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What is the best dark rum?

Rum – the sumptuous spirit of sunshine. We love it, especially dark rum, whether it’s in a beautiful Rum Old-Fashioned, a Dark and Stormy or Mai Tai, or neat and savoured slowly from a tasting glass. It’s a spirit that has a real sense of place and history, and is incredibly versatile too. . 

But, you may be asking, which is the best dark rum? We locked away our team of rum experts and refused to let them out until they answered the question once and for all. Sadly, they couldn’t agree on just one, so not only are they not allowed out, but we’ve instead had to create a guide to the best dark rums by style, price, and occasion. 

Casks ageing at Foursquare in Barbados

What makes rum dark?

Rum is made by fermenting either the byproduct of sugar production called molasses, or pure sugarcane juice. This is then distilled in either column stills or pot stills, and can be bottled unaged as white rum, or aged in oak barrels. 

This ageing process is accountable not just for the flavour, but also the colour. Time spent in oak results in delicious dark rum which develops flavours like vanilla, spice, tannins, coffee, chocolate, leather, woody notes… It really is astonishing. An extra factor in rum maturation is the Caribbean sun – the hot weather allows the spirit to age much faster (as much as three times the rate of Scotch whisky).

Additionally, the use of oak which was previously used for ageing other drinks, particularly sherry or bourbon, results in a spirit which takes on the flavour of the casks, gaining toasty vanilla and smoke in the case of bourbon, or raisin-like, sweet, Christmassy flavours from sherry. 

But it’s not as simple as that as many rums get their colour from, erm, colouring which is usually caramel. Just to confuse matters, a dark rum may get its colour from both ageing and from added colouring. Things are never straightforward in the rum world. 

Dark rums run the gamut from smooth, soft and creamy, to intensely funky, complex and spicy. 

A Dark ‘n’ Stormy made with Gosling’s rum

How to enjoy dark rum

The best dark rums can make for out-of-this-world cocktails, or they can be enjoyed on their own, sipped and savoured slowly. There’s really no right or wrong answer here; as with any spirit, if what you’ve poured is what you enjoy, you’ve done something right. 

That said, classic cocktails are a fantastic way to enjoy dark rum. A Planter’s Punch or a Dark and Stormy are great examples. And, if you have some Pusser’s rum to hand, we highly recommend making a Painkiller.

When it comes to sipping rum neat, use whatever glassware you like. Often the aesthetics and the feel of a glass can really add to the drinking experience. Of course, if you want to get the absolute most out of the aromas and flavours in your rum, you can’t go wrong with a tulip-shaped tasting glass either!

This is where they manufacture funk in Jamaica

Dark rum by style

Rum is not bound by any geographical designation, and so can be made all over the world but you’ll find some of the world’s finest examples around the Caribbean and Latin America. This was the birthplace of rum, and the styles of rum within it are a product of the empires which cultivated the sugarcane there centuries ago using slave labour from Africa. Yes, rum has a dark side. It’s not without its problems, see this fuller explainer on rum classification, but ordering rum by former colonial powers can be helpful. The British, French and Spanish who colonised the Caribbean and Latin America all had their own historic approaches to rum:

‘British’ rum

A style with a history and tradition linked with the Royal Navy, British-style rums, like their Spanish counterparts, are distilled from molasses (a byproduct of sugar production). However, they tend to be fermented longer, and instead of column stills, are distilled (for the most part) in pot stills. A longer maturation period can also be associated with the style, and the result is some of the richest, oiliest, and spiciest rum going. Look to Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana, and you’ll see just what we mean.  

Another characteristic found in the style, particularly in Jamaica, is ‘funk’ – a unique flavour produced by organic compounds known as esters. Funk tastes a bit, well, funky. Overripe tropical fruits, tar, savoury notes, umami… it’s unusual but if you get a taste for it, there’s no going back. Such high impact rums were usually blended with lighter styles to add flavour and body to big brands but we are increasingly seeing single-estate rums where you can get a taste of the uncut product.

Due to its history with the Royal Navy, British rums are often bottled at navy strength (100-proof imperial, or just over 57% ABV). These powerhouse spirits pack quite a punch, but are excellent in cocktails where their spicy intensity cuts through the mix and results in a fabulous mixed drink.

Diplomatico’s unusual batch kettle still in Venezuela

‘Spanish’ rum

Rum (or ‘ron’’ in Spanish) found in the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean and Latin America can be best described as a lighter, sweeter style. Countries like Cuba, Guatemala, Panama, and Puerto Rico are good examples, making their rum largely from molasses (though some sugar cane honey – concentrated sugar juice – is also used) and distilling it in continuous column stills (though others are used – see above). These stills are largely accountable for the smoother, gentler nature of the rum. 

Another key aspect is the ageing process. In many Spanish-speaking countries, rum is aged using the solera system – a racked setup of casks. New, unaged spirit is added to the uppermost barrels, and it is gradually moved to the lower ones as it ages. More new spirit is added to the top barrels as finished rum is taken from the bottom, and so you end up with a continuous cycle. Historically linked with the production of Brandy de Jerez and sherry, this method results in a very balanced and consistent spirit. 

