Real talk: The best rum drinks are tiki drinks. Especially when getting drunk is the whole point. Various rums, citrus-forward fruit juices, and tropical spices combine to make high-alcohol drinks like the Zombie, Moonraker, and various rum punches. Some of these tiki drinks are so strong, smart bartenders limit you to only one, maybe two per drinking session.
The throughline in the wild, wooly world of tiki is rum: dark rum, spiced rum, white rum, rhum agricole, and even cachaça. You need to have a lot of rum on hand if you’re going to throw a tiki party with your crew. More importantly, you’ll need a lot of different rums to execute these drinks.
With that in mind, we thought we’d compile a list of ten essential bottles of rum you need to snag if you’re going tiki for your next party. These are the bottles that make tiki what it is. We’ve added one extra bottle of rum-based liqueur at the end, which is the ace-in-the-hole of any great tiki bartender.
Let’s dive in!
BACARDI OCHO RESERVA
Story: Bacardi’s realignment with their rum expressions has been a rousing success. Their release of four-year-old and eight-year-old aged rums are brilliant and inexpensive bottles of rum. While their Cuatro is a great mixing rum, their Ocho Reserva really hits the mark when you want to mix up a delicious tiki drink.
Tasting Notes: The Cuban recipe is in full bloom here. Notes of freshly hewn grass are pinned with nice oaky nature and flourishes of rich allspice. Deep notes of tobacco and book leather come into play with a cotton candy sweetness that leads to apple and pear orchard earthiness. –Zach Johnston
APPLETON ESTATE SIGNATURE BLEND
Story: One of the most respected rum makers in the world, Jamaica’s Appleton Estate has been perfecting the art of distilling sugar cane since 1749. On top of being well-loved, it’s also the oldest rum distillery in the country and makes a variety of rums to fit every taste and income level.
Tasting Notes: This spiced, aged rum is a great gateway for Tiki fans. It mixes well into your favorite Mai Tai or Planter’s Punch. On its own, it’s spicy, peppery, with just a hint of caramel sweetness. You can sip it neat, but it shines as a cocktail ingredient. –Chris Osburn
CLEMENT RHUM AGRICOLE
Story: Rhum Agricole distinguishes itself by being made primarily from sugar cane juice. Comparatively, classic “rums” are often made with molasses or some combination of syrups. Clement’s Rhum Agricole is one of the most unique expressions of the style. The sugar cane juice is fermented and distilled once. Then it rests in stainless steel vats for nine months. Finally, the mellowed spirit is cut with volcanic spring water to bring the ABV down to 40 percent.
Tasting Notes: Blossoming fruit trees greets you with this sip. Apple, plum, and lemon blossoms dominate. There’s a minerality at play here which makes the texture very soft. Then the sweetness comes in like a refined cake sugar that gives way to a slight alcohol burn. If you’re making a Wiki Wiki or Three Dots And A Dash, you need this mineral-forward sugar-bomb booze on your shelf. –ZJ
PLANTATION BARBADOS RUM
Story: If you want to experience rums from different countries without having to leave a single distillery than Plantation is for you. They make a wide variety of offerings, including signature blends, classics (like overproof and original dark), as well as a range of vintages from Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Panama, Fiji, and even Peru.
Tasting Notes: Plantation created this expression to pay tribute to the history of Barbados (the first recorded rum distillation occurred on the island). Like most of the rums on this list, this offering shines in a Tiki-style cocktail. But, if you enjoy it on its own, you’ll be met with the flavors of tree nuts, candied fruits, vanilla, and sweet caramel. –CO
LEMON HART 151
Story: An over-proof Demerara dark rum is another essential part of tiki culture. For one, these drinks aren’t knockouts without very high ABV alcohol. For another, you can light this rum on fire to add to the presentation of your tiki cocktail. This Guyanan rum, made on the banks of the Demerara river, is the over-proof bottle most bartenders live by when making their tikis.
