Aged Rum: Sweet Nectar You Should Be Sipping

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, I'm a wine guy first and foremost, then a Scotch & bourbon guy. Until recently if someone mentioned rum and didn't say Coke right after it or mention mojito's, I wasn't quite sure what they were getting at. But then aged rum started hitting my periphery. One reason was some friends who enjoyed and extolled its virtues and another was my love of Single Malt Scotch. Over the last couple of years it became clear to me that some of my favorite expressions of Scotch were ones that were finished in more than one type of cask. Among those is The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask. It's aged for 12 years in whiskey barrels and then spends the last two years aging in ex- rum casks. Thus the desire to sample more aged rums increased. The more examples I tried it became clear how distinct they could be from one another as well as what a world apart they are from the typical rums used as mixers. The next step was obvious; I needed to sample numerous aged rums side by side to see the real differences. Over the last couple of weeks I have tried more than four dozen different rums from a host of producers. I tasted each one several times. My glass of choice was a brandy snifter and I sampled each rum both neat and with a single ice cube. Some of the rums work better with ice while most were better neat. Of the many examples of rum I tasted, those listed below are the ones I recommend you spend your money on.

Here's why:

Kaniché Réserve — It was distilled and aged in bourbon casks in Barbados. Kaniché was then transported to the Cognac Ferrand estate in France, where it was finished in ex-Cognac casks. This rum sells for right around $18. Caramel and papaya aromas fill the nose here. Spices carry the day through the palate along with hints of crème brûlée and macadamia nut. It has a nice finish with vanilla bean and bits of clove. At under $20 this is an outstanding value. For this price you won't mind making cocktails with it, but it's worthy of being sipped neat.

Flor de Cana Gran Reserva 7 — The history of Flor de Cana goes back to 1890 when the distillery was first built in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua. The fifth generation of the Pellas family is running things today. Flor de Cana Rums are available in more than 40 countries. Gran Reserva 7 sells for around $23. The nose reveals a hint of roasted coffee. The palate is medium-bodied and offers plenty of depth for the price point. Toffee, dates, and wisps of plantain are all in evidence. Characteristics of roasted pineapple dusted with cinnamon emerge on the finish along with a hint of cola. There is a little bite at the end that provides a nice final flourish.

Bacardi 8 — This rum was aged for at least eight years in American white oak barrels. The Bacardi 8 is the top rum in their range and it most often sells for right around $23. Serving this one on the rocks really allowed it to shine. Coconut and pineapple aromas leap from the nose of this offering. The palate is studded with date and almond flavors that are accompanied by spices such a cinnamon and bits of nutmeg. Milk chocolate and caramel flavors emerge on the finish. This is a sip worthy rum, from one of the best known producers of cocktail rums.

Pyrat XO Reserve — This was produced using a blend of aged Caribbean rums. Barrel-aging took place in a combination of French Limousin & American oak. The rums used to create the blend were up to 15-years-old. Pyrat XO most often sells for just under $25. This rum leads with a big boisterous nose that shows off vanilla bean, papaya, and coconut aromas. Baked apple and pineapple flavors dominate the palate. They are joined by honey and molasses characteristics which provide a gentle and restrained sweetness. Caramel, clove, and cinnamon are all part of the pleasing finish.

Barbancourt Reserve Speciale — This Haitian producer has a history that dates back more than 150 years. Barbancourt rum undergoes a double distillation process is aged for eight years in white Limousin oak follows and sells for right around $25. The light coppery hue of this rum glistens in the glass as soon as you pour it. Toasted hazelnut and Madagascar vanilla are apparent on the nose. The palate is gentle and layered with nutty flavors underscored by subtle bits of fruit such as date and lychee. White pepper, mesquite honey, and continued roasted nut elements are all part of persistent and spice-laden finish. This rum falls squarely on the dryer side of the scale and brings to mind an Oloroso sherry in weight and prominence of nut characteristics.

