-end rum from Nicaragua is a popular sipper for its incredible smoothness, balanced notes and full body. It is produced by a family estate in the 5th generation, has naturally matured without artificial ingredients and is 100% distilled with renewable energy. Honestly, you are wasting this ultra premium age rum by drinking it in any way other than directly or with a rock. Wood and caramel notes make this drink a great after-dinner drink, especially when paired with rich dark chocolate.

Ron Colon Salvadoreño Dark Aged Rum


“With a lot of time (and bottles) under my tasting belt, rum takes a lot to surprise me,” Mustipher says. “Ron Colon does this in a way I haven’t seen in a while.” This rum from El Salvador has a higher percentage of 55.5% ABV, which is crucial for the intensity of its taste. Mustipher notes that there is a common misconception that higher percentage rums are strong and harsh. “Nothing could be further from the truth here,” says Mustipher. She notes that the brilliance of this rum lies in a combination of its blend of three high ester pot still rums added to bring flavor, tropical fruit, body and substance to the bottle. “Add the long, tannic finish to that and you’re in the money,” Mustipher says.

Saint Teresa 1796


Best rum under $ 50

This Venezuelan rum was first produced in 1996 to mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Santa Teresa Hacienda distillery of the same name. It’s made using the Solera system, an aging method that comes from Spanish sherry but has been used to age other liquids like wine, balsamic vinegar and – yes – rum. Fans of 1796 appreciate the notes of honey, butterscotch and toffee on the nose with a light, persistent spice in the finish, but minimal fire. Because of its price, Santa Teresa 1796 is considered one of the most underrated sip rums that you can buy for under $ 50.

Clairin Le Rocher


Are you looking for something completely different? This Agricole imported from Velier, an Italian importer of rare and limited rums, with an emphasis on traditional distilleries and production methods. “On the nose, Rocher offers aromas of freshly cut sawgrass mixed with tropical fruits,” says Mustipher. Its finish is full of an almost chipotle smokiness and citrus-salt solution. While it is perfectly enjoyed when Mustipher is in the market for a bold, funky daiquiri, this is their port of call.

Bacardi Gran Reserva Diez


You will likely recognize the brand name, but there’s a good chance you haven’t tried the premium offerings from the world’s largest private liquor company. This dark golden rum is aged for 10 years in charred white oak barrels, produces light notes of stone fruit, banana and pear and is balanced with caramelized vanilla. There is also a Gran Reserva Ocho (which is eight years old) which is a little cheaper but still a good sipper.

Avuá balm cachaça


“Given that most of the cachaças consumers are familiar with have not aged, this one may surprise you: it has a soft, mild mouthfeel and warm balms and spices, accompanied by a hint of vanilla,” says Mustipher. It’s her choice for someone who likes whiskey as there is some overlap in flavors, but there is an added intrigue from Cachaça’s “funky and floral” notes. We should also point out that it comes in a really nice bottle.

Zaya Gran Reserva Rum


This dark rum comes from Trinidad & Tobago and distilled molasses in a five-column still. This mixture of rare rum varieties is then aged for 16 years in used whiskey and bourbon barrels. Vanilla, coffee and chocolate notes dominate, and the finish is on the smokier end of the spectrum. If you prefer a slightly sweeter sipping rum, consider this Zaya Gran Reserva rum blend. Bonus tip: pair it with a full bodied cigar.

Barbancourt White Rum


Best rum under $ 30

It’s more likely that darker rums are recommended for slurping, but Mustipher highlights this white rum as one that is well worth drinking. “In Haiti, Barbancourt is so intertwined with drinking culture that it easily qualifies as a national treasure. It’s easy to see why,” says Mustipher. This light, clean and accessible rum is distilled according to a centuries-old tradition that emerged from the French methods of making cognac. While we at least recommended to attempt Mustipher also encourages you to mix this young rum with a local Haitian favorite called the Planteur, a planter’s punch with guava juice.

New cogaça in the barrel age of Fogo


What is the difference between cachaça and rum? While rum is usually made from molasses, cachaça is made from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. This distinctly Brazilian spirit gives you banana bread on the nose and black pepper on the finish. It’s tasty to enjoy on its own, but consider mixing cachaça with sugar and lime to make a refreshing caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail.

Panama Pacific 23 years old


Mustipher reports that this is mixed up by a selection of rums made by Don Pancho, a former Rum Minister (yes, that’s a real Job) in Cuba and is inspired by the rums he enjoyed as a young man before the revolution. It is first aged for three years in American oak before being transferred to Tennessee and Canadian rye whiskey barrels for another 20 years. Patience makes perfect. “The result: an elegant mind that is smooth and balances a round, creamy body with a light, supple mouthfeel,” says Mustipher. “Vanilla and honey are softened by oak and subtle spices.”

Cutwater Three Leaf Barrel Aged Rum


We’re big fans of the Cutwater Spirits canned cocktails, which we’ve had high ratings in the past thanks in part to the San Diego producer’s skills as a distillery. While some other canned cocktails use industrial alcohol, Cutwater distills its own spirits and you can taste the difference. If you’re more of a whiskey drinker, this is an excellent starting point for a transition to rum. There is some heat on the nose but it’s smoother on the finish, with some toasted caramel notes.

Hamilton St. Lucia 2004


Ed Hamilton is an icon in the rum world and editor of the Department of Rum’s blog. He sourced this rum, which Mustipher calls, “a madness that, if tasted blind, can easily pass as highland scotch.” You may have to be a little diligent to actually track down a bottle as it is rather rare. Mustipher suggests looking at a large store where shoppers often pin a few “gemstone” bottles to their large orders of mass-produced items. “For the smarter rum lover. When it comes to sipping, Mustipher points out the delicate fruit and floral flavors On the nose, giving way to a bright, classy palate. Also, dry, peppery ash notes transform into salty toffee and burnt liquorice You will enjoy the long, satisfying finish of this bottle. “This is the bottle I reach for when I want to realize that I am indeed a happy soul, “says Mustipher.

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