Can Mid-Level Dark Rums Beat Expensive Rums In A ‘Double Blind’ Test?

Great dark rum tends to be a lot cheaper than great bourbon or great scotch. That’s not to say there aren’t expensive rums on the shelf, it’s more that the incredibly wild whisk(e)y/spirits hype machine hasn’t quite hit the rum industry in the same way… yet. That means you can still get some very good, old, and well-built dark rums for a great price.

But do these excellent bang-for-the-buck sippers really stack up to the most outstanding bottles in the field?

To figure this out, I’m tasting four affordable-yet-refined dark rums against four that are going to cost you in the hundreds of dollars. This isn’t about the bottom shelf versus the top shelf. It’s more about the mid-range bottles that are in the $30-$70 range with big age statements and plenty of refinement against the stuff you’d likely break out for a holiday or big celebration when you want to impress your guests — bottles in the $150 to $500 price range.

I also tasted these double-blind. I have a shelf of cheaper rums and the good stuff already on two different shelves (with about 30 bottles on both). So my wife simply grabbed four at random from each, poured them, and let me dive in. I didn’t know anything else.

Our lineup ended up being as follows:

  • Santa Teresa 1796
  • Mount Gary Port Cask Finish
  • Bacardi 10
  • Equiano
  • Appleton Estate 30
  • Ron Abuelo XV Napoleon Cask
  • Flor de Cana 7
  • Diplomatico Single Vintage 2005

Let’s see if the mid-range dark rums can stand up to the big bottles.

Also Read: The Top Five UPROXX Rum Posts From The Past Six Months

Part 1: The Tasting

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

What a nice nose! It’s full of fresh honey over fresh and red berries with a dusting of dark chocolate next to a hint of old molasses. The palate layers vanilla into the creamy honey as green and almost woody bananas lead to toasted coconut with a hint of wet cedar behind it all. The chocolate returns near the end and slightly bitters as a soft, tropical fruit vibe rounds things out.

This was nice. I have no idea what it is but set a nice precedent.

Taste 2

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This has a distinct bourbon vanilla nose with a hint of buttery and rich caramel that gives way to a plum pudding meatiness and spice with a tiny echo of marzipan with rose water. The taste is a balance of bright red fruit next to moist and spicy slices of holiday cake with plenty of candied and dried fruit and a hint of walnut and black molasses. The finish has a dark chocolate-covered marzipan vibe that leads back to the candied fruits and spices of the holiday cake before an old cellar beam vibe takes over and everything slowly fades away.

This is so much more complex than the last sip. It’s clearly something bigger and bolder (and likely way more expensive). It’s also freaking delicious.

Taste 3

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

A mild hint of dark and worn leather leads to a rush of ripe and funky tropical fruits that have been soaked in rum — “Hello, Bacardi!”

The palate confirms this assumption with a rich and buttery Bananas Foster vibe that leads to wet brown sugar, holiday spice mixes, and plenty of dried fruit with a thinness to it. The butteriness from the top of the palate turns creamy as the sip leans into old leather, dried cedar bark braids, and a hint of vanilla-cherry tobacco.

I’m guessing this is Bacardi 8 or 10. It’s really nice but a little thin.

Taste 4

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Dark leather and dry cedar bark lead to a bruised peach swimming in dark molasses on the nose. The palate is classic with plenty of brown sugar and holiday spices with a hint of floral black tea next to toasted oak staves and a hint of dark cacao. The finish leans into the spice and tobacco sharpness with a focus on cloves and anise as the vanilla creeps into the cinnamon-laced tobacco leaves.

Not sure what this is but it’s a contender!

Taste 5

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Woah. Strike what I just said above. This is wild on the nose with coconut charcoal next to green plantains, creamy honey, a hint of banana leaf, and chili-chocolate tobacco stuffed into an old charred oak barrel. The palate is completely different with layers of singed pineapple skins next to black molasses dripping all over a stack of cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, and nutmeg with hints of sassafras, coconut shell, cedar bark, sweetgrass, and heavy-duty funk all making appearances. The end gets creamy smooth with plenty of spice, funky fermented tropical fruit, and leather tobacco pouches.

This is something way older and deeper.

Taste 6

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Again, wow. This is like silk on the nose with a softly layered apple crumble with plenty of cinnamon and clove covered in butter-soaked brown sugar with a hint of vanilla oils, orange zest, and dry pine resin rounding out the nose. The palate is part rum-soaked raisins and part creamy yet floral honey with a throughline of tart apples and candied pears. The mid-palate shifts from a lush vanilla cream base toward old cedar boxes filled with milk chocolate tobacco leaves and old boot leather with a dash of dried lavender.

This is beautiful. Right now, it’s also the pour to beat.

Taste 7

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

And we’re back. This is thin and tinny on the nose with hints of singed coconut shells next to some old dates and vanilla extract bottles. The palate has a honeyed vibe with a dash of dark chocolate that feels like additives more than flavor notes. The end is thin and has a touch of orange zest and almond next to spicy fruit.

I don’t know what this is but it’s a mixing rum at best.

