Spiced rum and summer vibes are great partners. While spiced rum is supposed to be spicy, it’s often far more on the sweeter side of things. Sure cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and maybe some chili pepper make appearances. But, you’re really paying for a sweeter dark rum with the harder edges sanded down by added sugar, vanilla, and brown spices and barks. All of that makes spiced rum the perfect hot-weather mixer.
I’m pretty clearly on the record as not digging flavored booze. I generally ignore spiced rums and go straight for the old dark rums on the shelf. That doesn’t mean I don’t know them, though (I’m a professional taster after all). It’s just that I’ve never found a spiced rum to care about. This doesn’t mean they don’t matter or aren’t good or anything like that. They’re just not my jam.
Anyway, to see if I’ve been unfairly ignoring this massively popular style, I decided to do a blind taste test of eight spiced rums.
Our spiced rum lineup:
- Don Papa Masskara
- Chairman’s Reserve Spiced
- Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced
- Black Magic Black Spiced
- Bacardi Spiced
- Bayou Spiced
- Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold
- The Original Sailor Jerry Spiced
The ranking of these is simple. I ordered them according to which bottles tasted the best, had the most nuance, and actually delivered on being spicy and not just sweet. That’s it. And hey, if one of these piques your interest, click on the prices to try it yourself.
Part 1: The Tasting
This was pure Circus Peanuts and/or Haribo Banana soft candies — like, exactly — on the nose. The taste had a bit of that banana candy with a serious sweetness but real hints of bright orange citrus, slightly bitter citrus, and very mild honey did drive through that sweetness.
The end had a distinct red chili pepper heat with an almost woody/dry feel to it but ended up sickly sweet.
Hello, Sasparilla! This would make The Stranger in The Big Lebowski say, “Yee-ha!”
The palate merges through bitter orange peels, spiced orange oils, dry raisins, and Red Hots with a serious cinnamon burn. A burnt sugar arrives late and gives this a nose and palate that’s exactly like a candy store at Christmas. It’s all dark barks, oranges, and fruit cakes with a lingering cinnamon afterburn.
This smells like a bourbon with hints of creamy vanilla, soft leather, a touch of cedar. The palate has a clear and bitter roasted coffee bean note with a dry woodiness leading towards a very rich and buttery toffee hard candy. The sweetness slowly fades towards a spicy, dry tobacco leaf with a proper and robust finish.
There’s a nice mix of soft leather, raisins, and … I want to say … light Caro syrup. There’s a cognac vibe that leads towards a sweet dark cocoa mid-palate. That cocoa quickly fades into a sweet pear candy that drives towards a cinnamon tobacco finish with a hint of vanilla.
This is a fruit bomb on the nose with the brightness of a tropical fruit salad next to a whisper of cinnamon and leather. The taste is thin with hints of vanilla and almond but mostly apple Jolly Rancher. There’s a note of honey candy but the end is very light and the sip kind of just disappears.
This opens with a mild note of tar on the nose leading towards bananas cooked off in browned butter and served on cinnamon crackers next to a hint of soft leather. The taste luxuriates in a maple syrup sweetness that’s countered by a mix of cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and plenty of vanilla. The spice leans slightly peppery as the finish brings about some candied fruit and a full-on holiday cake vibe.
This is thin. The nose has a dash of vanilla extract and a very mild spice leading towards sweet hard toffee candies. Those candies soften to a very sweet caramel and that’s about it. The end is non-existent but leaves you with that note of vanilla and toffee/caramel.
Woah. This is all black tar — that feels like it’s boiling hot — on the nose. The palate has a bit of vanilla that leads towards a black pepper spice and a little note of fruit. The end is very thin and light with no real lingering sense of anything except the smell of that black tar.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. The Original Sailor Jerry Spiced — Taste 8
Average Price: $20
Tattoo artist Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins is the inspiration behind this brand. The rum in the bottles is a mix of Caribbean rums from undisclosed warehouses. The spice mix is unknown but tends to be cinnamon and vanilla heavy.
