As we barrel towards the holidays, you’re probably planning on stocking up on bourbon, Scotch, rye, and other styles of whiskey. And while we’d never tell you not to do that (we love whiskey!), we would urge you not to forget about rum. Especially dark rum.
Dark rums — with all of their caramelized sugar, sweet tropical, and vanilla-spice-inflected flavor notes — are actually perfect for this time of year. And like whiskey, the well-aged stuff is ideal for sipping over a single ice cube. Jeremy Duffy, bar manager at Arvada Tavern in Arvada, Colorado has simple parameters when looking for a winter rum.
“When I’m looking for a rum to sip on this time of year,” he says, “I just look for something unique and flavorful. Same as any time of year, really.”
That seems straightforward enough. But which “unique and flavorful” rums are worth your money right now? We asked 10 of our favorite bartenders to shout out their picks for the best dark rums to drink neat as winter settles in.
Brandon “Habi” Habenstein, beverage director at The Kitchen & Bar at Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown, Kentucky
The world of rums is akin to the wild west, with little to no oversight or regulation. One brand changing that and bringing the best rums available to the market is Foursquare Rum Distillery. With no additives, this is how rum was meant to be produced. No color, no sugar, no filtration, these rums are outstanding.
If you see Foursquare on the label you can feel safe buying any expression, but their dated single blends are a good place to start. One of the best bottlings is Foursquare 12, finished in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd use bourbon barrels.
Santa Teresa 1796
Chelsea Napper, bar manager at Yūgen in Chicago, Illinois
I love Santa Teresa 1796 for sipping. It feels like a warm hug on a chilly Chicago morning. Santa Teresa uses the Solera method, blending rums aging four to 35 years. On the palate, there are always notes of warm vanilla and fudge: the perfect combo for winter in my opinion.
Felipe Muñoz, head bartender at Sweetleaf Cocktails in Long Island City, New York
Zacapa 23 is a dark rum that we have in an amazing cocktail right now at Sweetleaf. I like this neat as well, since it is sweet and heavy on the fruit notes, but also quite dry with hints of leather and baking spice.
Zaya Gran Reserva
Mike Renzulli, bartender at City Works Eatery & Pour House in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
Zaya Gran Reserva. This barrel-aged rum has vibrant notes of caramel and brown sugar — one of the best!
Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum
Matteo Frazzoni, head bartender at Bonefish Bar & Grill in Bermuda
Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum is crafted from the same blend as the original Goslings Black Seal Rum, a staple in Bermudian culture and diet. Aged longer in oak barrels, the flavor is perfect for fall, reminiscent of a fine cognac. Being a millennial and a bartender for the best part of a decade, I undoubtedly recommend enjoying this Family Reserve Old Rum neat.
Who says you can’t teach a new dog old tricks?
Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still by Ministry of Rum is the most complex dark rum I’ve ever had. Tons of dark molasses and light baking spice combine with the open fermentation’s wild yeast for all the funk you can handle. It startles your palate with rich molasses and cocoa nib, then graduates into light allspice and masterful funkiness.
It’s best neat, as when you drop the temperature on this one, you lose a lot of what makes it so magical.
Seth Falvo, bartender at The Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, Florida
Bayou Select is an ideal rum for fall. This rum has plenty of apple and oak on the nose, with a flavor profile that practically screams “winter desserts” — cinnamon, maple, vanilla, and blackberry are all prevalent. The mouthfeel is full yet surprisingly dry, thanks to the bourbon barrels that this rum has been aged in.
Havana Club 7
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Havana Club 7 is a simple, well-done rum and it will never disappoint. Tastes like sweet inebriation just one pour away. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also aged for seven years and has hints of tobacco, brown sugar, and vanilla.
Hamilton Saint Lucia Pot Still Rum
Gavin Humes, bartender at Scratch|Bar & Kitchen in Encino, California
Almost anything from Hamilton is going to be worth drinking, but I’ve been enjoying the Hamilton Saint Lucia Pot Still Rum — 10 years. It’s got a good amount of age on it and offers the complexity that you need if you’re drinking it straight. It has the deep caramel notes, and a bit of spice, as well as a healthy touch of the funk that some of the best rums out there have.
It’s delicious, and perfect for drinking neat.
Denizen Merchant’s Reserve
Jeremy Duffy, bar manager at Arvada Tavern in Arvada, Colorado
Denizen Merchant’s Reserve is just that rum. When we have two different styles of rum blended together, it truly stands out from the crowd. You get the funkiness from the Jamaican pot style rum, yet still get that punch of earthy grass notes from the Martinique Rhum Grande Arome.
You can’t go wrong with this one.