The maison where Rhum Clement is made in Martinique

‘French’ rum (rhum agricole)

In its heyday, Caribbean colonies cultivated sugar by the boatload (literally) and it was one of the French empire’s most profitable commodities. However, due to war with Britain, the rise of sugar beet production in Europe, as well as revolution in the French Caribbean, the value of sugarcane plummeted. It dropped so low that rum became a far more profitable enterprise, and many distillers stopped using molasses, but instead simply juiced and fermented sugarcane. 

The most common type of rum distilled from sugar cane is called rhum agricole and is produced in French-speaking territories including Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana, and also on the island of Madeira which is part of Portugal. When aged in oak and bottled young, it is ‘ambré’ (amber), and if aged for more than three years, it is ‘vieux’ (old). Like other rum styles, you can also find it unaged, in this case labelled ‘blanc’ (white). Suitable either for sipping neat or for use in cocktails, this is a style known for its savoury, herbal flavours. It’s a unique spirit, totally different from the Spanish and British rums, but it deserves a spot in any bar. There are strict rules for the production of rhum agricole so there are rums made in a similar way, like clairin from Haiti or cachaça from Brazil, that aren’t classed as rhum agricole. 

Our top picks

Now we know a little about the core styles of rum and how they are made, let’s talk about some of the best dark rums. As with any spirit, this is all subject to taste, as well as how you drink your rum.

Navy-style dark rums

Often bottled at Navy Strength (57% ABV), Navy-style rums are archetypal British rums, containing a good dose of mature pot still rum, usually from Guyana. These exude intense spicy, sweet, rich flavours, with a full-bodied mouthfeel. These are great sipped neat (perhaps with a cube or two of ice), but are fantastic in cocktails too.

Pussers Gunpowder Proof

HMS Victory Navy Strength

Pussers Blue Label

Hattiers Resolute Rum

Gunroom Navy Rum

Buckingham Palace Coronation Navy Rum

Ancient Mariner 10 YO

Best dark rum for a Cuba Libre

The Cuba Libre is a classic, born in the early 1900s when bottled Coca-Cola was imported to Cuba for the first time. The story goes that Cuba Libres were originally made with Bacardi – a Cuban rum company which later moved its operations out of the country after its distilleries were expropriated by the Castro regime. So, unless you’ve got a Cuban-made bottle of Bacardi knocking about, it’s very hard to make a historically accurate version of the drink. You can, however, replicate the original by taking lighter, smoother Cuban-style rums, or you can experiment and create a Cuba Libre all of your own.

Eminente 7 Year Old

Havana Club Anejo

Bacardi 8 Year Old

Ron Santiago de Cuba 12 Year Old Extra Añejo 

Best dark rums for cocktails

The rum you use in your cocktails makes all the difference. Higher-proof, ester-rich Jamaican rums work great with citrus and tangy fruit, for example. And a sweet, creamy Barbados dark rum is superb in a Corn ‘n’ Oil. Many traditional Tiki drinks even call for a blend of multiple dark rums to make for a multifaceted and compelling pour.

Appleton Estate 12 Year Old

Smith and Cross 

Plantation Double Aged

Master of Malt Rum

Chairmans Reserve Finest

Goslings Black Seal

Plantation OFTD

Havana Club Anejo 7 Year Old

Dark rum for sipping

Spice, vanilla, caramel, coffee, leather, tropical fruit… dark rum is fabulous when sipped neat. Some of the best examples hold their own against any aged spirit, be it a nicely aged Scotch, Cognac, or Armagnac. When enjoyed on its own, all the aromas and flavours come to life, telling the story of how the rum was made and how it was aged. These are some of our all-time favourite dark rums which are ideal for sipping.

Zacapa Solera 23

Secret Dominican MoM

Diamond Distillery 19 Year Old

Appleton Estate 21 Year Old

Flying Dutchman MoM

El Dorado 21 Year Old

Flor de Cana 25 Year Old

Best aged rhum agricoles

The uniquely herbal, grassy, distinct French-style rhum agricoles are far less ubiquitous than their Spanish- and British-style counterparts. However, they can be utterly sublime. You can use them in cocktails, or just sip them neat in a tasting glass. The examples below demonstrate the stunning complexity of the style.

Clement 10 Year Old

J Bally 12 Year Old

French Overseas Remarkable Regional Rums

Pere Labat 2009

Charmarel VSOP 4 Year Old

Best spiced rums

One of the most popular categories of all, these sweet, spiced concoctions combine dark rum with a delicious blend of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. We really enjoy these with a splash of fresh lime juice and a few ice cubes, but they also work wonders in cocktails, a rum and coke, or enjoyed neat.


Chairmans Reserve Spiced

Depth Charge Spiced

Rumbulliion! XO 15

The Kraken Spiced

Red Leg Spiced Rum

Rum tasting sets

Drinks by the Dram’s rum tasting sets are perfect as gifts, but also offer an opportunity to learn more and broaden your palate. Each set contains five 30cl samples, showcasing rum’s wonderful variety.

Premium Rum Tasting Set

Spiced Rum Tasting Set

I love dad rum set

The post What is the best dark rum? appeared first on Master of Malt Blog.

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