The thought of rum brings to mind tropical destinations and summer drinks. But a sip of the spirit is appropriate any time of year—even in mid-December, when it goes as well in eggnog as it does in a tiki drink. Here are a few of my favorites.
For Your Friend:
Zafra Master Reserve (Panama; $40)
A newcomer to the fine rum market, Zafra Master Reserve has gotten a warm welcome from aficionados. This product of Panama is aged 21 years, with a sweet, figgy aroma, bursts of caramel and a long, leathery finish. It’s a perfect gift for someone on the hunt for the next big spirit.
El Dorado 21-Year-Old (Guyana; $80)
El Dorado produces a line of delicious Demerara rums, which are more full-bodied and tend to be sweeter than other rums. The 21-year-old is the top-of-the-line product and is drier with an ethereal hint of cocoa offsetting caramel notes.
For the Boss:
Clément Cuvée Homère (Martinique; $120)
This beautifully bottled agricole rum from Martinique will surprise anyone accustomed to the vegetal white rums from the island. Surprisingly dry and crisp, it has a fleeting sweetness and traces of tarragon and nuts. This blend of three vintages will be welcomed by anyone who appreciates subtle complexity.
Appleton Estate 21-Year-Old (Jamaica; $120)
Jamaica traditionally produces big rums, and this one manages to be both giant and gentle. It’s a blend of Appleton rums aged at least 21 years. The cocoa and vanilla notes are well-tempered with a touch of oak.
For Your Father-In-law:
Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask (Barbados; $100)
Produced at the oldest operating rum distillery in the world, the 1703 Old Cask has the best pedigree of the Mount Gay line. It’s a combination of lighter rum made in a column-still and heavier rum from a pot-still. The blend is then aged to perfection and should be sipped neat.
Ron Zacapa XO (Guatemala; $100)
Zacapa’s standard bottling (Zacapa 23; $45) has long hovered near the top spot for many rum connoisseurs. This variation is more sophisticated (a blend of rums aged six to 25 years) and is slightly less sweet than the Zacapa 23. Ideal for someone unconvinced that rum is ever comparable to cognac or single-malts.
Pyrat Cask 1623 (Anguilla; $250)
This lush sipping rum with a deep tiger-eye color (pictured above) is a blend of spirits aged up to 40 years. The taste is ambrosial, both full and sweet with passing notes of charred oak and orange and a finish smooth as a beach stone. Dole this one out in half-shots to make it last.
English Harbour 25-Year-Old (Antigua, $300)
English Harbour has long produced excellent rums with little fanfare, but the 25-year-old caught the attention of the spirits world. Produced in 1981 and bottled in 2006, this is a rare and remarkable rum with hints of smokiness, oak and ripe fruit on a background of caramel. Unfortunately, it’s not widely available in America, so you need to order it online from abroad.
For a Party:
Oronoco (Brazil; $30)
Rum producers have always touted premium white rums (rarely with justification). Oronoco breaks the mold—it’s a blend of full-bodied Brazilian rum and Venezuelan spirits that’s robust yet smooth enough for mixing.
Barbancourt 15-Year-Old (Haiti; $40)
Barbancourt rums from Haiti are sophisticated, complex spirits made from sugar cane. The 15-year-old is dry and slightly peppery, and can be enjoyed straight or employed to smarten a favorite cocktail.
Wayne Curtis writes about drinks for The Atlantic Monthly and is author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.