Taste 8

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Here we go. There’s a mix of sharp candied ginger next to a moist and rum-soaked Christmas cake brimming with candied nuts, dried red fruits, candied citrus, and tons of clove, allspice, nutmeg, and ground ginger with this slight whisper of funky old cellar beams. The taste amps the spiciness up but keeps the taste lush with orange oils, vanilla paste, marzipan, brandy-soaked plums, and maple syrup-soaked oak staves. The mid-palate lets all that sweetness shine before the end warms every so slightly toward those holiday spices while brandied plums attach to a chewy tobacco leaf with a hint of dirty cellar floor lurking underneath everything.

From my notes: “Well… that’s going to win. Done. Period.”

Part 2: The Ranking

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

8. Flor de Caña 7 Gran Reserva — Taste 7

William Grant & Sons

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $38

The Rum:

The Nicaraguan rum is a quality product at its price point. The juice — made from local cane grown in volcanic soil — is aged in fresh white oak barrels for seven years in the shadow of the San Cristóbal Volcano. The barrels are then batched and proofed down with volcanic soil-filtered spring water.

Bottom Line:

Yeah, this is definitely a mixing rum. So… I called it. Still, this was nowhere near the quality of the rest of the list.

7. Bacardi 10 — Taste 3

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Bacardi

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $40

The Rum:

This is Bacardi’s high-end expression that’s crazy cheap. The rum is aged for ten long years in lightly charred oak before its charcoal filtered and brought down to proof, creating an ultra-refined expression.

Bottom Line:

This had a slight bourbon vibe while feeling like a well-made rum all around. The middle was a little thin and that’s the only reason it faltered today. I think this is a pretty solid cocktail base though because you can fill in that thin-ish middle.

6. Equiano — Taste 4

Equiano

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $60

The Rum:

Global Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell masterminded this expression — combining African and Caribbean rum traditions. The bottle is created under the watchful eye of rum master Richard Seale, who blends rums from Mauritius and Barbados into a one-of-its-kind final product that feels like the future of rum in a bottle.

Bottom Line:

This, again, felt like a great cocktail rum. It’s perfectly fine as a sipper but felt like a foundation to build upon more than anything else today.

5. Santa Teresa 1796 — Taste 1

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Santa Teresa

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $42

The Rum:

The Venezuelan rum is a blend of rums aged from four to 35 years in former Spanish sherry and brandy barrels. Those key barrels are hand-selected for their depth and then married into this masterful rum.

Bottom Line:

This was a great start but ultimately proved to be just … nice. I’d pour this over a rock or two and go about my day without thinking about it again.

4. Appleton Estate 30 Very Rare Limited Edition — Taste 5

Appleton Estate 30
Appleton Estate

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $500

The Rum:

This blend comes from the master of Jamaican rum, Master Blender Joy Spence. This release from 2018 blends rums that are at least 30 years old with some barrels north of 50 years old. Like all Appleton releases, the juice in the bottle is a cane-to-glass spirit with everything from the growing of the cane to the aging and blending happening in-house at Appleton.

Bottom Line:

I kind of knew this was an Appleton Estate thanks to all that funk. Still, this was a lot. I really loved the palate but you had to get past a funked-to-the-max nose to get to it.

3. Ron Abuelo XV Napoleon Cask — Taste 6

Ron Abuelo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $290

The Rum:

This Panamain rum spends 14 years aging in bourbon casks. That juice is then refilled into old Napoleon Cognac casks for a final maturation before proofing and bottling.

Bottom Line:

This was hard to beat. It’s damn near perfect. Look, the top three are all splitting hairs. This was really good but about 0.5 percent less rounded than the next entry. See, splitting hairs.

2. Mount Gay The Port Cask Finish — Taste 2

Mount Gay

ABV: 55%

Average Price: $209

The Rum:

Master Blender Trudiann Branker hit it out of the park with this Barbados rum. The expression is a blend of rum aged for five years in Tawny Port casks that’s married to 14-year-old rums aged in ex-bourbon casks. That blend is then transferred to fresh Tawny Port casks for a final year of resting/finishing. The rum is then bottled at cask strength with no fussing whatsoever.

Bottom Line:

Again, super splitting hairs with this at two instead of one. This is just straight-up delicious. The only reason it’s not first is that the next one was what I wanted a pour of immediately after this tasting.

1. Diplomático Single Vintage 2005 — Taste 8

Diplomatico

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $138

The Rum:

This well-crafted expression is a marrying of Venezuelan rums aged in ex-bourbon and ex-single malt casks for up to 12 years. The rums are then hand-selected and hand-blended to find the perfect balance of taste and texture. The blend finally spends a year in sherry casks to give it that final note of ultra-refinement.

Bottom Line:

This was perfect. Deep. Engaging. Vivacious. Lush. This was a great end to this tasting.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Rum Blind
Zach Johnston

Yeah, I’m not that surprised here. I know how to tell a cheaper pour from an expensive one because that’s… literally my job. My editor keeps thinking I’ll be fooled and it’s just not gonna happen when the quality spread is this noticeable. There’s a thinness to the cheaper stuff that you rarely find in the higher ends. You can feel the age, for sure. But that doesn’t mean as much in rum. What you can feel is the completeness, the silkiness, and the thought that went into the blend.

It’s just more … everything.

Still, what is interesting is that the most expensive was my “least” favorite of the spendy bottles. It came in fourth. The biggest reason was this it was too much of “more is more” without adding something deeper. It was really big funk and wood on top of a perfectly great rum. That can be nice, but it’s not as refined as the top three.

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