As a spirits judge, I get to drink a hell of a lot of dark, gold, white, black, and flavored rum throughout the year. As with everything in this old world of ours, it can’t all be good, and often it’s not. But I’ve learned that the mediocre and bad only make the good stuff taste better by comparison. Likewise, as a whiskey drinker, finding a great dark rum is often a delight (and a great change of pace). That means it’s time for another dark rum blind taste test.
For this blind taste test, I grabbed some new and classic rums that have come across my desk. The thrust of this was to find a dark rum — or “aged rum” if you want to get super technical — that tastes good. I’m looking at the depth of the palate, a balance of flavors, and whether or not I’d actually drink the stuff in real life. Origin and price are not really issues with this blind tasting, though all of these rums are affordable/mid-range bottles between $35 and $85 (and, spoiler alert, no, the most expensive bottle didn’t win). There are no one-offs that cost hundreds of bucks and are damn near impossible to find. You should be able to find all of these bottles (somewhat) easily.
Our lineup today is:
- Diplomatico Selección de Familia
- Bayou Rum Mardi Gras XO
- Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rum Rye Cask Finish
- Botran No. 15
- Ron del Barrilito Three Stars Superior Especial
- Ron Zacapa 23
Let’s dive in and find a great-tasting dark/aged rum to stock on your home bar cart this fall!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Blind Taste Test Posts Of The Last Six Months
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- The Best-Known Basic Bottles Of Bourbon, Blind Tasted And Ranked
- Blind Soda Taste Test: Can Any Cherry Soda Beat Cherry Coke?
Part 1: The Tasting
The nose is soft with a nice balance of burnt sugar, a hint of red berry, and a smidge of honey with plenty of vanilla oils and a hint of a tannic oak stave. The palate leans into that oak but sweetens toward buttery toffee, more tart berries, and a nice hint of mint tobacco. The end lingers while very mild winter spices merge with the vanilla and sweet oak on the finish.
This was pretty okay overall. It had hints of spice but felt a little thin.
The nose opens with a mix of orchard florals next to bruised plum, mild cherry, and a hint of cedar bark. The palate leans into orange zest with a sweet edge as tart currants and meaty prunes mingle with soft oak and a sense of spiced tobacco. The end has a honeyed sweetness with a touch of black pepper, more orange, and a whisper of dried tobacco and cedar bark.
This was pretty damn nice. It’s full-bodied and well-rounded with some serious depth.
The nose here is pretty hard to parse but does eventually reveal subtle winter spices, maybe some black pepper, ginger snaps, maple syrup, and a twinge of woodiness. The palate is soft and smooth with a hint of white pepper spice next to vanilla pods, burnt sugars, and a hint of dried mint. The end is short but does hit on a blackcurrant tart tobacco leaves and a mild sense of Christmas spices.
This was pretty thin, again. It was nice but felt like a cocktail base more than anything.
Cedar and winter spices come through on the nose with a hint of fruit cake stuffed with candy fruits and citrus zest next to mild molasses. The palate opens with a soft vanilla base and builds toward fresh peaches and plums with a hint of tangerine. The end merges the vanilla, fruit, and spice together on a thin finish.
This was perfectly fine but didn’t quite land the finish. Again, this felt like a mixer from the jump.
The nose opens with a sense of dark molasses next to nougat and vanilla wafers with a hint of honey, clove, and cinnamon biscuits. The palate leans into honey with a nutty vibe next to singed orchard wood, apple cores, and a hint of smoked plum. The end warms with a sense of winter spice next to grilled starfruit, burnt orange, and a hint of leather-wrapped spiced tobacco.
This was pretty damn nice. It’s not a winner but it’s close.
Dark chocolate powder dominates the nose with a hint of orange oils, vanilla pods, and the faintest hint of funkiness. The palate leans into nuts and honey with the dark chocolate popping back in with a sense of sharp spices and orange oils next to dark molasses. The end has a tangerine and plum vibe that leads to sticky toffee pudding and mild spice tobacco and oak stave feel.
This was pretty nice overall.
Part 2: The Ranking
6. Botran No. 15 — Taste 4
Average Price: $33
This Guatemalan rum is made with the solera method (where new juice is added to vats before the old juice is completely emptied). The maximum age of the rum in the blend is 15 years with a good portion much younger than that.
This was just too thin today. The proofing washed out the nose and finish. That means that I’d use this primarily for mixing as there are decent flavor notes available.
5. Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rum Rye Cask Finish — Taste 3
Average Price: $33
This brand-new release from Bacardi leans into the current whiskey craze. The juice is Bacardi’s now-classic Ocho Reserva — a blend of eight to 12-year-old casks — finished in rye casks from Kentucky. Those barrels are then blended and proofed for this release.
This was just a little too thin. It was perfectly drinkable but didn’t have the depth I was looking for. That said, this feels like a great contender for a rum old fashioned with a little walnut or chocolate bitters.
4. Ron del Barrilito Three Stars Superior Especial — Taste 5
Average Price: $70
This Puerto Rican rum is a bar-back classic. The juice is aged between six and 10 years in Olorosso casks. Those barrels are blended into this mix and proofed down before bottling.
This was also very much “fine.” I can see sipping this over some rocks, but it really feels like a solid cocktail base more than anything else.
3. Diplomatico Selección de Familia — Taste 1
Average Price: $50
This Venezuelan rum is all about that final blend. The juice is made from a mix of new American white oak, ex-bourbon, and ex-sherry casks. Once blended together, the rum is proofed down and bottled.
This was a nice sipper overall, albeit a little sweet. Still, there was depth here that made it quite enjoyable overall. Still, this was on the sweeter side and that held it back a tad for this ranking.
2. Bayou Rum Mardi Gras XO — Taste 2
Average Price: $84
Coming from Louisiana, it should come as no surprise that his rum celebrates Mardi Gras. The juice in the bottle is made from single-estate sugar cane. The distillate is aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for at least six years before vatting, proofing, and bottling.
This was a pretty nice sipper overall but a little washed out on the end. Still, this over a few rocks would be great. That said, it wasn’t my favorite sip of the panel today.
1. Ron Zacapa 23 — Taste 6
Average Price: $45
This Guatemalan rum is a serious bottle. Sugar cane is derived from single estate cane grown in the highlands. The first-press sugar cane juice is fermented with pineapple yeast before distillation. The juice is then aged in a combination of ex-bourbon, Oloroso sherry, and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks for six to 23 years (the “23” is just the oldest barrel in the blend and not the age statement).
This was the best “sipper” on the list for me. It wasn’t mind-blowing but scratched an itch for a decent sipping dark rum. Looking at the price now, it’s also cheap enough to mix into a killer rum-forward cocktail too!
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Overall, there were some solid rums on the panel today with only a few really jumping out. Now that said, all of these were perfectly well-made. There weren’t any faults in the product. Some of them simply had more to offer than the others.
To that end, the top three are really where you want to focus your energy and money. if you’re looking for a great mixing aged rum, then go with Ron del Barrilito Three Stars. If you’re looking for an easy and classic sipper, then go with Ron Zacapa 23. It’s not going to change your life but it’ll get the job done. Plus, that distinct chocolate note helps this make a great old fashioned with a hint of walnut bitters and a twist of lime (trust me).