Spend enough time at any given bar or casual dining restaurant that offers alcoholic beverages and you're bound to see a fair amount of people drinking rum.
This spirit with its roots in the Caribbean is one of the most popular - and versatile - forms of alcohol around today, and that's mostly due to the wide variety of flavors, styles, and brands of rum that are all available in today's crowded alcohol market.
Clear rum, also known as white rum, is relatively mild when compared to the other forms of rum (spiced and dark rum), and will often be found in any number of cocktails that don't have a need for a strong rum flavor. Following a rather short aging period of one to three years, clear rums go through an intensive filtration process that removes all color from the spirit. Because of these factors, clear rums are typically cheaper that their more mature counterparts.
Spiced rum offers the most variety when it comes to flavoring from an assortment of spices such as cinnamon, rosemary, aniseed, pepper, cloves, and even caramel. Spiced rum is darker in color than clear rum, but some of the cheaper brands are made with inexpensive white rum containing additional caramel to give the spirit its distinctive color.
Dark rums are generally made from caramelized sugar or molasses and then are aged for a significant amount of time in charred barrels. These factors coupled together give dark rums a stronger taste and aroma than other types of rum. This style of rum is also favored in cooking.
Flavored rums are generally less than 40% ABV (80 proof), and are often found in tropical drinks like mai tais and piña coladas. More times than not, banana, coconut, orange, and pineapple flavoring (in a combination or on their own) is added to aid in drinkability.
There are more light rum brands than there are days in the year, so we'll only focus on a handful of the more popular staples of the market.
This will not come as a surprise to anyone, but Bacardi is the most popular of the light rums. Ask just about anyone to name their favorite light rum and they'll most likely say "Bacardi" before you can even finish the sentence. But even though Bacardi is the class favorite, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the best, as Amanda Schuster, of Distiller.com, put it:
"A bit alcoholic on the nose, with some aromas of vanilla and cherry. The cherry becomes more medicinal on the palate, with a strong note of charcoal and rubbing alcohol. Definitely not one to sip neat, it's more reminiscent of cheap vodka than rum. Take the advice of the label, which states it's ‘ideal for mixing.'"
But don't feel like you have to settle for Bacardi because there are more than enough choices at any price-point.
The spiced rum market is just as crowded as the light rum market, but unlike its lighter counterpart, spiced rum offers a much more complex flavor profile.
People mostly think of Captain Morgan when they think about spiced rum, so much that so many people say "Captain & Coke" opposed to "Rum & Coke," which we have a recipe for at the bottom of this post. Stephanie Moreno, of Distiller.com, had this to say about Captain Morgan:
"Lots of sugar sweetness on the nose, much like carnival candy with a bundle of vanilla. The other spices are tough to discern individually, but cola flavor seemed to be present. It is rich and sweet which makes it difficult once again to pick up much spice. Listen, we know this will likely end up in a glass with Coke. You're not going to be sipping this neat in your study. But, maybe try a different spiced rum for your Cuba Libre. You may be surprised to find some with real character and more oomph. The Captain just falls a little flat."
But Captain Morgan isn't alone at the top of the spiced rum world thanks to the popular Kraken spiced rum, which was launched in early 2010. Described as an "excellent spiced rum" by Master Of Malt, Kraken has "an extraordinary rich, spicy flavor... that should certainly suit any fans of rich, navy-style rum."
If you want to stay out of the battle between Captain Morgan and the relatively new Kraken, try out these brands:
We start to experience a lot of flavor (and see the rich, dark color) of the rum when we get into into the traditional dark rums. The aging process really brings out the rich and earthy notes of the spirt's ingredients.
"This molasses-based dark rum is a blend of up to nine rums made in both continuous and pot stills. It's aged up to four years in ex-bourbon barrels.
"It's rich and almost earthy, with sweet and peppery spices. Vanilla, brown sugar and coffee add sweetness and complexity. Finishes a bit hot to be a pure sipping rum, but there's a good reason bartenders the world over reach for it to make a variety of cocktails. Decent stuff for the price."
But if Myers's isn't your thing, you can try out these brands to see which tastes the best:
Finally, we have the flavored rums. While these brands offer a lot of different tastes, it's not because of the natural flavoring of the aging process. In fact, it's mostly due to all of the chemicals piped into the rum before it's bottled.
The act of adding artificial flavoring to the batches decreases the alcohol content of the rum, which is now no longer rum, but instead a rum flavored liqueur. This is seen in Malibu, which is one of the most popular flavored rum brands. Amanda Schuster, of Distiller.com, speaks for all of us with this comment regarding Malibu:
"This product somehow manages to taste entirely of coconut without actually tasting of coconut at all. It's an idea of a coconut, really. As if one is sipping a picture of one - a rendering of someone's idea of coconut. Same goes for its "rumness," which establishes a base, but only has a sweet dimension. Its sweet and chemical flavors aside, it's easy to see why it's so popular with people who just want something sweet and low proof to sip."
If you like flavored rum, but don't want to settle for Malibu, here are a few brands worth checking out: