Previously, on recommendations from a fancy [insert spirit here] shopgirl, Allison Shoemaker suggested six whiskeys (mostly bourbons), five ryes, six vodkas, and six gins. This week, rum. Yes, she will eventually do Scotch.
My love of rum is hard-fought. Like many of you (just guessing, but I am for sure correct), I had a particularly rough experience not long after I started drinking that turned me off the spirit for years. (Note: It is also when I learned that a certain kind of dude will make your drinks especially strong when you’re not paying attention.) That spirit was rum—Bacardi 151, to be precise, which was mercifully discontinued, presumably because bartenders kept accidentally lighting people on fire. So rum and I went on a break I assumed would be lifelong.
And then, I met the Rum Punch at Rogers Park Social.
(Another note: The owners of Rogers Park Social also own the fancy shop where this fancy shopgirl occasionally moonlights. It is not an exaggeration to say that this cocktail led indirectly to me wanting to work for them in the first place, and thus is also indirectly responsible for many of my recommendations.)
It was so good. Just insanely tasty. So I decided it was time to work rum back into my life, cautiously but purposefully. To that end, I’ve tasted a lot of rums, and smelled many more without actually tasting them. If it smells like sunblock and ethanol, I bypass it entirely. If it smells good, I proceed with caution. If it doesn’t even sort of turn my stomach, I’ve found a winner.
In my personal experience, the gulf between a bad rum and a good one—even an average rum and a good one—is enormous. These are all good ones. With the exception of one beautiful aged beauty below, all are suitable for mixing with some fresh juice or fruit, maybe a little simply syrup, and some tiki bitters, if you’re feeling especially summery. Need more inspiration? Read our guide to using different types of rums.
As always, a few caveats. For the most part, I try to highlight things you won’t find everywhere, so don’t expect to find Bacardi or Captain Morgan below. I’m based in Chicago, so while I try to taste spirits from all over the place, odds are I haven’t tried that amazing spiced rum from Arizona you love so much. (But please, tell me about it! I’ll keep my eyes peeled.) This is a subjective list—it’s stuff I really love, not a definitive ranking of the world’s best rums. I haven’t traveled enough to make that possible. I’ve also cheated just a little and included another cane sugar spirit that you can consider rum-adjacent.
Ålander Rum (Far North Spirits, Minnesota) — around $30 and up
So, okay, I guess I’m cheating here, too, because all three of these rums are amazing. I’m partial to the Nordic Style Spiced Rum (the black bottle), which I’ve written about previously. All three are great, though, and the white rum is a really good deal—at most places it’ll set you back around $29, and it seriously overdelivers at that price point. All three also have some unusual notes—the spiced is slightly herbal, the aged has that “buttercream richness” described in the Instagram post above.
Another bonus (anecdotal, please don’t do this on purpose, it might be a fluke): The black bottle, at least, bounces when it falls to the floor.
Doctor Bird (Jamaica / Two James Spirits, Michigan) — around $27
This is a cool spirit. Two James imports pot still rum from Jamaica, creates its own blends, and then ages those blends in Moscatel sherry casks. A funky, hogo rum that’s great in cocktails—though be prepared for a strong aroma if you’re planning to sip it straight. Pretty bottle, too.
Smoked Rum (Trinidad / Stolen, New Zealand) — around $30
This one won’t be for everyone, but it is definitely for me. A column-distilled rum from Trinidad And Tobago, Stolen’s smoked rum gets aged for at least two years in American oak barrels previously used to age whiskey. It’s then “imbrued into the rum using 100 percent Arabica coffee beans from Columbia, fenugreek seeds from Morocco, and vanilla beans from Madagascar,” before it’s smoked in the U.S. I don’t love this one on its own, but it makes a hell of a cocktail. Use it whenever you’d use an aged rum, but you can also try subbing it for Scotch in a Penicillin or Rob Roy cocktail.
It’s not aggressively smoky, but if you’re not into smoke flavors, this won’t be for you. Stolen’s Overproof Rum might be, though (that one’s not for me—way too boozy.)
Parce Rum 12 (Colombia / Panama / Chicago) — around $60
A Chicago-based brand, Parce Rums have roots in Colombia, Panama, and Trinidad. They age inside American whiskey barrels in warehouses in Colombia and Panama. They are well-traveled. And while both age expressions are great, the 12-year is one of my favorite sipping spirits, period. It’s really complex, with hints of vanilla and leather and other good things. It’s one of those spirits that just tastes like an indulgence. It’s priced like one too, obviously, but because of what you’re getting, it’s a fair price.
Novo Fogo Cachaça (Floresta Atlântica, Brazil) — around $30
Have you ever had a Caipirinha? I hadn’t, until a couple years back. If you’re unfamiliar, cachaça (the spirit you use to make one) is a sugar cane spirit that Novo Fogo, an organic brand with a pretty solid foothold in the U.S., calls “rum’s older Brazilian cousin.” If you’re a rum drinker, or like a rum cocktail, this is right up your street. Novo Fogo also makes handy Caipirinha kits, but all you need to make one is the recipe, the ingredients, a mason jar, and a long muddler of some kind. It’s one of my favorite warm-weather drinks.
Next time: Irish whiskey!