El Dorado 12 Year Old — This offering from Guyana is produced from sugarcane grown in alluvial soils along the Demerara River. The El Dorado 12 is produced from a blend of aged rums, none of them being less than 12-years-old. Aging occurred in old bourbon casks. This rum sells for right around $25. Allspice and clove aromas jump from the nose of this selection. Cinnamon spice is speckled through a core that features a heavy dose of chocolate characteristics. Bits of Calimyrna fig are present as well. Caramel, fruitcake elements, and bits of churro emerge on the long, spice-laden finish. This is an excellent example of aged rum featuring an impressively weighty mouthfeel.

Cruzan Single Barrel Rum — This rum is made from a blend that has aged up to 12 years. Each batch is bottled one cask at a time. Named after it's homeland of St. Croix, Cruzan most often sells for right around $29. Wisps of maple syrup, white pepper, and vanilla bean fill the nose of this selection. Date, walnut, and hints of savory spices are present on the palate of this widely available rum. Bits of coffee liqueur, nutmeg, and allspice emerge on the finish which is above average in length. This one really opened up on the rocks.

Mount Gay Black Barrel — Twelve to 18-month-old sugar cane plants are harvested and crushed the same day. After fermentation, Mount Gay utilizes both single column and double copper pot distillates. Oak aging takes place in charred bourbon barrels. Black Barrel sells for right around $29.99. Toasted hazelnut aromas are joined by fruitcake spices and freshly ground allspice on the nose of this offering. The palate brings to mind Jamaican jerk spices with interweaved bits of fruity sweetness balancing those impressions of spicy heat. Hints of chamomile tea lead the long, lusty finish which, like the palate, is dominated by a strong core of spices appearing in droves.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ragged Mountain Rum — This small batch entry comes from Sheffield, Mass. BMD was founded in 2007 and produces a number of small lot spirits. They age each overproof batch of rum in oak barrels and then blend in pure water from their on-site, historic spring.  This rum shimmers in the glass with a light, apricot hue. Fresh coconut and pineapple aromas are joined by hints of clove. Brown sugar and a complex mélange of mixed roasted nuts inform the gentle and deeply layered palate. Salted caramel leads a couple of hints of salinity on the lingering, spicy finish. If your interests run toward small batch producers, here's an offering at around $30 you should consider.

Santa Teresa 1796 — This rum is made in Venezuela using the solera method. This process is also employed in the production of sherry, Madeira and some Ports. Santa Teresa has been using the solera since 1992. Prior to their rums being put into the solera, they have been aged from four to 35 years. Santa Teresa 1796 sells for right around $35. Dark fruit and toasted walnut aromas waft convincingly from the nose of this rum. Date, coconut, and a bevy of tropical fruit flavors are prominent throughout a medium bodied palate. Hints of chocolate emerge on the finish along with clove, black pepper, and a gentle hint of chicory. This is an extremely elegant and complex example of rum for the price.

Papa's Pilar Dark — This rum was inspired by Ernest Hemingway's love of adventure and the spirit itself. Rums from various countries are gathered and then aged in the U.S. in a variety of cask types using the solera method. Aging of the rums in the blend is up to 24 years. This rum was developed with the cooperation of the Hemingway Estate; they donate all of their royalty profits to causes that sync up with Hemingway's beliefs and adventurous lifestyle. Papa's Pilar Dark sells for around $39.99. This offering is distinctly dark in the glass. Cinnamon, clove, and dried date aromas fill the nose. The first sip reveals a weighty palate loaded with an impressive amount of depth. Wave after wave of dried fruit flavors are in evidence with mission fig and plum being the most prominent. Chocolate, mesquite honey, and hints of coffee are all present in the dark, spicy, unctuous, and impossibly long finish that goes on and on with impressive persistence and measured intensity. This is incredibly profound and well rounded rum.

Plantation XO 20th Anniversary — This offering is made by combining some of the company's oldest reserved rums from Barbados. After blending, they allow the married rum to age for another 12 to 18 months in oak casks in France. It has a suggested retail price of $39.99. In the glass it has a deep, dark hue that brings to mind double-brewed tea. The nose is off the charts with bits of toasty oak, vanilla bean galore, and spices to spare. The palate is generous and powerfully layered with a bevy of precise and complex fruit and spices. Dates, coconuts, and mountain fig are all present and accounted for along with a hint of anise and toasted pecan. The prodigious finish brings to mind Fig Newtons dipped in dark chocolate. A hint of Seville orange provides a final distinct note. I recommend enjoying this impressive rum neat.

