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8 Absolute Best Rums To Elevate Your Cocktails, According To Rum Experts

Bottles of rum
Bottles of rum - Static Media / Shutterstock

It's not hard to find cocktails that showcase rum, and for good reason -- this spirit is delicious. Among the many types of rum, however, not all deliver the complexity, intrigue, or richness that completely transform a familiar cocktail into a masterful mixture. There are several ways that rum producers give the product extra care and attention, whether it's the quality of ingredients, the meticulousness that's employed, or the heritage that informs the production process. By employing the same care and expertise when selecting premium rums, those making the cocktails can elevate their craft even further.

To help us assemble this list, we've consulted two experts from the world of rum. Josh Ibañez is the bar manager of Rumba, a rum bar in Seattle, Washington, with an intimate knowledge of rum cocktail alchemy. Noting how diverse rum is compared to other spirits, Ibañez tells us, "The flavors can range dramatically. For that reason, we figure out what cocktail we are trying to achieve, then shape the rum style around it."

We've also consulted with JP, co-founder of a Jamaican restaurant and rum bar in Auckland, New Zealand named Nanny's Eatery, who has even focused his passion on producing Nanny's own Lost Barrel Rum. JP perfectly highlights what rum has to offer drinks, saying, "In the diverse world of spirits, rum shines for its rich flavors and versatility in cocktails." With the recommendations of these experts as our roadmap, here are the absolute best rums to elevate your cocktails.

Read more: The 40 Absolute Best Cocktails That Feature Only 2 Ingredients

Rhum J.M Agricole Blanc 110 Proof

Rhum J.M Blanc bottle
Rhum J.M Blanc bottle - rhumjmusa/Instagram

Josh Ibañez uses J.M's 110-proof Rhum Agricole Blanc in Rumba's long story short cocktail, which he credits for "creating a martini-esque cocktail that skews tropical." The world of rum is not only diverse but widespread. While rum-producing regions such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are famous for their liquid exports, these aren't the only Caribbean islands that share paradise with the world in the form of rum -- or rhum, we should say, in keeping with the French spoken in Martinique, where J.M produces this white rhum agricole.

Rhum agricole is different to other rums, as a unique and popular style in the French Caribbean islands. French speakers among us may recognize that agricole simply means "agricultural," referencing the fermentation of fresh sugarcane juice instead of concentrated molasses, as we may expect from most rums. The use of sugarcane juice allows the rhum to retain a sense of terroir, meaning that the region and its conditions affect the flavor of the final product. For this rhum, the terroir manifests as minerality from Mount Pelee's volcanic soil and a pop of fruity notes from the island's humidity.

Ibañez chooses this white rhum agricole for its floral qualities which, paired with gin, passionfruit, and vermouth in the long story short cocktail, creates an interplay between the botanical and tropical notes. The flavor profile of this unaged white rhum is further heightened by the rhum's high alcohol at a whopping 110 proof.

Kiyomi Japanese Rum

Kiyomi Japanese Rum glass
Kiyomi Japanese Rum glass - zappi.lisboa/Instagram

It's not just the world of whiskey in which Japan is staking its claim. Now, fans of quality rum can also get excited. Kiyomi Japanese Rum is a featured performer in Rumba's Japanese snow monkey cocktail, with a supporting cast of sweet Japanese vermouth, lemon, raspberry, and sweet nigori sake. Josh Ibañez says, "The Japanese rum contains a bright, funky, candy-like profile without being sweet, but pairs excellently with raspberry and nigori sake to complete the Japanese theme."

This rum is a product of the Helios Distillery in Okinawa, Japan. The molasses used in Kiyomi comes from local sugarcane and delivers a minerality it collects from Okinawa's soil, which is even perceivable in the final product. The collection of islands far southwest of Japan's mainland, including Okinawa, is the sole spot where sugarcane grows in the country, and its warmer temperatures play a key part in this.

Kiyomi features bright fruity notes, while texturally, its aforementioned minerality gives it a structure that can help it keep more sugary ingredients on the straight and narrow. A touch of spice also rounds out the palate and adds complexity.

