In the final throes of summer each year, before we dust off the leather boots, get out the lambswool sweaters and prepare to toss the first curse at Old Man Winter, we spend a little extra time with Old Man Rum. Pretty good company, this guy: a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice or molasses, with few other rules to govern its production and aging. That makes for a drink that varies greatly in style and provenance. The five rums we’re enjoying now reflect that variety of tastes.
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Ron Zacapa XO
Best Sipping Rum: You pay for quality in this instance. The Guatemalan rum maker focuses on a small range of rums, all distilled in their highlands locale 7,500 feet above sea level. Their XO is a blend of rums aged from 6 to 25 years, and its complexities — a balance of spice, sweetness and fruit as varied as dark cherry, ginger and raspberry — demand nothing but a few fingers slowly sipped, neat.
Gosling’s Black Seal Black Rum
Best Dark and Stormy Rum: Gosling’s is the standard in dark rums. We’re talking more than 150 years of crafting a Bermudian drink that’s deliciously oily and bursting with sweet molasses. Their ginger beer is the Laurel to Black Seal’s Hardy, and both cheap to boot; paired, they are perhaps the perfect complement of tart bite and lightly burned sugar, the ideal cocktail perched over a bay or sitting around a campfire at the beach.
Bull Run Pacific Rum
Best American Rum: We move from Bermuda shorts to tight jean cutoffs with this Oregon-made rum. Hawaiian sugarcane, Oregon spring water and just four weeks in bourbon barrels result in a rum tinged with straw color and Gosling’s foil in terms of taste: coconut, chocolate and vanilla notes lend themselves to a very respectable daiquiri.
Bacardi Reserva Limitada
Best Powerhouse Rum: There’s hardly a more influential name in the history of rum and in the contemporary mass market than Bacardi, and while the tendency among connoisseurs is sometimes to turn up the old schnoz at big brands, we wouldn’t suggest it. Bacardi Reserva Limitada, also known as the “Founder’s Blend” when you’re trying to impress a date, is a lesser-known gem that’ll cost you a fistful of scratch. But what you get in return is an individually-numbered bottle of rum that’s been aged in lightly charred American white oak barrels between 10 and 16 years; the amber liquid smells spicy and sweetly fruity, with a taste the covers all the important ground between vanilla, honey and maple syrup. This one’s for sipping.
Mount Gay Black Barrel
Editor’s Pick: Some say rum has lost its way in the shadow of whiskey and vodka, but don’t dismiss Mount Gay’s double-distilled Black Barrel as just a cheap ride on the overalls of the booming bourbon market. Rum’s softer allures like toasted sugars and vanilla coat the nose, but a taste reveals peppery heat, burnt oak and a tease of honey, the handiwork of aging first in typical bourbon casks before dozing off again in extra-charred “black” ex-bourbon barrels. Each sip is a gateway drug that should woo fans back to a party ruined by Malibu and a certain mustachioed captain. Drink it neat with a dash of water for the education, then let it pinch hit for whiskey in popular cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.
Bonus: Ron Abuelo Anejo 7 Anos
Best Bang-for-your-Rum: A Jackson gets you one of the sweetest, most level-headed rums on the market. There’s cocoa, a touch of citrus, oak, and that warm feeling of saving money while retaining libational happiness. If second string friends are on their way over, pull out the one-step-lower Ron Abuelo Anejo, a lighter, still tasty version for even less ($13) dough.