We are sad to report that rum still hasn’t gained the affection en masse that it deserves, even after the widespread tiki-explosion that rocked the American bar scene in 2016. Regardless, 2017 turned out to be a great year for rum drinkers. Not only did makers of the sugar-based spirit produce bottles that were more interesting and far funkier than ever before, but the already diverse category of spirits expanded to include offerings from Mexico in its global roster—a country that has never commercially released sugarcane spirits beyond its borders before. After donning our favorite Hawaiian shirts and tasting our way through a diverse batch of rums released this year, here are our five picks for the best rums of 2017.
This Oaxacan rum is unlike any other spirit that we tasted in the category. Made from 100 percent fresh sugarcane juice in a style similar to a rhum agricole, Paranubes distinguishes itself with its unique terroir and production methods.
Third generation aguardiente producer Jose Luís uses what he calls a “rolling fermentation”—using wild yeast to ferment new cane juice with some that has fermented up to four months in an open air vat. Then it is distilled in a copper still over an open fire fueled by spent sugarcane fibers. Luís does all this with juice from four varieties of sugarcane from the Sierra Mazateca region of Oaxaca: a high altitude, mountainous ‘cloud forest’ known for its sugarcane and coffee production.
As you lift the rum to your nose, aromas of fresh mango, pineapple salsa, and barbequed pork burst out of the glass. Fresh sugarcane dominates at first, then the rum opens up to reveal flavors of wet earth, toasted marshmallow, and an abundance of overripe tropical fruit. Subtle notes of tamarind sparkle on your tongue and an almost ethereal, gasoline quality lingers on the finish. In a country that has been dominated by a number of beautiful agave spirits in recent years, this rum is a game changer for Mexico. It not only unveils a whole other level of potential of spirits to be made south of the border—but possibly even another category of rum altogether.
This totally geeky line of rums was designed to showcase the brand’s diverse array of distillation techniques and how each one affects the outcome of their final blends (this bottle, along with the chocolatey Batch No. 2, make up the brand’s Mantuano bottling, which also made our list). Batch number one is distilled on the company’s Batch Kettle still, a semi-continuous distillation system bought by Diplomático in 1959. On the nose the rum smells like Coca-Cola and old-timey root beer, with hefty wafts of sarsaparilla and fresh vanilla. It is syrupy and viscous on the palate, with flavors of cola, burnt sugar, malted chocolate milkshakes, brown bananas and toffee. This entry in the Distillery Collection is worth seeking out for its uniqueness and sippability—not just for curiosity's sake.
This delectable Venezuelan rum has become one of our new favorites. Distilled from molasses, the blended rum is made from the two different spirits mentioned above, which are produced on two different styles of stills. Mantuano’s distinctive flavor and aroma are the direct result of time in white oak casks, which were used to hold bourbon and single malt whisky. Dense and aromatic, the rum smells like black tea leaves (after they’re brewed and rested), orange pith, cinnamon, milk chocolate and roasted peanuts. On the palate the spirit is rich and intense, with flavors of chocolate pudding, caramelized brown sugar, wet earth, and those orange chocolate balls you get at Christmas. The finish is long, overwhelmingly creamy and round. While we’re sure that it has uses in a variety of cocktails, we’re having trouble drinking the rum any other way than straight out of our glass.
If you’re a whiskey fan, take note of this stellar rhum agricole. Produced on the island of Martinique—by the famous French agricole producer Rhum J.M. —this limited bottling is one of the only releases under the Rhum J.M. label that has an age statement, vintage, and cask-strength proof. Like all other J.M. rhums, this spirit is distilled from 100 percent fermented sugarcane grown in the island’s rich volcanic soil. After distillation, the rhum was put into re-charred, ex-bourbon barrels and aged for over 10 years. When you uncork this beauty it reveals its complexity almost immediately. The spirit is so big and bourbon-y it almost needs time in a decanter to breathe. On the nose there are aromas of wet leaves, allspice, old tobacco boxes and oak. As the spirit opens on your palate it has flavors akin to the best bourbons: there’s an abundance of toffee and vanilla, with notes of peanut brittle, bitter dark chocolate, tobacco pipe, caramel corn and pecan pie. This is the kind of spirit that you want to keep on the top shelf of your liquor cabinet and only open once a year to savor with your closest friends or family.
Big, sassy and nasty (in a good way), this Jamaican-made rum is so good it’s almost overwhelming. The minute that you remove the cork from the bottle it immediately fills whatever room you are in with the funktastic aromas within. Brought to the United States by the eclectically wonderful Two James Distillery in Detroit, the Doctor Bird rum is aged for six years in Jamaica’s humid heat, then shipped to Michigan and rested in Moscatel Sherry Casks before being bottled. If you’re not a fan of weird, flippantly funky spirits be advised: This rum is the spirit equivalent of barnyard-y French cheeses. On the nose the rum is estery, with aromas of mangos that have been sitting in the sun, tamarind, and overripe banana. On the palate it’s piquant and woodsy, with a flavor akin to licking a compost pile of tropical fruit. If you’re a fan of out-there Jamaican rums like Smith & Cross, Doctor Bird will definitely be your cup of tea—or rum in this case.