When the words “budget,” “cheap,” or even “inexpensive” are used to describe spirits, our minds quickly envision plastic handles of bottom-shelf, low-quality, hangover-inducing liquor. It’s a fair stigma — but not always the case. In fact, there are exceptions to this stereotype across the board. Especially in the world of rum.
Though the popularity of booze culture and mixology has increased in recent years (and spiked like crazy in quarantine), the rum marketplace is still full of superb value buys. You don’t even need to use the terms “budget” or “cheap.” The fact is, there are myriad bottles of low-cost, high-quality rum to be found.
To highlight rums that are worth every penny, we turned to some of our favorite bartenders. The slow sippers they named will turn your apartment into a tiki lounge in a hurry and make it feel like you’re maximizing your summer, even in a pandemic.
Brugal Anejo Rum
Ryan Andrews, beverage director at Prohibition in San Diego
What’s my favorite budget rum and why? Brugal Añejo rum. The Solera-style aging makes this rum incredibly smooth as a sipper and in cocktails.
Flor de Cana Grand Reserve 7 Year
Young Kim, beverage director at The Flatiron Room in New York City
I go with Flor de Cana Grand Reserve 7 Year which is priced around $20 and is not as sweet as many of the rums in the same price range. You can taste the vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch from the ex-bourbon barrel. That’s followed with a hint of leather, pencil shavings, and tobacco notes.
This bottle is smooth and full-bodied enough to sip or enjoy with ice. It also pairs perfectly in cocktails such as an Old Fashioned, Dark and Stormy, or Rum-groni [Rum Negroni].
Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum
Casey Lyons, lead bartender at Pacific Hideaway in Huntington Beach, California
Plantation has changed the game [and will soon be changing its name]. Between the 3 Star and Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple expressions, they not only make me look like a wizard with the budget, but they also make delicious crowd-pleasers for guests.
Ron del Barrilito Tres Estrellas
Spencer Elliott, head bartender at The Boogie Room in New York City
My favorite budget rum is a one-way JetBlue flight to Puerto Rico during non-quarantine times and a shot of Three Star (Ron De Barrilito Tres Estrellas). You can find this rum stateside, but, for a few bucks a shot, it’s well worth the flight and the inevitable sunburn.
Plantation 3 Stars
Jason O’Bryan, Spirits Director, The Florence in San Diego
What’s my go-to budget rum? Probably Plantation 3-Star. 3 Star is the brands version of a well-balanced, slightly punchier-than-normal blend of rums from Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad. But honestly, any Spanish-style white rum is going to be great and inexpensive. Diplomatico, Flor de Cana, Ron Matusalem…budget rum is an embarrassment of riches.
Bacardi Gold Rum
Nikki McCutcheon, beverage manager at Moxy Times Square in New York City
My go-to would have to be Bacardi. They have such a wide selection of Rums for all occasions, whether you’re making daiquiris in the summer or coquito in the winter. Their moderate prices allow you to purchase a quality product and spend a little extra on fresh decadent mixers to make the perfect cocktail without breaking the bank.
Mount Gay Rum
Big Jon Conkin, Bartender at Wonderland Ocean Pub in San Diego
What’s my favorite budget rum and why? I’ve always been a fan of Mount Gay. Mixing or just sipping on, you can’t go wrong.
Pampero Aniversario Rum
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Rum of the Week! @ronpamperovzla Pampero Aniversario is a delicious premium, continuous-still golden rum from Venezuela. Full-bodied and highly fruity, with a terrifically smooth, persistent finish. $2 off by the glass or add it to your Mojito for just a dollar! #laterrazahillcrest #pamperoaniversariorum #bestmojitosintown #venezuelanrum
Andrew Holmes, director of food and beverage at Hotel LeVeque in Columbus
What’s my go-to budget rum and why? Pampero Aniversario Rum — maybe not the absolute cheapest, but it never feels like the wrong pick.
Denizen 3 Year Aged White Rum
Andrew Meltzer, bartender at Noosh in San Francisco
Denizen Rum, either their 3-year white or Merchant’s Reserve. They are made with a blend of rums from Trinidad and Jamaica, so it’s smooth and fruity with a hint of funk. The price is equal to or less than a bottle of Bacardi, but there is much more flavor to be had. It’s the perfect companion to a hand-shaken Daiquiri or a bowl of punch for your next party.
Appleton Estate Signature
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Blood Orange Rum Sour. My very first post here on becksmitgurke. I absolutely love sours and wanted to try a twist on a classic rum sour. Using fresh blood orange and lemon juice really does make a difference and adding simple syrup balanced it out perfectly. As expected, #appletonestate delivered it's classic rum taste without overshooting. ~ 5cl Appleton Estate Signature Blend 3cl Fresh Blood Orange Juice 1,5cl Fresh Lemon Juice 1,5cl Simple Syrup (1:1) 1 Fresh Egg White Few drops of Orange Bitters as garnish ~ #cocktails #rum #sour #blood #orange #mixology #alcohol #drinks #classic #bloodorange #lemon #simplesyrup #orangebitters #appletonestatesignatureblend
Hope Ewing, beverage director at Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Los Angeles
Go-to budget rum? My favorite flavor-for-the-money rum is Appleton Estate. It’s a terrific workhorse for tiki drinks and holds its own amidst those wild tiki flavors.