Best Sipping Rums 2018

The biggest players in the sugarcane game want to make the dark spirit your new favorite go-to

Celebrating a special occasion? You may readily reach for a splurge-worthy bottle of whiskey, cognac or even aged tequila. But this summer, consider raising a glass of top-shelf rum instead. 

The cane spirit has been historically overlooked as far as its premium expressions. Last year, only some 16 percent of rum sales were premium compared to 66 percent for whiskey. But that's not for lack of quality products; many producers have been making premium aged rums for years. But with reinvigorated interest in Cuba coupled with the resurgence of tiki bars in America and consumer fascination with new ingredients, rum continues making its play for premium. This is ever more evident as category leader Bacardí makes a bet with a new line of premium expressions, adding to the beloved industry favorite Bacardí Ocho with the release of Añejo Cuatro, Gran Reserva Diez and Gran Reserva Limitada last month. 

How to Read a Rum Label

Now, if your last encounter with rum had you shaking off a terrible hangover or you're thinking $60 sounds pricey for a bottle of rum, there are some misconceptions to clear up. First, the number listed on Caribbean rums typically refers to the oldest rum in the mix, unlike whiskey, which lists the youngest (there are some exceptions). But if the number on your "extra-old" rum still seems low, consider the warm, humid climates from which rum comes: Tropical aging can expedite evaporation twofold, meaning flavors and smoothness develop quicker in the barrel. A bottle of Bacardí Añejo Cuatro, for example, might take only four years to reach its optimum flavor profile, but if it were aged in the more temperate northern Europe, this process could take almost a decade.

Types of Rum

Another thing to remember is that due to a lack of regulations, rum is incredibly diverse. In contrast to tequila, which must be produced using 100 percent blue agave in designated regions of Mexico, or Scotch, which must be produced with malted barley in Scotland, rum can come from technically anywhere, though it feels most at home on island nations, such as the Caribbean. And it can be made from sugarcane, sugarcane molasses or other cane by-products. That means rums can range from sweet-but-complex darker varieties to drier ones with strong oaky finishes—all worthy of tasting on their own. 

Just take it from Joseph Bennett, bar manager at Fine & Rare in New York. "Rum is the Wild West of spirits," he explains. It is the tiki spirit, which is one of exploration and creativity. "Try everything: Every country has its own style, and every bottle has its own character. If you think you don't like rum, there is absolutely a rum that you will like; you just have to find it."

Ready to search out that special bottle that will make you fall in love with the sugarcane spirit? Here are eight excellent premium rums to help get you started.

Zaya Gran Reserva 12 Year


This entry-level Trinidadian aged rum offers a palate of cocoa, vanilla, maple and banana with hints of apple and citrus peel. It stands excellently alone or with a pairing of nuts and cheeses. $35

Bacardí Gran Reserva Diez


This brand-new bottling showcases the master blender's reserve, aged for a minimum of 10 years to yield a full body; dark amber color; and notes of tropical fruit and spices, followed by a pleasant oak finish. Hold the Coca-Cola. $47

The Real McCoy 12-Year-Aged Rum


Produced at the Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados, this standby offers smoothness with a nose of oak and cocoa, and a palate of caramel, wood, spice and a hint of tobacco. $40

Chairman's Reserve The Forgotten Casks


Drawing from older barrels that were once misplaced, this limited-edition bottling from Saint Lucia blends rums from Coffey and pot stills that have been aged separately in bourbon and Tennessee whiskey barrels before coming together in oak for a total age of seven to 12 years. A flavor profile of grilled tropical fruit along with a smoky and dry finish turn this rum into a truly memorable sipper. $48

Flor de Caña 18 Year


Pop an ice cube into this amber-hued Nicaraguan rum—aged in ex-bourbon and whiskey barrels—and watch as fragrant banana and caramel open up to notes of dried fruit, vanilla and spices. This is everything you want in a baseline sipping rum. $50

Plantation XO 20th Anniversary


For this commemorative bottling, Plantation's oldest Bajan rum reserves, aged between 12 and 20 years, are aged in bourbon casks and finished in cognac barrels—tapping into Maison Ferrand's history of shipping discarded cognac barrels to the Caribbean. Spicy notes of vanilla and dark chocolate are followed by ripe banana, sugarcane and roast coconut. $50

Facundo Exquisito Rum


This premium rum from the Bahamas is one of four in the Facundo line. Though all four are worthy pours, Exquisito derives a unique character from its time in sherry casks: Sweet, sherry-esque notes of dark fruits like dried raisin and plum emerge proudly from the baking spices, fresh sugarcane and oak.  $95

Mount Gay 1703 Master Select


From the Mount Gay Distillery in Barbados comes this stunner that blends rums of copper pot and copper column stills ranging from 10 to 30 years. Released in 2009, 1703 is the distillery's rarest rum—there are only 12,000 bottles, all individually numbered. If you get your hands on one, you'll be rewarded with an excellent rum that layers notes of banana with whispers of char, loads of spice and a super subtle sweetness that nicely offsets the rest.  $150