Need to freshen up your rum game? The good news is that you won't need to spend much to do so. Plenty of rums offer excellent value, and even moving beyond the largest brands, most are readily accessible.
This here list represents a diverse range of rums spanning numerous styles from all over the map. Think overproof rum, spiced rum, big brands, and small players. There's also rum made from different types of stills (pot stills versus column stills), which enables a distiller to produce a spirit with unique flavor qualities.
While five of the brands mentioned—Appleton Estate, Barceló, Brugal, Chairman's Reserve and Mount Gay—are part of the Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) quality control program, made open to members of The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers' Association (WIRSPA), there's also rum from beyond the Caribbean, and from non-member brands within the region.
The one category which is not represented is that of white rums, also known as silver or light rums. This subsect offers great values as well—prime for crafting daiquiris, mojitos and the like—but that's a different list for a different day.
10 Great Rums Under $30
1) Mount Gay Black Barrel (Barbados), $30: Black Barrel blends together a combination of double pot distilled rums and column distilled rums before finishing the aging process in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels. This 43 percent ABV expression from Mount Gay therefore offers some bourbon characteristics, such as vanillins and drier oaky notes, along with more of the roast and molasses typical of rum.
2) Barceló Imperial (Dominican Republic), $30: Dominican brand Ron Barceló is notable for its sugarcane juice distillation, rather than molasses. After an initial aging period, the 40 percent ABV Imperial is finished for an extra two years in French oak barrels, with the overall age range of blends spanning between four and 10 years. Imperial offers smoky and roasty notes, along with buttery oak, brown sugar, and some earthy, grassy flavors.
3) Plantation Grande Reserve 5 Year (Barbados), $21.99: This 40 percent ABV Barbados rum spends five years aging in ex-bourbon casks in the Caribbean, before relocating to France to be finished in French oak casks at Maison Ferrand's Château de Bonbonnet in Cognac, France. Find a buttery nose with popcorn and coconut notes, and an overall earthy, funky profile, also showcasing a creamy sweetness.
4) Smith & Cross (Jamaica), $29.99: Smith & Cross is a navy-strength, or overproof rum. It's bottled at a hefty 57 percent ABV, or 114 proof, and is a combination of pot still Wedderburn and Plummer-style rums, bottled in London, and then imported to the U.S. by Haus Alpenz. The rums incorporated are aged anywhere from less than a year to three years. The robust proof makes it a bartender favorite for sturdy rum cocktails. Try this spirit with a traditional punch or tiki drink.
5) Brugal XV (Dominican Republic), $29.99: Brugal's 38 percent ABV XV release includes rums aged between three and eight years, some of which have seen time in ex-bourbon and ex-Pedro Ximenez casks. Those PX sherry casks are of the same variety that Edrington brand stablemate The Macallan uses for their whisky. Brugal XV offers a citrus, honey and molasses nose, with spice, oak, sherry and red fruits on the palate.
6) Cruzan Single Barrel (St. Croix), $29.99: Cruzan steps up their game with this 40 percent ABV Single Barrel release from their Distiller's Collection. It incorporates rums aged between five and 12 years, married together and released on a single barrel basis. The rum offers a heavy oak influence, with dry and spicy notes, plus baking spices, light caramel, and vanilla.
7) Afrohead 7 Year (Trinidad), $29.99: The Afrohead brand is from the Harbour Island Rum Company, an outfit that buys rums from other producers to create its labels. The 7 year is made with Dominican Republic molasses, and a 100 plus year-old yeast strain from Trinidad, where it's distilled, yielding a 40 percent ABV spirit. While it's not explicitly disclosed, this, for all intents and purposes, means that Angostura is actually fermenting and distilling the rum. The rum itself is rich, with banana, vanilla, and brown sugar notes, followed by oak and spice on the palate and finish.
8) Chairman's Reserve (St. Lucia), $27.99: The 40 percent ABV Chairman's Reserve comes from St. Lucia Distillers, and the blend offers rums aged for a minimum of five years. The distillery utilizes three different types of pot stills, as well as a column still, and this rum is approximately 60 percent column distillate and 40 percent pot still distillate. By incorporating a mix of starting flavor profiles, producers ultimately work together to create a complex and nuanced end result. This one is on the dark and rich side, with raisins, fruits and vanilla, plus roast and coffee notes.
9) Appleton Estate Reserve Blend (Jamaica), $25.99: Appleton Estate's 40 percent ABV Reserve Blend incorporates 20 different rums aged for an average of six years, including two from the brand's reserve stock. The palate is rich, with molasses, butterscotch and a bit of funk, plus citrus, honey and spice. One can also generally find the highly-touted Rare Blend 12 year for just a few bucks more, which builds upon that base with added depth and complexity, for a layered and smooth profile.
10) Sailor Jerry (Caribbean), $15.99: Spiced rums certainly deserve an entry into any listing of the best affordable rum. The Sailor Jerry brand incorporates rums produced at multiple Caribbean distilleries, blended together with added natural spices and flavors. It's bottled at 46 percent ABV and offers a profile that's far from the overly sweet or cloying characteristics of many spiced rums.
Feeling Flush? 5 Bonus Rums to Try
Spend a few extra bucks for these five rums worth a slight splurge:
Plantation Pineapple Stiggins' Fancy (Trinidad & Tobago), $34.99: Take everything you know about flavored rums, forget it, and never look back. Stiggins' Fancy is made by taking Plantation's 3 Stars white rum and infusing it with the essential oil-rich rinds of Queen Victoria pineapples for one week. That's then re-distilled, while separately, Plantation's Original Dark Rum is infused with the flesh of the pineapples for three months. The two rums are married together for several months before bottling. While this bottle counts as a "flavored rum," it's still bottled at 40 percent ABV, and is far from the faux fruity, overly sweet flavors that define much of the category. Find layers of pineapple, banana and tropical fruit, along with molasses and a bit of funk.
Parce 8 Year (Colombia), $39.99: Relatively new to the market, Parce was founded by a trio of American brothers, but is produced by a Colombian father and son duo of blenders. The brand keeps things in the family, it seems, and Parce roughly translates to buddy or good friend. Find fruity and vanilla notes in this 40 percent ABV spirit, along with dark chocolate and molasses upfront, moving towards a drier, oaky, and somewhat spicy finish.
Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela), $40: Diplomático's 40 percent ABV Reserva Exclusiva expression includes rums aged for up to 12 years, all of which were distilled with copper pot stills. Find a very rich and distinctive profile defined by maple syrup, plums, and red fruits, along with a buttery sweetness and toffee, making it a great sipper.
Mount Gay XO (Barbados), $40: Mount Gay's XO expression includes a blend of rums aged between eight and 15 years, with an emphasis on double pot distilled rums. This 43 percent ABV rum is a flavorful and smooth, with roast and dark chocolates notes, plus cocoa powder, balanced out by some oak and spice.
Ron Zacapa 23 (Guatemala), $44.99: Zacapa 23 is a dark and rich rum aged via the solera system for between six and 23 years across a range of casks, including ex-bourbon, ex-Pedro Ximenez, and ex-oloroso sherry. It's a hearty, sweet, and smooth sipper, clocking in a 40 percent ABV. One can clearly taste the sherry cask influence, with nutty and raisin notes, plus coffee and roast, toffee, caramel and brown sugar.