Rum is best known as an essential component of warm-weather classics like the Daiquiri and the Piña Colada. But the sugar cane-derived spirit is actually quite versatile and can hold its own in all seasons, swapping in for whiskey in an Old Fashioned, or for bourbon in a Boulevardier. Though the spirit has a deep tradition in Central America and the Caribbean, it is made in dozens of countries around the world, from Sweden to the Philippines.
Rum is made in several styles, ranging from clear through many shades of amber to dark brown. This variation opens up a broad range of possibilities for cocktails. Darker rums give spice, vanilla, and caramel notes. Lighter rums give more subtle flavors. Rhum agricole, which is made with sugar cane juice instead of molasses, offers grassy notes.
With a practically limitless range of rums to choose from, making a choice can be tough. We narrowed the selection process by asking bartenders to weigh in with their picks for the category’s most underrated bottles. From surprise discoveries to tried-and-true favorites, here’s what they had to say.
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“To me the most underrated rum is Barbancourt 5 year rum, a Haitian Rhum made in agricole style. It is distilled from fermented cane juice and aged for eight years. A balanced, smooth rum tasting of vanilla and smoky oak. It mixes well in a variety of cocktail styles.” — Lynnette Marrero, bar director, Llama Inn, New York
“The Funk Jamaican Pot Still is the most underrated rum because I think that people may get a whiff of it and write it off because it is really aromatic, as its name suggests. However, I would urge people to try it as a split base in a Daiquiri with a more neutral sugar cane spirit or even try substituting it where you would use rhum agricole. It’s super fun, really affordable, and well made.” — Andra “A.J.” Johnson, bar director, Serenata at La Cosecha, Washington, D.C.
“Copalli Barrel Rested Rum from Belize. This product is high quality and flavorful. But also I appreciate their ethos and how they consider the well-being of their employees. I feel this is significant in today’s rum industry.” — Christopher Longoria, bar director, Che Fico, San Francisco
“I feel that Don Papa Small Batch Rum is one of the underrated rums out there. It is a rum from the Philippines that persuaded me — a person who is known to be a stern frenemy of banana in cocktails — to appreciate the dried fruit, trail mix, and strong banana chip vibes that you get from the first sniff and sip of this rum. I have given in and ended up loving the very tropical tones that were achieved in creating this rum and the unique flavor profile it has. It is fun and interesting on its own, almost acting as a pre-bottled cocktail with the right garnish, but I would also recommend it in a rum Old Fashioned as well as a dark rum Daiquiri if you are looking for a treat.” — Antoine Hodge, bar and spirits director, Baccarat Hotel, New York
“The most underrated rum in my opinion is anything that Richard Seale at Foursquare Rum Distillery [in Barbados] makes. Everything is super complex and the blends are always so well balanced and also super affordable for the quality.” — Al Thompson, bar director, Hanumanh, Washington, D.C.
“For lighter workhorse rums, I have long loved Don Q Cristal. It’s very light in body (rum purists might argue it belongs in the vodka category), but to my mind every tool has its place. This rum is aged for three years before being filtered of its color, so for me, it still has a bit of the roundness that comes with barrel aging. And in addition to being family owned and sustainably produced, there really is no better time to be supporting our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, possibly the most magical place in the world and one that has consistently gotten the short end of the stick in its treatment by the U.S.” — Chris Elford, co-owner, No Anchor, Navy Strength, and Rob Roy, Seattle
“Batavia Arrack van Oosten. Its funk, brought by the red rice, is such a sleeper on the back bar. I love to layer it in tiki drinks with the fresh fruits of spring and summer.” — Mercedes O’Brien, bar manager, Cold Beer, Atlanta
“So many people veer away from cheap booze because they feel it means lesser quality. In the case of rum, that’s not always true, and that’s why I’d have to say the most underrated rum is Flor de Caña. It has a very cheap price point but it’s very smooth, crisp, and has a great history dating back to 1900. You can drink it on ice, or mix in about anything and be happy with the outcome.” — Kevin Robida, lead bartender, Bar Marilou, New Orleans