Dakabend Unaged Oaxacan White Rum

Dakabend White Rum bottle
Dakabend White Rum bottle - dakabendrum/Instagram

Josh Ibañez's claim that rum might be the most versatile spirit in the world is aptly exemplified by another of his suggestions -- this time from Mexico. Dakabend is produced in Oaxaca, a region best known for producing mezcal. As it turns out, this region doesn't only grow agave to produce world-class tequila and mezcal, but sugarcane that makes excellent premium rums such as this one.

Dakabend ferments freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, not unlike rhum agricole from the French Carribean islands. The sugarcane Dakabend uses comes from Oaxaca's Zapotec mountains, where one of the local culture's sayings lends the brand its name, which translates to "the disobedient one." Undergoing a double distillation using a mezcal pot still powered by wood fire, it's a rum that showcases an agricultural, production, and cultural terroir.

Dakabend is a pretty out-there version of an already diverse spirit. Explaining that it boasts "a briney profile that can lend itself to bring out salty elements in a cocktail," Ibañez says that it makes a great pairing alongside tequila or mezcal. This quality is reminiscent of black olives, making the rum a distinctly savory contribution to cocktails. There's also an herbaceousness to the rum that makes it as complex as it is intriguing. This is a great option for a rum twist on a margarita, and it also makes for a unique yet smashable Hemingway daiquiri.

Chairman's Reserve The Forgotten Casks

Chairman's Reserve Forgotten Casks bottle
Chairman's Reserve Forgotten Casks bottle - chairmansreserveofficial/Instagram

Let's touch down for a second in Saint Lucia, another Caribbean island with rum that's well worth considering to elevate your cocktail. Another of Josh Ibañez's top picks is Chairman's Reserve Forgotten Casks, a sophisticated rum that carries the extra weight of age. Ibañez tells us that it has "a leather and tobacco driven profile that can play well with scotch." These earthy and wood-heavy notes also make this rum a fun substitute in a boozy whiskey cocktail, such as a smooth old fashioned.

Forgotten Casks is an attempt to replicate the happy results of an unfortunate accident that occurred at the distillery. In 2007, a fire ravaged St. Lucia Distillers, causing a few casks to go missing in the ensuing chaos. These original forgotten casks were eventually rediscovered, having conditioned the rum with far more barrel aging than the distillery could use for its usual blend. As it turns out, the rum inside was spectacular and earned itself a blend and release of its own while introducing a new extra aging process for this enduringly popular product.

The barrels used to age this rum are ex-bourbon, with an additional finishing period in oak vats after blending rums of between six and 11 years of age. This extra time in wood imbues the rum with notes like vanilla while allowing characters of raisin, honey, and a touch of spice to develop. To remind us of its origin, there's a subtle tropical fruit element and a memory of smoke.

La Favorite Cœur De Canne Rhum Agricole Blanc

La Favorite Coeur de Canne
La Favorite Coeur de Canne - distillerielafavorite/Instagram

It seems Martinique has a lot to offer our cocktails, with another of Josh Ibañez's suggestions booking us a return ticket. La Favorite is an independent distillery that's family-owned on this French Caribbean island, and its Cœur de Canne is a white rhum that features a complexity that enriches its sweetness. Describing this rhum as "a true terroir-driven agricole that breathes grass trimmings and vegetal-ness," Ibañez notes, "A big, bright pisco would pair well!" A tropical punch that mixes pisco and Cœur de Canne plays sweet against sour, while the levity of each makes for a refreshing tipple. There's a citrusy quality to the rhum, and its fruity notes go a long way in a tropical cocktail.

The distillery has been owned and operated by the Dormoy family since 1842, who even built a castle on the property in 1922 as the business found renewed success during World War I. In the process of producing rhum agricole, sugarcane needs to be pressed within just a few hours of harvesting. La Favorite's estate achieves this by cultivating its own sugarcane on site, which accounts for more than half of its supply, with nearby sugarcane farmers supplying the remainder. This means that sipping rhum from La Favorite offers, as Ibañez suggests, about as much terroir as a spirit can.

