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The Best Rum Brands in the World

From aged gems to those that go great in a cocktail, these rums are must-haves for your liquor cabinet.

By Toby Louch

What will we do with a drunken sailor? Frankly, I have no idea, however, I think it’s quite clear how said sailor got into that state in the first place. Rum, the drink of choice that spans the spectrum, from pirates to rockstars, aristocrats and students, all have enjoyed this liquor made from fermented and then distilled sugar cane molasses. This historic spirit is currently enjoying quite the moment, with burgeoning new brands popping out of the woodwork all the time. But what are the best rum brands in the world?

Thought to have been developed in the Caribbean by slaves who discovered that molasses, a by-product of sugar refining, could be fermented into alcohol and later distilled. Gaining popularity around the 1650s, rum was on a trajectory for success. In 1655, the British Royal Navy captured the island of Jamaica and with a new-found wealth of domestically produced rum, the Navy began issuing it to sailors. By the late 17th century it had replaced French brandy as the drink of choice for sailors along the triangular trade route.

While today its naval connotations are somewhat dwindling – the Royal Navy stopped giving sailors rum in 1970 believing it would hamper the use of heavy machinery – rum remains a popular spirit. A key component of a daiquiri, piña colada, mojito, dark ‘n’ stormy and countless others, a bottle or two of rum is an essential addition to any liquor cabinet. Or if you’re feeling classy, perhaps take it neat and sip away to enjoy all the notes as they were produced. However you take your rum it’s always worth ensuring you have the good stuff, so these are some of the best rum brands in the world.

El Dorado High Ester Rum

Best rum brands high ester
El Dorado High Ester Rum / ©El Dorado

All rum contains ester, a natural compound created from chemical reactions during fermentation when yeast mixes with molasses, but some have more than others, adding a new level of depth to the bottle. This release from El Dorado is produced in Guyana and celebrates the impressive versatility of Demerara rum making.

A blend of two rums, La Bonne Intention (LBI) and Diamond High Ester (DHI), both of which were distilled in 2012, aged in ex-bourbon casks and then blended together. This style of rum is rarely released to the public, high ester varieties are usually used to add notes to other rums as a minor component.

A decadent rum for those looking to explore what this spirit has to offer, expect notes of fig and star-fruit, while the palate introduces orange peel before clove and dark chocolate. A list of the best rum brands in the world is incomplete without a bottle of high ester.


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Don Q Reserva de la Familia Serralles 20 Year Old

Don Q
Don Q Reserva de la Familia Serralles 20 Year Old / ©Don Q

Now for something a little older. All the way back in 1994, the Serralles family in Puerto Rico aged a special rum in charred American white oak barrels; out of the 38 barrels, the finest samples were selected to create an exceptional blend. The result was Don Q Reserva de la Familia Serralles 20 Year Old.

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Strong in both color and aroma, the prolonged contact with wood provided the dark amber color, a testament to this bottle’s quality. On the nose there are hints of vanilla oak and a touch of burnt wood, you may even notice a touch of molasses, hinting at the rum’s origins. Expect this tipple to be smooth in the mouth with an evolving long finish.

As with many older spirits, part of the joy of sampling Don Q Reserva de la Familia Serralles 20 Year Old is playing a role in the history of a carefully produced liquid. This is exactly why you will find a number of older rums on this list of the best rum brands in the world.


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Brugal Maestro Reserva

Best rum brands brugal
Brugal Maestro Reserva / ©Brugal

For over 135 years, Dominican brand Brugal has been producing some of the finest rum available and Brugal Maestro Reserva is surely one of the best. Led by fifth-generation maestra ronera (rum master) Jassil Villanueva – who is not only the youngest rum master in the world, but also the first female — Maestro Reserva is a truly delectable rum.  

This is a rum that’s absolutely designed for sipping. Aged in hand-selected ex-sherry casks which are first filled with rum, emptied and then toasted in-house using Brugal’s dark aromatic toasting technique. This process causes the sugar contained in the wooden staves to create caramel pears, which are reabsorbed into the new rum once the barrel is refilled.

Those lucky enough to try it should expect creamy vanilla, caramel, toasted nuts and a little bit of smoke. It’s the ideal serve to enjoy neat with some friends.