That heavy tar nose and thin body didn’t do this one any favors. I really can’t see using this as a sipper. But I could see burying it in a tropical cocktail, maybe. Probably not though.
7. Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold — Taste 7
Average Price: $25 (1-liter bottle)
This rum is one of the most popular drinks in the world. Yet, there’s not a whole lot of practical information about what’s in the bottle. It’s bottled in the U.S. Virgin Islands from rums likely sourced from Jamaica and Guyana. The spice blend is undisclosed but leans heavily into vanilla and allspice.
I mean, this is made to be mixed with Coke. So you really can’t fault this for being one-note in that respect. This isn’t pretending to be anything other than a sweet, vanilla-driven mixer. It’s just so thin that’s it’s really hard to care about it.
6. Bacardi Spiced — Taste 5
Average Price: $15
Bacardi Spiced is a classic mix of unaged and aged rums from Bacardi’s Puerto Rican stills. The exact spice blend in play isn’t disclosed but we know there’s vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the mix thanks to the label.
Fruit candy is fine as a flavor. But when that’s all there is, it’s pretty disappointing. Still, this was approachable but very thin. It 100 percent feels like it’s built to be mixed with Coke and, again, that’s fine.
5. Don Papa Masskara — Taste 1
Average Price: $98
This Filippino rum is started with local “black gold” molasses. The juice is aged for seven years in oak under the shadow of Mount Kanaloan. The rum is then infused with calamansi citrus (a sort of half lime and half mandarin Filippino fruit).
The sweetness in this was so powerful. Still, there were clear notes of citrus and chili pepper under all that sweetness. It’s not bad but way too sweet for me. It was also bold and full-bodied without that extreme thinness of the last three on this ranking.
4. Black Magic Black Spiced — Taste 4
Average Price: $16
There aren’t a lot of details about this rum. We know it’s from Barbados and bottled in the U.S. The juice is purported to be a blend of light and dark rums with a touch of caramel coloring.
I wrote “not bad…” in the margin of my tasting notes. The softness, that mild leather, and that hint of cocoa were all very enticing. I’d definitely revisit this in a cocktail but probably not as a sipper.
3. Chairman’s Reserve Spiced — Taste 2
Average Price: $30
This Saint Lucia rum is a classic, five-year-old rum that’s aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The rum is infused with a mix of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut, allspice, lemon, orange, and bwa bandé (the bark from richeria trees which is an Indigenous Carib aphrodisiac).
The nose on this is pure sasparilla in the best way. The flavors on the palate were dialed in and distinct. I could actually see sipping this on the rocks or in a highball pretty easily.
2. Bayou Spiced — Taste 6
Average Price: $20
This Louisiana craft rum keeps things local. The rum is made with locally grown sugar cane. The spice mix is undisclosed but comprised of spices all grown in Louisiana. The water the juice is cut with comes from a local spring, adding a final layer of uniqueness to the expression.
This felt very well-rounded while kind of hitting on all the elements of the other spiced rums while staying unique. It also felt like a real workhorse rum that’ll shine in a cocktail or over the rocks while holding onto its depth and identity.
1. Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced — Taste 3
Average Price: $30
Puerto Rico’s Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced is a dark rum blend of three to six-year-old barrels. The rums are spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. The juice is then proofed to a fairly higher-proof (for a spiced rum anyway) of 45 percent.
This was clearly the most refined and drinkable spiced rum. It wasn’t even close really. I’ll fully admit that this rum’s flavor profile leaning towards bourbon notes helped it win. But this felt both like a real drink while also being nicely complex. I wouldn’t hesitate to pour this over some rocks and sip on it all day long under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day.
I can also see it working wonders in any number of cocktails.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I can’t say there were too many surprises in this tasting. These rums are all way more sweet than spicy, but I already knew to expect that.
The top three were all pretty fine in their own ways and I could see getting into them a bit more, playing around with cocktails, and just enjoying them every now and then.
Overall, I’m glad I found the Don Q spiced rum. It’s a nice break from all the bourbon in my life and feels like a great accompaniment to the summer days and nights ahead. That’s my only “must try” from this lineup.