Opthimus 18 Year Rum

Opthimus 18 rum bottle
Opthimus 18 rum bottle - opthimusrum_usa/Instagram

Over in Auckland, New Zealand, JP from Nanny's Eatery recommends one of his favorite premium rums. "Opthimus 18 Year Old Rum from the Dominican Republic, with its complex vanilla, oak, and spice notes, pairs beautifully with the dark and stormy cocktail," JP says. "This combination brings out the rum's depth and complements its spice with the cocktail's ginger beer and lime, creating a perfect balance." The advanced complexity of Opthimus 18 partly inspired JP's approach to the restaurant's own Caribbean rum label under its Nanny's Crafted Collections range of spirits.

Opthimus is produced by Oliver & Oliver, an independent bottling company that releases rums of South American and Caribbean origin. This means that, rather than distill its own spirit, the company will purchase already-distilled rum and age, bottle, and release it under one of its brands. Opthimus is one of these labels, with 15-, 18-, 21-, and 25-year-old expressions, as well as some barrel-finished rums.

As with some of Oliver & Oliver's rums, the 18-year-old expression is produced through a solera system, a process of blending younger and older liquids across stacked barrels to create a continuous chain of aging. It's a process usually used in the production of Spanish sherry, but for Opthimus and other Oliver & Oliver releases, this means an ever-flowing river of expertly aged premium rum.

Don Papa Rum

Don Papa Rum bottle
Don Papa Rum bottle - donpaparum/Instagram

Another exemplary rum from JP's list of recommendations is one from another region not often associated with rum. "The Don Papa 7-year-old rum from the Philippines, known for its lighter, fruity profile with hints of citrus, vanilla, and honey, is best enjoyed in a tropical tiki cocktail," JP tells us. "This pairing accentuates the rum's tropical flavors against the cocktail's fresh fruit juices and liqueur, transporting you to sun-kissed shores."

Don Papa uses a variety of sugar plant known as noble cane, which is harvested after collecting nutrients from Mount Kanlaon's volcanic soil and processed into molasses for rum. Even the water used in the blend is spring water from the mountain. While this isn't terroir in the same sense as our rhum agricoles, there's no doubt this rum is a product of its unique location. Don Papa also gets some of its flavor from the time it spends in ex-bourbon barrels, absorbing flavors like vanilla from the American oak. Other notes help Don Papa shine in a tropical cocktail, such as the rum's honey and bright fruit notes.

It's a rum with a medium body and levity, a world removed from the robust, serious rums that lend themselves only to sipping. This is a rum with a penchant for fun, and it suits light-hearted cocktails and occasions.

Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rare Casks

Appleton Estate 12 bottle river
Appleton Estate 12 bottle river - appletonestate/Instagram

For our next stop on this world tour of the best rums you can use to elevate your cocktails, we've got a brand that always comes out winning in rankings of Jamaican rum. Appleton's Estate is not as obscure as some of the other brands featured on this list, but the 12 Year Old Rare Casks is a member of the family that can do wonders to improve a rum cocktail. With all rums in this blend spending at least 12 years in oak barrels in the Nassau Valley's tropical environment, it's mellow yet complex and rich. While some rums have surprised us with hairpin turns on the road of expectation, Appleton Estate does what we expect from rum. It just does it extremely well.

For this reason, you can't really go wrong with a cocktail for this rum, and any of the classics benefit from a splash of this 12-year aged rum -- whether you want to add a little depth to a refreshing Mojito or let the spirit shine in a stronger drink like the cable car cocktail. While this isn't a spiced rum as the latter drink prefers, strong hazelnut, baking spice, orange, and roasted notes of chocolate and coffee give this Appleton Estate spirit a heft that balances the citrus in the drink.

Methodology

Many colorful cocktails
Many colorful cocktails - 5PH/Shutterstock

We're fortunate enough to have the input of two dedicated experts in rum to help us assemble this list. The only rum Tasting Table added to this list was the final one, Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rare Casks, which I included because I wanted to let Jamaican rum have its moment, too. I've worked in the spirits industry and around rum for many years across marketing, sales, retail, and hospitality, and felt that this particular drink deserves a spot on this list of the best rums you can to use to elevate cocktails. Consumer feedback, commercial presence, and brand recognition also factored into this final selection.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.