While traditional luxury libations like Scotch and cognac have long held prized positions on the shelves of spirits enthusiasts, the fascination with high-end tequila, vodka, gin and whisky from around the globe has skyrocketed in recent years. This obsession with “premiumization” inexplicably bypassed rum, however; the versatile spirit seemed relegated to a dark corner as a drink best suited to sailors, gentleman rogues, and other salty ne’er-do-wells.
But not any more: in 2018 alone, volume of super-premium rums skyrocketed 27%—the biggest leap in any super-premium spirits category—underscoring the burgeoning global appreciation of this fine spirit distilled from sugarcane byproducts. And at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition an astounding number of premium rum entries qualified, with Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema Solera 23 from Guatemala claiming a gold medal.
“I like to think that anything you can do, rum can do better,” explains Brian Miller, partner (as well as Beverage Director and bartender) at New York City’s esteemed tiki joint The Polynesian. While Miller suggests playing with your favorite recipes by substituting white rums for gin, tequila, and vodka, and darker rums for whiskeys, in cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Sazerac, there are many rums so smooth and amusingly complex that they can (and some would argue should) be sipped neat or with a couple of rocks. Here are our favorites: