When it’s snowy and sleety outside, you could hop a ship to the Caribbean—or, Ray Isle suggests, just sip one of these new-wave rums from warmer climes.
Rum, of all the liquors out there, is the one most bedeviled by a dual personality. White rum is one of the ultimate mixers: Put in a punch, shaken into a daiquiri, even dumped into cola, it’s adaptable, easygoing, often innocuous. Because of that, people often forget that darker aged rum can be truly great, with all the complexity and distinction of top single malt Scotch or high-end bourbon.
A distillate of molasses or sugarcane juice (for rhum agricole), rum is made throughout the Caribbean region, from Cuba to Guyana and everywhere in between. Produced with care and aged in oak barrels, it takes on flavors that are the archetype of warmth: caramelized notes that suggest toffee, butterscotch, brown butter, or pralines; baking spices like cardamom, vanilla, and cinnamon; gentle fruit flavors like baked apple and sweet orange; or savory nut, tobacco, or espresso characteristics.
So when it’s dismal out, take a cue from the British Royal Navy, which used to dispense a daily ration of rum to boost sailors’ spirits: Pour a couple ounces from any of the following bottles into a low glass, drop in a rock or two, and introduce a whisper of the tropics into your life. You won’t regret it.
Pyrat XO Reserve ($25)
The folks at Patrón Spirits, who are behind this vanilla-tinged rum from Guyana, are cagey about the actual blend. But however their distillers go about it, the resulting spirit has a scent that recalls nothing so much as peeling a ripe orange.
Diplomático Mantuano ($30)
A recent addition to the well regarded Diplomático line, this blend of Venezuelan rums aged up to eight years is more savory and less sweet than the distillery’s popular Reserva Exclusiva bottling. Think nutmeg and caramel notes.
El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve ($42)
This venerable Guyanese rum producer operates the oldest working wooden Coffey still in the world (in use since 1880), along with two even more antique wooden pot stills—something that may well contribute to the ultra-silky texture of this tobacco-scented spirit.
Papa's Pilar Sherry Finish ($45)
Based in Key West, Florida, Papa’s Pilar sources rums from throughout the Caribbean and blends them for this limited-edition rum. It’s finished in sherry casks, giving it a character that recalls tres leches cake sprinkled with cinnamon.
Plantation XO 20th Anniversary ($45)
Cognac producer Alexandre Gabriel of Maison Ferrand sources vintage rums from several Caribbean countries then ships them to France for further aging in Cognac barrels. This complex blend of old Barbadian rums is lightly sweet, with savory toast and coconut notes on the finish.
Don Q Gran Añejo ($55)
Rums aged from 9 to 12 years from Destilería Serrallés in Puerto Rico make up this impressively nuanced rum. Polished and complex, it offers the subtlety of Cognac in a rum framework, with layers of lightly smoky nut and vanilla tones.
The Real McCoy 12 Year ($55)
Named after the famed Prohibition rumrunner Bill McCoy, this refined, cardamom-scented rum blends 12-year and older rums from master distiller Richard Seale’s renowned Foursquare Distillery in Barbados.
Rhum Clément 10 Year Grande Reserve ($75)
Made as traditional Martinique rhum agricole—which is distilled from sugarcane juice rather than molasses—the rums used in this blend are selected from casks aged no less than 10 years. The spirit’s subtly vegetal sugarcane note is overlaid by sweet toffee.