The Rum Old-Fashioned has sometimes been described as a “gateway drug” for rum. The familiar, pared-back formula is a showcase of how the spirit can shine with very little dressing up—no tropical fruit juices or other mixers to hide behind. But whether you’re new to the spirit or a longtime fan, it’s crucial that the rum that forms the base of the drink is a good one.
Martin Cate, rum expert and owner of San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove, says it’s key to use a spirit that has aged in oak long enough to develop the wood’s influence, with a higher ABV to stand up against the sugar in the drink and “a certain flavorful heft to the distillate” that gives the rum more character. Spirits educator and Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails author Shannon Mustipher compares the best rums for this template to rye whiskeys: They have a long, complex finish, skew on the drier side and should be medium- to full-bodied.
To get started, here are the best rums to try in a Rum Old-Fashioned, at every price point.
Hamilton West Indies 1670 Blend Rum
For an affordable aged rum that “showcases the flavors of Guyana and Jamaica,” Erika Flowers, of Cane & Table in New Orleans, suggests Hamilton West Indies 1670 Blend. “Ed Hamilton never misses with his releases,” she says, and this bottling balances richness and spices. Flowers also appreciates Hamilton’s 9 Year Cask Strength Saint Lucia Pot Still from 2005, which she says was the base of one of the best Rum Old-Fashioneds she’s ever had. Because the bottling is sold out online, it can be hard to get a hold of, but it’s worth trying if you see it on a backbar.
- Price: $27
- ABV: 42%
Transcontinental Rum Line High Seas Caribbean Blended Rum
Transcontinental’s High Seas blend of rums “is composed of a bunch of killer juice,” says Anthony Schmidt, of San Diego’s Consortium Holdings. Like its name implies, the new bottling combines three versions—an aged rum from Panama, an unaged Jamaican rum and a rhum agricole from Martinique. The result is a highly complex, rich and aromatic spirit, with ester-y and tropical notes perfect for an Old-Fashioned.
- Price: $33
- ABV: 45%
Denizen Vatted Dark Rum
Denizen’s Vatted Dark Rum is proofed at 50 percent ABV, “which gives it a big flavor profile and allows it to stand up to being on ice,” according to Mustipher. (“Vatted” refers to the vatted style of blending that originated in the mid-18th century with the British navy.) This bottling blends Guyanese rum and rhum agricole from Martinique; the latter offers grassy brightness.
- Price: $34
- ABV: 50%
El Dorado 15 Year Old Rum
For Jelani Johnson, rums that are made with a heavier pot still, as opposed to cleaner column-distillate rums, are the way to go for this drink. “The rich, oily weight of a pot-distilled rum is what makes a Rum Old-Fashioned such a rich treat,” he says. El Dorado 15 Year Old Rum hits the mark: The Guyanese bottling is made from sugar cane and is aged in oak casks to impart wood flavor and depth. For Johnson, it’s an example of a “top-shelf spirit that won’t break the bank.”
- Price: $55
- ABV: 40%
Foursquare Exceptional Cask Series Rums
According to Schmidt, Foursquare’s limited-edition rums are the “rums to rule them all,” when it comes to Old-Fashioneds. He describes them as “unadulterated and unapologetic blends that collect intense age in Caribbean heat, which adds lovely spice character.” Each limited-edition bottling blends heavy pot still and lighter column still rum, and many are finished in secondary casks, giving them a distinct flavor profile and “substantial oak,” according to Cate, who also cites bottlings from this series as excellent top-shelf picks.
- Price: Price varies
- ABV: Varies