Tasting Notes: This is a tough rum. The alcohol is front and center and that makes this a hard rum to drink straight. Once you get past that alcohol burn, there are notes of rich molasses alongside a slight smokiness and seaside briny nature. Distant echoes of apple and pear come in next alongside an orange zest brightness and buttery caramel.
Finally, spicy cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg arrive with a slight black pepper edge. –ZJ
MOUNT GAY ECLIPSE
Story: The world’s oldest commercial rum distillery, Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum traces its genesis to 1703. Its rums are made from molasses and pure water before being filtered through a fairly interesting ingredient: coral. It’s distilled in both column and pot stills to give it a bit of history and modern technology.
Tasting Notes: Named for the solar eclipse in 1910, this rum was made for mixing into your favorite Tiki-style drinks like a classic Grog or Mai Tai. But, if sipped on its own, you’ll enjoy the flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, toasted oak, and hints of caramel all with a subtly spicy finish. –CO
Story: Myers’s Jamaican Rum is a unique expression of dark rums that work wonders as a tiki base. The molasses-based rum is a blend of nine different distilled rums that are then aged for four years in old bourbon casks. The end result is the backbone for tiki drinks that need a lush, dark rum base.
Tasting Notes: Richness is the best way to describe Myers’s. There’s a rich oaky nature with big notes of vanilla up front. Brown sugar, dark roasted coffee, pepper, baking spices, and an earthy nature define this one. It’s also got a brisk alcohol burn that carries on through the whole sip. –ZJ
CRUZAN AGED DARK RUM
Story: This distillery was founded in 1760 in Saint Croix in the US Virgin Islands. For the last eight generations, it’s been managed by the Nelthropp family (even though it’s currently owned by Beam Suntory). It’s made similarly to Cuba rums like Havana Club in that it’s a smoother, lighter style that relies more on taste than spices.
Tasting Notes: This molasses-based rum is a blend of a few different rums. It’s aged in American oak casks for 2-4 years to give it its distinctive flavor and appearance. It’s smooth, rich, and full of hints of caramel, vanilla, toffee, chocolate, and just a hint of heat in the end. –CO
WRAY & NEPHEW WHITE RUM
Story: This over-proof white rum is another essential bottle to have on hand. Wray and Nephew don’t push into the dark over-proof territory, we’re only talking 126 proof here. That’s 63 percent ABV, so it’s still got a hell of a kick. When you’re looking for a clean, crisp rum base, this is the play.
Tasting Notes: Overriped bananas and pineapples dominate here. Next, there’s an oily walnut essence that’s followed by white cake cut with molasses. Then the rum opens up with rich clove and allspice spiciness followed by a Bananas Foster sweetness and grilled pineapple earthiness with a slightly tart note. That’s all tied together with a consistent alcohol burn throughout. –ZJ
Story: One of the most well-known brands in the Dominican Republic, Brugal was founded in 1888. Winners of numerous awards, Brugal’s portfolio contains over a dozen varieties including Carta Dorada, Ron Blanco, XV, and Brugal Leyenda.
Tasting Notes: This classic, mixing rum is a blend of rums that were aged between 3 and 5 years in ex-bourbon casks. This aged rum is well-suited for mixing but also works well on its own with flavors of caramel, banana, dried apricots with a subtle, dry finish. –CO
ST. ELIZABETH ALLSPICE DRAM
Story: This Austrian-Jamaican liqueur is the secret weapon of all great tiki bartenders. The Austrian drink uses dark Jamaican rum as a base and then spikes it with allspice berries. The resulting spirit is the perfect accent for rum punches.
Tasting Notes: Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper are all present even though it’s only allspice berries and dark rum at play. There’s a dryness to the drink that cuts through the molasses sweetness of the rum base. In essence, this liqueur is the perfect accenting note to amp up spicy notes in any tiki cocktail. It also works as a great base for a rum old fashioned if you run out of juices while making your tiki drinks. –ZJ