As it becomes more and more likely that you’re running low on mixers, we’ve spent the week calling out gins and a variety of whiskeys to drink straight. Today it’s rum’s turn. We’re not talking about the harsh, high proof, mouth-drying rum that you mixed high-octane punches with in college. We’re talking about aged, nuanced, high-quality rums — sure to please even whiskey purists.
Jake Larowe, bar manager at Birds and Bees in Los Angeles, prefers well-aged rums to whiskey for slow sipping.
“I love clean, 12-year barrel-aged rums,” he says. “Something that doesn’t get too heavy from a long stay in wood but still has enough time to sit and mellow.”
To help us drill down to specific bottles, we enlisted the help of some of our favorite bartenders. Here are their picks for the best rums for drinking neat.
Clairin Vaval Haitian Rhum Agricole
Valentino Longo, bartender at Le Sirenuse in Miami
I love rhum agricole to drink neat during the day, like Clairin. And for after dinner with a nice cigar, a Venezuelan rum, like Diplomatico.
El Dorado 12 Year
Courtney Everett, bartender O-Ku Sushi in Atlanta
If I’m going to drink a rum neat, it better be smooth. That’s why I like El Dorado 12-year. It is rich and complex, and kind of funky. Plus it’s at a good price point for aged rum.
Ron Zacapa 23 Year
Kevin Moran, general manager at Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood in South Walton, Florida
My choice of rum is the Ron Zacapa 23-year barrel-aged. Many of our other labels of rum are designed to enjoy in a hand-crafted cocktail while Ron Zacapa is designed to be enjoyed as you would a Cognac or a fine whiskey. Its time in barrel has given it a rounder mouthfeel and more depth of flavor, best enjoyed neat.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva
Josh Saphier, bartender at Eighteen36 in Houston
My go-to rum is Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva. The origin is Venezuela. It’s utterly smooth at room temp. On the nose, I get honey or tawny port, you can smell a little bit of raisin. Fruity up front, I get banana and cantaloupe. The finish is a little funkier though it dissipates quickly.
Dos Maderas 5 + 5
Josh Streetman, bartender at Motor Supply Co. in Columbia, South Carolina
Rum styles range across the board, with production methods being widely diverse and mostly unregulated. I like Dos Maderas 5 + 5. It’s Spanish and finished in oak and used port barrels. I also have an affection for agricole for a funky, lighter, vegetal flavor. Duquesne from Martinique is my pick.
Ron Zacapa XO
Natalie Migliarini, the mixologist behind Beautiful Booze on Instagram
Ron Zacapa XO Rum. I love the sweet, spicy, and rich flavors — including dark chocolate, brown sugar, and toffee. I also love Zacapa’s Master Blender, Lorena Vásquez, whom I’ve met on several occasions. Her personality and energy really make this brand stand out.
Black Coral Spiced Rum
Bryan Long, assistant director of Food & at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Palm Beach, Florida
The best rum for me is Black Coral Rum’s Spiced Rum. It is distilled using ingredients sourced in Palm Beach’s backyard and is incredibly flavorful. The flavors of toasted cacao nibs, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon make it a great sipper. It also makes great old fashioneds and Manhattans.
Foursquare Cask Series
Nate Simmons, bartender at Garden & Grain in Pensacola, Florida
Foursquare Cask Series Rum from Barbados. This line of artisan rums is pot stilled and aged in a combination of ex-bourbon, ex-Madeira and/or ex-sherry barrels. Incredible flavor and complexity.
Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum
Mazzarie Parker, bar manager of Maypop Restaurant in New Orleans
Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum from Hemingway Rum Co. is my absolute favorite rum. It has notes of warm spices, caramel, vanilla, coffee, and port that make for a sweeter rum. The aroma alone makes me crave dessert. Although I do like to use this rum in cocktails, it is delicious enough to stand alone as an after-dinner spirit.
Zsolt Ducsai, food and beverage director at Serafina Beach Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Bacardi Limitada. This rum pairs well with a nice cigar. It’s rich in flavors (dry vanilla) and complex, with dark fruits and smooth notes.
Mount Gay XO Reserve Cask
Piero Procida, bartender at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles
I’m going to go with Mount Gay XO Reserve Cask. If you are going to drink something straight, there has to be some sophistication and barrel aging to tone down the alcohol. It also provides a variety of flavors in a more “natural way” than having to mix it in drinks with a plethora of the ghastly synthetic ingredients that rum so often finds itself in.
This Barbados Rum has been aged for eight years and is incredibly smooth. Immediately off the bat, you’ll taste honey, banana and toffee apple with hints of spicy oak, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A truly terrific rum that I think deserves a lot more credit. Easy to drink by itself, nothing added.
Alan Walter, spirit handler at Loa Bar in New Orleans
When it comes to sipping neat, you can’t go wrong with Paranubes. This Oaxacan spirit is between cachaça and agricole. It’s a truly unique, vegetal, and sweet flavor.