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I’ve long thought that rum doesn’t get the respect it deserves. In India, especially, people consider rum the ‘poor man’s’ or ‘student’s’ liquor—something to start one’s drinking experiences with before moving up 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. Or that it 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.
I’ve had the pleasure of sampling quite a few dark rums 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. Aside: I don’t really enjoy white rums, though, so I try to avoid them when I can.
Here, then, are some great dark rum brands from different parts of the world that you should try.
1. Old Monk Gold Reserve (India)
The famous (at least in India) Old Monk rum is something that almost every Indian drinker has tried at least once in their lives. Affordable and flavourful with its vanilla notes and caramel aftertaste, this dark rum is one of the most well-known dark rum brands in India. But while every Indian drinker knows it, most haven’t heard of 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.
Drink it with a generous splash of apple juice for a complex, warming and Christmassy cocktail.
2. Bundaberg Master Distiller’s Collection—Small Batch, Vintage Barrel (Australia)
This extremely interesting medium-dark 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 it a unique, almost whiskey-like tang, while still keeping the characteristic caramel notes of a good dark rum. This is probably the best rum for a whiskey drinker to try, the only bridge between both worlds that I’ve ever encountered.
Bundy and cola is extremely popular in Australia, and for good reason. It’s a great combination.
Also read: Twelve things to see in and around Sydney
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3. Takamaka Spiced (The Seychelles)
Smooth with rich vanilla, banana and caramel notes, Takamaka Spiced is produced in the east African island nation of The Seychelles. Outside the Seychelles, I’ve only ever seen it stocked at the Dubai airport duty-free. If you’re ever there, you might want to pick some up. 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 incredible flavoured rum in 2012, after which production seems to have moved to a different distillery. The taste hasn’t changed, though, so it’s still worth a try.
I’ve found that the vanilla and banana flavours of this medium-dark rum go best with cola, though it’s great on the rocks, too.
Also read: Six discoveries we made in the Seychelles
4. The Kraken (Trinidad and Tobago)
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 undertone. Besides caramel and vanilla, this very dark rum also has hints of clove, cinnamon and ginger, making it the most complex flavoured 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.
(Aside: Though the rum is distilled in Trinidad and Tobago, it’s sold in lots of different countries.)
Drinking it with water will let you appreciate its complexity without having to deal with its somewhat bitter caramel aftertaste. I’ve heard some like it with ginger ale, though I’m not a fan of the combination.
5. Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 (Guatemala)
A sophisticated sipping rum, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is matured in the mountains of Guatemala using the solera process usually used for maturing sherry. It picks 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 dark rum that doesn’t rely on spices for complexity. However, I did notice a distinct drop in sweetness after the brand was taken over by Diageo. But it’s still a great tasting rum, and arguably one of the best dark rums around.
My preference is with a splash of cold water. I find it a little overwhelming if drunk straight or on the rocks.
6. 1965—Spirit of Victory (India)
This interesting rum was created in honour of India’s armed forces, and commemorates their victory in the country’s 1965 war with Pakistan. The closest thing to a great sipping rum that India’s produced so far, 1965—Spirit of Victory is a smooth rum with berry and chocolate notes and a slightly reddish tinge. But probably because it’s distilled from molasses like most rums in the subcontinent, it’s also got a slightly funky aftertaste. Still, it might just be the best dark rum yet from India.
Drinking this one with a splash of cold water will get rid of some of the molasses aftertaste while keeping the hints of chocolate and berry.
7. El Dorado 12 (Guyana)
A smooth, dark-gold rum, El Dorado 12 year old is produced in Guyana, a South American country with a long history of producing great rums. This great sipping rum is aged for 12 years in oak barrels along the river Demerara, and retains some of its sugars from the fermentation process, making it comparatively sweet. This rum also has hints of fruit and honey, and spices like clove and cardamom, together with a lingering smokiness.
In my opinion, this complex rum is best enjoyed straight or on the rocks.
8. Takamaka St. André (The Seychelles)
An incredibly smooth rum, Takamaka St. André is another great rum from the island nation of The Seychelles. The flavour is dry and woody almost to the point of bitterness, with hints of cardamom and vanilla. This is one of my favourites, and I can safely say it’s the smoothest rum I have ever tasted. Sadly, just like the Takamaka Spiced (see above), the only place it seems to be available outside The Seychelles is at the Dubai airport duty-free.
I like to sip this one straight, but if the dryness gets too much for you, a cube or two of ice should help.
9. Khukri (Nepal)
The most popular dark rum brand in the country, Khukri (pronounced ‘khoo-koo-ree’) is named after the traditional forward-curved dagger of the Gorkha tribesmen of Nepal. As is usual with the molasses-based rums of the Indian subcontinent, this rum’s predominant flavours are those of caramel and vanilla. Though not a very sophisticated rum, it’s great fun to do the Nepalese thing and use it to keep warm in cold weather!
Drinking this rum with hot water is a great way to keep the cold at bay. It also tastes great as a hot rum punch with honey, lime and cinnamon.
Here are some other nice dark rum brands 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 Oakheart (USA): A young but complex spiced rum, with a long honey aftertaste.
- Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold (USA): A golden spiced rum with vanilla highlights. Great for cocktails that complement its spices.