I don’t drink enough dark rum. That’s the main lesson I took away from this blind tasting. That being said, not all dark rums are created equal. Some are nuanced and well-aged in various oaks without any additives. Others are packed with sugars and food coloring, leaving them tasting very shallow and un-nuanced.
In a sense, that’s why we’re focused on dark rum today. To separate some of the wheat from the chaff.
The idea behind this blind tasting was to take some old standards I know I like and add in some new releases that I either haven’t had yet or still haven’t really formed a deep, thoroughly-considered opinion on.
Today’s lineup includes:
- Abuelo XV Napoleon Cognac Cask
- Equiano Dark Rum
- Havana Club Especial
- El Ron Prohibido
- Diplomatico Reserva
- Bacardi 10
- Appleton Estate 15
As always, click on those prices if you want to try some of these yourself. Let’s get into it!
Part 1: The Tasting
This opens with a nice rush of honeyed cinnamon apples with a touch of old leather on the nose. The palate is all about the eggnog spices (especially nutmeg) with a slight dry pine note next to rum-soaked raisins, rich and creamy honey, and plenty of orchard fruit (think tart apples and sweet pears). The mid-palate holds onto that fruit but then veers into an old cedar box full of milk chocolate and dried tobacco leaves.
This has a clear sense of peaches soaked in dark molasses next to a cedar/leather vibe up top. The taste has dried florals mingling with brown sugar and toasted wood. A very light spice matrix of cinnamon, clove, and allspice leads towards a dry finish with a touch of bitter black tea and tobacco leaves that balance wonderfully on the backend.
This really draws you in with a sense of vanilla tobacco next to buttery fried bananas drizzled with salted caramel sauce on the nose. The palate pops with roasted pineapple, very brown sugar, and a hint of espresso bean bitterness. The mid-palate holds onto the dark molasses and then veers into earthiness — my notes say “it’s almost mossy” — before that vanilla tobacco settles in for a mellow finish.
Hello, Philippines! This is pure pina colada on the nose. The creamy coconut cream leads right back to fresh pineapple juice with a hint of woody vanilla and clove. Ultimately, this is a sweet bomb that tastes and smells exactly like a pina colada through and through.
The nose on this is a mix of meaty prunes, light nuts, and mild vanilla. The taste touches on nutmeg while the honeyed hues lead towards a mid-palate of bitter dark chocolate laced with dried chili. The finish sweetens dramatically as hints of raisin and vanilla lurk with a non-distinct sense of “wood.”
Dark, almost burnt, sugars lead you towards rich and butter toffee with a brittle edge and a dusting of eggnog spice that’s heavy on the nutmeg. That buttery nature really drives the taste towards a vanilla buttercream next to moist marzipan and a touch of tobacco sweetness. The finish arrives with a sprinkling of orange zest and holiday spices with a final dry walnut shell end.
This opens with a duo of very soft leather next to a basket full of tropical fruits. The palate is light but offers a pan full of Bananas Foster with plenty of brown sugar and holiday spice with a slight touch of dried fruits. That butter drives the mid-palate towards a finish brimming with old cellar cobwebs and a nice layer of vanilla-laced tobacco.
From my notes: “Hello, funk and Jamaica!”
There’s a clear char on the nose next to sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and sage that have all been signed with a coffee-cut-with-honey vibe. The taste is subtle and full of holiday cake vibes with ample spice, loads of candied and dried fruits, and plenty of fatty nuts next to orange oils touched with more dark spice, ginger, and creamy lemon curd. That creaminess leans into vanilla as the mid-palate leads towards rich-yet-herbal tobacco that’s almost like a clove cigarette.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. El Ron Prohibido — Taste 5
Average Price: $35
This Mexican rum is a blend of rums aged for up to 12 years using the Spanish re-fill solera method. The barrels formerly held raisin wine, giving this a very sweet and fruity note.
This felt very entry-level and overly sweet. I can see burying it in a cocktail. Otherwise, this felt a little over-produced today.
7. Kasama Rum — Taste 4
Average Price: $26
Kasama is a truly international spirit. The rum is made from noble cane juice. The distilled rum is then aged in ex-bourbon barrels for seven years under the warm, tropical sun in the Philippines. Finally, the juice is transported to Poland where it’s proofed and bottled.
I really can’t see using this for anything besides a pina colada and that’s just not enough for me to rank it higher on this list of rums.
6. Bacardi 10 — Taste 7
Average Price: $42
This is Bacardi’s high-end expression that’s crazy cheap. The rum is aged for ten long years in lightly charred oak before it’s charcoal filtered and brought down to proof, creating an ultra-refined expression.
This was a surprise. I would have put good money on me ranking this higher. This was a very tasty rum but there are a lot of those on this list.
5. Havana Club Especial — Taste 3
Average Price: $25
Cuba’s Havana Club makes some consistently great rums. Their Añejo Especial is a blend of rums aged in fresh white oak. The blend is formulated to be a workhorse that’s easily sippable in everyday situations and easily mixable all night long.
This is my go-to for mixing rum cocktails so I think it got a little lost as a sipper. Still, this is solid all around.
4. Appleton Estate 15-Year — Taste 8
Average Price: $75
This new expression from Appelton is all about the Black River in Jamaica’s Nassau Valley where the rum is made. The rum is a blend of pot and column still distillates that are aged a minimum of 15 years before they’re blended and proofed with the limestone-filtered water from the Black River.
This was so distinctly Jamaican with that hogo funk on the nose and through the taste. It was super sippable but it’s not my favorite Appleton Estate release and felt a little too funky today.
3. Equiano Dark Rum — Taste 2
Average Price: $60
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.
It’s really hard to find a single fault in this rum. It’s perfectly sippable while also being a great cocktail base.
2. Abuelo XV Napoleon Cognac Cask — Taste 1
Average Price: $78
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.
I always forget about this rum, but goddamn is it good. I need to move this to the front of my rum shelf and enjoy it more often as a post-dinner sipper.
1. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva — Taste 6
Average Price: $40
This Venezuelan rum is a blend of a minimum of 12-year-old juice made from both sugarcane honey and molasses. The rums were aged in ex-bourbon barrels high up in the Amazonia before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This is the nectar of the gods. It’s shocking how refined and nuanced this rum is while still carrying serious depth that makes you want to go back in to find more, sip after sip.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This was an interesting tasting. I ended up not liking only two expressions — the El Ron Prohibido and Kasama — in the context of this list. The other six were very closely ranked. Well, four were very closely ranked with slots two and one being a clear step above the rest. Even then, the bottom two rums on this list are fine for what they are. There’s nothing wrong with a cocktail rum sitting on your shelf year-round.
In the end, I stand by my first sentence of this tasting. These rums were goddamn delicious and I should be using them all more in my rotation, next to all the whisk(e)y that’s usually there. “Drink more dark rum” — that’s the lesson of the day.
As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.