Rum wears its personality on its sleeve, with hues ranging from as clear and mild as vodka to as dark and as in-your-face as crude oil. Light (white) rum is young like the spring-breakers who love it, while dark (or black) rum is aged three to 12 years in oak casks and laced with caramel tones. Light rums power basic cocktails like the daiquiri. For full-flavored drinks such as rum punch and the gingery Dark & Stormy, pour rich, dark rums. Mai tais and hurricanes layer both light and dark. We sampled rums (each about $20, liquor stores), ranking them from mix-in only to highly sip-able.
BACARDI DRAGON BERRY, BERMUDA
A sip of this reminds us too much of childhood, thanks to the spirit’s unexpected hints of both pink cotton candy and Triaminic cough syrup. Still, at 70 proof, there was little to no burn.
RHUM BARBANCOURT (4-YEAR AGED), HAITI
Once you pick yourself up off the floor, you’ll barely be able to remember how this tastes. (It’s a walloping 86 proof). Served neat? No, thanks. But in a fruity drink? Oh, yeah.
GOSLING’S BLACK SEAL, BERMUDA
You know when they forget to add carbonation to fountain soda and you take a big slurp of syrup? Imagine that, but with a hard bite of rum. Lesson learned: A little ginger beer sure goes a long way in the Dark & Stormy.
MOUNT GAY ECLIPSE, BARBADOS
Like a one-night stand that’s gone awry, the start is easy and fun, but the after-burn hits you like the next morning’s inevitable regrets. But this label’s strength lies in mixed drinks (not on rocks).
PIRASSUNUNGA CACHACA 51, BRAZIL
Clearly, this is a scotch-inspired spirit trapped in the body of a light rum. A little earthy like mescal, a bit sweet like bourbon. But masked by lime and sugar, behold the tart glory of Brazil’s caipirinha.
BACARDI 8 (8-YEAR AGED), BERMUDA
Mellow, bright, sweet — simply put, the stuff sipping rum is made of — so think (and drink) like Ernest Hemingway without having to resort to hitting the black market for illegal Cuban brands.
CUBA LIBRE EL DORADO (5-YEAR AGED), GUYANA
Smooth like honey, with pleasantly complex, woody undertones. Snifter-ready. (Available in September at Ace Liquors, 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW; 202-966-4444.)
Written by Express contributor Katie Knorovsky
Photos by Marge Ely/Express