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Bacardi Facundo Paraiso XA

Bacardi Facundo Paraiso XA / ©Bacardi

Without a doubt the biggest name in rum, Bacardi dominates the market with its wide selection; from its classic white rum to even more unusually flavored tipples, best suited for cocktails. But they also dabble in the premium end. In 1862, a Spaniard called Don Facundo Bacardí Masó founded Bacardi in Cuba, this next bottle, Facundo Paraiso XA, was released in his honor.

A blend of several distillates that range from 17 to 32 years in oak barrels provides the dark tone to the liquid. On the nose, it brings soft vanilla, banana and spiced notes. On the palate, the wondrously soft rum adds brown sugar, tropical fruits and guava.

Arriving in an impressive presentation box that’s worthy of the founder, this is an ideal bottle for those looking to commemorate the history of this spirit by drinking from one of the greats; you simply can’t publish the best rum in the world list without mentioning Bacardi.


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Flor de Cana V Generaciones

Best rum brands Flor de Cana
Flor de Cana V Generaciones / ©Flor de Cana

This whopper of a rum certainly has a story to tell. The oldest rum on our list so far (and also quite the looker) Flor de Cana V Generaciones comes from an award-winning family-owned company based in Nicaragua.

A 30-year-old rum that has been aged in a single barrel, this exceptionally limited rum is certainly one to show off in a display cabinet. If you ever open it, expect an aroma that carries lots of vanilla woody and exotic fruit notes hitting the palate.

But part of the brilliance of this bottle is in the packaging, where Flor de Cana has gone all out. Each bottle arrives with a hand-crafted volcanic rock bottle cap, a replica of the 1902 volcano postal stamp of Nicaragua, the signatures of the five generations of producers and a black leather case. All in the name of honoring rum production in Nicaragua, this bottle is a must for serious rum collectors.


Dictador 2 Masters Hardy Summer Blend 1976 and 1978

Dictador rum
Dictador 2 Masters Hardy Summer Blend 1976 and 1978 / ©Dictador

Columbian producer Dictador has built a particular reputation over the years for distilling premium spirits, utilizing an intriguing mixture of traditional and modern methods. One differentiator is the fact they use sugar cane honey as opposed to molasses, producing a smoother, richer liquid.

Dictador 2 Masters Hardy Summer Blend 1976 and 1978 is a superb example of trying something different. Dictador rum single vintage casks from 1976 and 1978 are finished in sherry casks and then sent to Hardy in Cognac. Here it is blended by cellar master Mickaël Bouilly, utilizing chauffe légère oak casks from 1954. Spending at least seven months in these cognac casks, the profile of the liquid was described as été (French for summer).

On the nose, those sampling should expect fudge and butterscotch, but a hint of cognac is unmissable. The palate sees nutmeg, toffee and sea salt caramel. For individuals who enjoy a rum that goes about things a little differently, this unique bottle from Dictador surely makes it one of the best rum brands in the world.


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Appleton Estate 21 Year Old

Best rum brands appleton
Appleton Estate 21 Year Old / ©Appleton Estate

Jamaica’s oldest rum distillery that has been in continuous operation, Appleton Estate can chart its history back to 1749. Since that date, it’s won countless awards and can happily name itself one of the best rum brands in the world.

The crème of Appleton Estates’s crop is its 21-year-old, a delicious tipple that’s absolutely a sipping rum. A group of rums, all aged for at least 21 years, are hand-selected specifically for their character, flavor and bouquet, before being blended together.

The result is a powerful liquid that provides citrus, spice and woody notes. The palate is graced by a soft orange peel, rich nutmeg and a hint of cocoa. This is a rum for special occasions and celebrations, a bottle to be savored over a number of years.


Isle of Wight Distillery Mermaid Spiced Rum

Mermaid spiced rum
Mermaid Spiced Rum / ©Isle of Wight Distillery

Finally, for something a little different, a rum produced in England no less. Well let’s just say partially produced in England, as Caribbean rums from both Trinidad and the Dominican Republic are finished at the Isle of Wight Distillery.

Taking on some of the coastal elements of the picturesque Isle of Wight, this rum is smooth, rich and sophisticated. The rum is aged for two to five years in bourbon barrels before it is infused with the Isle of Wight Distillery’s signature botanical rock samphire, white cherries, apricots, honey from the distillery’s bee hives and black salt.

The result is a rum that provides a hint of sea air, alongside caramel notes and fruity spice. The ideal bottle to add a new dimension to your cocktails, Mermaid Spiced Rum is a shareable serve that’s guaranteed to be a hit at your next party.


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