Dos Maderas Rum PX (5+5) — This rum was aged in oak for five years in Guyana and Barbados. Then it was transported to Spain where it spent three years aging in 20-year-old Palo Cortado Sherry casks and a final two years in casks that held 20 year Don Guide Sherry. This is the only rum that uses these three cask types in conjunction with one another. It typically sells for right around $40. An array of dried fig and plum pudding spice aromas burst from the inviting nose of this rum. The palate is mellow and easygoing with tons and tons of gentle, sweet, layered depth. Spices and dried fruits such as date and white pepper are joined by hazelnut flavors. A milk chocolate element emerges on the remarkably long finish which leans sweet. Coconut, white fig, and continued bits of spice are present as well. This rum begs you back to the glass for sip after sip. You might want to buy two bottles of this one.

El Dorado 15 Year Old — The Demerara Distillers have more than three centuries of history with rum. The 15-year-old is produced by blending rums from several of their heritage stills together; some have as many as 25 years of age on them. They're then aged in ex-bourbon casks. This 15-year-old offering sells for right around $40. The deep coppery hue of this selection glistens in the glass. The nose of this rum is deeply and broodingly perfumed with cocoa, dark fruits, and a mélange of spices. The flavors throughout the palate are deep and dense with the weight (not the overt sweetness) of maple syrup. Mission fig, dark chocolate, fruitcake, and plum pudding spices all come together to form a gloriously delicious core. The finish is as extraordinarily long and persistent as it is loaded with depth, elegance, complexity, and graceful precision. From the first whiff to the final sip, this rum is a knockout.

Ron Millonario 15 — This rum hails from Peru and the distillery has a history going back more than 100 years. They were purchased by the Rossi brothers of Italy a decade ago, have invested in improvements, and increased distribution to key markets. The sugar cane undergoes a slow fermentation and distillation process prior to aging up to 15 years in oak casks that make use of the solera system. The barrels utilized are ex-bourbon and wine casks. Production of this offering is limited to 6,000 bottles per year and most often sells for around $42. This rum has an amazing bouquet with whiffs of anise being the most prominent component. The palate is thick and weighty with bits of crème brûlée, chocolate, and date; spices are in abundance. Coconut, allspice, and continued dark fruit and chocolate flavors mark the substantial finish which has enough length and persistence to be memorable. Ron Millonario is a smooth and mellifluous selection that goes down with remarkable ease.

Mount Gay Extra Old — This Barbados based producer uses single and continuous distillation to build complexity. Barrel aging takes places in lightly charred, former bourbon casks. The final blend is made from rums that have eight to 15 years of age on them and sells for $44.99. Dusty mocha, fresh cut coconut, and Madagascar vanilla bean aromas are all prominent on the nose here. The palate has medium weight and bananas Foster comes to mind with all of the complex flavors of that dessert emerging. Gingerbread spices, buttercream frosting, and molasses are all present on the dense and layered finish. Delicious on its own this makes a great companion to bitter dark chocolate.

House of Angostura No 1 — Hailing from Trinidad & Tobago, this selection is a brand new and limited release in their line. Rums with eight to 10 years of barrel age on them are blended and then aged a second time in new bourbon barrels for 12 additional months. Only 9,600 bottles of this limited release were produced and it sells for $50. Sweet, toasted coconut, almond, and vanilla aromas leap from the nose. The palate is deep and intense with light and dark flavors intermingling. Banana and fig are dominant with a hint of mango present as well. Cinnamon, clover honey, and a gentle wisp of smoke are all part of the above average finish of this small batch rum.

This list provides a cross section of different styles and price points in aged rum. I've done the heavy lifting for you; every example on this list is worth drinking on its own. But of course we all have preferences, so taste a couple of these and see which one speaks to you most. It's hard to find another spirit that offers the level of complexity and eminent drinkability as aged rum does at such reasonable prices. If you aren't drinking it yet, you should be!