I’ve long thought that rum doesn’t get the respect it deserves. In India, especially, rum is considered the ‘poor man’s’ or ‘student’s’ liquor, something people start out with before moving on to whiskey. I suppose this is understandable, considering that most rums are cheap and relatively easy to produce. But just because rum is affordable doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flavour and complexity, and can’t be enjoyed as much as any other drink. Subtle variations in the production process—from what kind of sugarcane product is used as a base, to whether it’s spiced or not, and how it is aged—can result in an incredibly sophisticated end product that would arguably not feel out of place among the best whiskeys.
As an admirer of dark rum (I’ll stop short of calling myself an aficionado, much less a connoisseur), I’ve had the pleasure of sampling lots of different ones produced in different parts of the world. While some are nicest when mixed, others are best enjoyed on their own, either on the rocks or with a dash of water—or both (I don’t really enjoy white rums, though, so I try to avoid them when I can).
Here, then, are five great dark rums to try while travelling the world.
Old Monk Gold Reserve (India)
The famous (at least in India) Old Monk rum is something that almost every drinker in India has tried at least once in their lives. Affordable and flavourful with its vanilla notes and caramel aftertaste, this rum is arguably the best known and most loved rum in India. And while every Indian drinker knows it, most haven’t heard of—much less had the opportunity to try—its premium Gold Reserve variant. Aged for 12 years, Old Monk Gold Reserve retains the base version’s caramel and vanilla flavours, and elevates them to a surprising level of sophistication.
IQ recommends: Mix in a dash of apple juice for a complex, warming and Christmas-y drink.
Bundaberg Master Distiller’s Collection—Small Batch, Vintage Barrel (Australia)
This extremely interesting rum blends selected regular Bundaberg (or ‘Bundy’, as the locals affectionately call it) rums with reserves matured for eight years in century-old oak barrels previously used for storing port. This gives the rum a unique, almost whiskey-like tang, while still retaining the characteristic caramel notes of a good dark rum. This is probably the best rum for an inveterate whiskey drinker to try, the only bridge between both worlds that I’ve ever encountered.
IQ recommends: Bundy and coke is extremely popular in Australia, and for good reason.
Takamaka Bay Dark (Seychelles)
Smooth with rich vanilla notes, Takamaka Bay Dark is produced in the east African island nation of the Seychelles. While not easily available elsewhere, some duty-free stores at international airports do stock it. It even comes in small half-litre bottles, so if you’re not entirely sure, you can pick a small one up as a sampler. I tried this rum in 2012, after which production seems to have moved to a different distillery, so I’m not sure if the flavour has changed. It’s probably still worth a try, though.
IQ recommends: I’ve found that the vanilla hit of this rum goes best with cola.
The Kraken (USA)
With its cargo-hold bottle, vintage label and black-as-night colour, The Kraken enthusiastically embraces rum’s pirate heritage. Not so the flavour, though, which is elegant and spiced, with a sweet caramel aftertaste. Besides caramel and vanilla, this rum also has hints of clove, cinnamon and ginger, making it the most complex spiced rum I have come across. All in all, the most thorough embodiment of every aspect of rum and its history that I can think of.
IQ recommends: Drinking it on the rocks will allow you to appreciate it for what it is.
Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 (Guatemala)
A sophisticated sipping rum, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is matured using the solera process usually used for maturing sherry, picking up subtle flavours from each of its four different aging barrels before spending another year maturing in oak casks. The result is a very smooth, multifaceted rum that doesn’t rely on spices for complexity. However, I did notice a distinct drop in sweetness—caused by residual sugars after the fermentation of the base sugarcane juice—after the brand was taken over by Diageo.
IQ recommends: My preference is with a splash of cold water; I find it a little overwhelming if drunk straight or on the rocks.
Here are some other nice rums to try, if you get the chance.
- Lamb’s Navy Rum (UK): A rich, dark rum that is my preferred substitute if I can’t find Old Monk.
- Bacardi Black (USA): A smooth dark rum built on Bacardi’s 150-year heritage.
- Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold (USA): A golden spiced rum with vanilla highlights, this one is great for cocktails that complement its spices.