It's a rum go: sipping rum, underdog of spirits

In the summer, few cocktails beat a piña colada, daiquiri, mai tai, or a zesty, refreshing mojito. Yup, all of these cocktails are made with rum, the unsung hero of spirits — at least when compared to other hard liquors often imbibed straight, like bourbon and scotch.

But there are plenty of fine rums out there that can be sipped and enjoyed without the addition of fruit juice, cola, or bitters. Ask your bartender for a fine sipping rum, and you’ve just established that you’re a person whose taste lies somewhere between rugged and refined, a connoisseur of the atypical.

Pasatiempo talked to the staff at Kokoman Fine Wines & Liquor (34 Cities of Gold Road, 505-455-2219, for this curated list of available sipping rums at a range of price points. You may just want to try them all.

El Dorado 15-Year-Old Special Reserve ($62.99), Guyana

This rum, which was rated the best rum in the world at the International Wine and Spirit Competition for four years in a row, is crafted from a blend of 15- to 25-year-old Caribbean rums and aged in bourbon oak casks. The result: a syrupy concoction with notes of brown sugar, molasses, and spice with a long finish. The squat shape of the bottle was inspired by the hand-blown flasks used by sugar planters on the banks of Guyana’s Demerara River. “This particular one definitely has a sweet and fruity taste with hints of raisins and dark fruit flavors,”says Kokoman General Manager Jerome Valdez.

Kirk and Sweeney 23-Year-Old Dominican Rum ($59.99), Dominican Republic

This fine rum, crafted from raw sugarcane, is aged in American oak casks, which accounts for its rich mahogany color. “It’s somewhat sweet, with a little bit of a butterscotch tone to it,” he says of a rum known for its subtle aromas of dried fruits, base notes of toffee, and flavors of nectar and honey. “It’s a really good rum for that price. It’s complex as far as the flavor on your palette for sure.”

Ron Zacapa Centenario XO ($109.99), Guatemala

Aging in a combination of bourbon, sherry, and Pedro Ximenez wine casks adds depth and complex character to this worthy rum. After three years, the rum is emptied and the barrels re-charred before replacing the rum, which gains a sweeter profile from the charred wood. “It’s extremely smooth sipping,” Valdez says. “Of course, when you get into that price range, it better be smooth.”

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum ($32.99), Jamaica

Aged in white oak barrels and pot-distilled, Smith & Cross is a blend of Plummer and Wedderburn-style rums, which are antique terms for the level of congeners (minor chemicals in the fermentation process that recall a time when Jamaican rums were were full of strong, funky, but desirable flavors). It’s a throwback to the Jamaican rums of the 18th century. This rum is old-school, navy strength (a term for rums bottled at 57 percent alcohol by volume) with notes of banana, tropical fruit, spice, and tobacco. It has an earthy finish. “There’s definitely a following for this one,” Valdez says of a rum that’s become a staple among cocktail bartenders in recent years. Try it neat or poured over ice. 538 Wines & Spirits ( recommends allowing some time to open up before tasting. ◀

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