Rum 101: How To Get Started With Rum

Rum 101If I wanted to get started with rum, how would I do that?

I guess it’s not too surprising that this is a question I field rather frequently.  People find out that you run a rum blog, hang out in virtual communities like the Ministry of Rum Forums, attend rum conferences, and boast a personal collection of over 120 different rums and they seem to expect that you might have a pretty good idea about which rums are essential to start a good home bar.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of actually putting together a guide of some sort for over a year now.  Finally Marleigh over at Sloshed! informed me of her work on a post about starting a home bar, and asked me if I might want to write a similar piece, but focusing entirely on rum.

Rum is one of the most varied spirits in the world.  There are white rums, gold rums, aged rums, and spiced rums.  There are Latin rums, French rhums, British rums, American rums, Brazilian rums, and Asian rums.  Rums can be made from molasses, or they can be made from sugar cane juice.  They can even be made from sugar cane honey.  Once you start looking in to rum, the world can get quite confusing.

For anyone looking to get started with rum, you really need a few key ones for some of the more common (and great) cocktails, and maybe one or two for enjoying on their own (or possibly with a great cigar).  What follows below is a list of the rums that I think any home bar needs to have.

White RumFlor de Cana Extra Dry

The most commonly thought-of rum drinks are drinks made with white rum.  Whether you’re making a daiquiri (a real one, not one of those blended monstrosities) or a mojito, you’re probably reaching for a white or silver rum.  The Flor de Cana white rum is made from molasses and then aged for 4 years before being charcoal filtered (to remove the color picked up from the barrels) and bottled.  This rum has a decent molasses taste without being too sweet, allowing you to use normal amounts of sugar in your mojitos and daiquiris without worrying about making the drinks cloying.  There are better white rums out there, to be sure, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one with the same intersection of  quality and value.  Besides, this is a beginner’s course, you can sign up for the advanced course later.

(Runners Up: Cruzan White, Matusalem Platino)

Gold RumMount Gay Eclipse / Appleton Estate V/X

I know, I know – that’s TWO rums.  The problem here is that I can’t think of any way to choose one over the other.  Both of these rums can be had for less than $20 (for a 750 mL bottle), and both are excellent options for any recipe calling for gold rum – be that an El Presidente or a simple rum and coke.  The styles of these two rums are quite different, with the Appleton being a typical Jamaican rum with peppery spice notes mingled with flavors of citrus, while the Mount Gay Eclipse is much rounder with a touch more sweetness and a nice, clean finish.

(Runner Up: Cruzan Gold)

Spiced RumSailor Jerry Spiced Rum

Spiced rum is probably the spirit most people actually think of when they think of rum.  Because of this, I agonized over what to recommend to get someone started.  To be honest, my first impulse was to say that there are only two spiced rums on the market that are worth your hard-earned pennies: Foursquare Spiced Rum and Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum.  Both are superior to every other spiced product that I’ve been able to find in the US.  The problem lies in the fact that they aren’t universally accessible.

Sailor Jerry on the other hand, is readily available.  The product is still fairly sweet, but the chemical flavor that most people notice on other spiced rums isn’t quite as pronounced.  As an added bonus, the spirit is 92 proof (46% abv) vs. the more standard 80 proof (40% abv) for the same amount of money!

Take your spiced rum and use it in a simple highball like a rum and fruit juice of your choice or make yourself a rum punch.  If you’re feeling especially Tiki, use your new spiced rum in one of JenTiki’s Mrs. Howell’s Spicy Sides.

(Runners Up: Foursquare Spiced, Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced – but actually buy these instead if you can)

Aged RumAppleton Estate 12 Year Old

While I did agonize over the spiced rum, the hardest decision for me was the ONE rum to start people off with for aged rums.  I very nearly issued another tie here (with Mount Gay Extra Old), but in the end if you’re getting started with rum, you’re going to want to make Mai Tais – and the Appleton Estate 12 Year Old is the one rum you cannot be without if you aspire to make truly great Mai Tais.  Furthermore, it’s a wonderfully complex and yet immediately approachable sipping rum that can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.  Smokey, spicy, and with nice notes of sweet and tart citrus, this is a wonderful and pure Jamaican rum.

(Runner Up: Mount Gay Extra Old)

So there you have it, my recommendations on getting started with rum for your home bar.  Do you have any favorites or must-haves that you see missing?  What rums do you think someone should use to start the rum side of their bar?

This post is part of the new Rum 101 series of posts

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  • Tiare

    June 2, 2009, 12:19

    Great post Dood, but i would want to add a represetative of the demerara rums, namely El Dorado, 12 or 15.

    The 12 i find easier for the new beginner as its a bit lighter and sweeter and mixes very well.

    But the 15, if you want a real good demerara rum for sipping (and it mixes too)is stronger tasting and has more punch in my opinion.

    And really..for a homebar with rum to be complete you need one white rhum agricole and one that is aged. I would suggest Neisson, La Favorite or Dillon for the white and the same brands or Clemènt VSOP for the aged.

    And so now i have moved myself into talking about cachaca as need at least two bottles of decent cachaca, one white and one aged just like the agricole.

    For the white – Leblon, Boca Loca,for the aged Ypioca.

    These are my suggestions..looking forward to meet you at the Tales and drink and discuss rums!


  • Reese

    June 2, 2009, 14:16

    Great post Dood!

    I asked the Dood for a suggestion on a gold rum a few months back and his recommendation of Appleton Estate V/X was spot on.

    Thanks for more awesome suggestions.


  • Matt Robold

    June 2, 2009, 14:37


    I actually agree 100%. I think every good rum bar should have a demerara or two, at least two overproofs, as well as some cachaca and some rhum agricole.

    I’ll actually be doing some additional Rum 101 posts in the not-too-distant future that will focus entirely on those rums and rum in general. I wanted this particular piece to be the jumping-off point for someone who may only have one bottle and was looking for the bare essentials to get started.

  • H.C.

    June 2, 2009, 15:59

    Thanks for the primer – I’ll be sure to reference back when I’m re-stocking the inventory.

  • JohnTheBastard

    June 2, 2009, 16:03

    I just wrote an email the other day with my recommendations for a couple friends building home bars. Glad to see we’re mostly in agreement. I need to track down some Flor De Cana, though.

  • Anonymous

    June 2, 2009, 18:41

    Sloshed! – Home Bar 101

  • Kriegs

    June 2, 2009, 20:29

    Great post! Always nice to have so much good info in one place.

  • Dark Rum Connoisseur

    June 3, 2009, 18:01

    Very informative, excellent post, there’s a couple there that I’ve yet to try!

    Hoping rum101 becomes a long running series.

  • Matt Robold

    June 3, 2009, 20:57

    Don’t worry, Rum 101 will be a long-running series. I just have to figure out whether to do Dark Rums, Demerara Rums, or Overproof Rums next…

  • West A Dad

    June 3, 2009, 21:48

    Thank you Sir, just the kind of information I’m seeking. I look forward to the next chapter, especially Demerara.

  • The Concierge

    June 8, 2009, 21:58

    Nice, I informally asked RumDood this question several months ago after instructing that I only had a few rums and wanted to start making more rum drinks. I received a list of 15 or more rums and I think I have even more than those now. Thing is that once you pick up 3 or 4, the ancient spirits of rum transform you into Rumra the everliving. Therefore,

    I agree with the above that one of the aged El Dorado’s are a must- 15yr is great.

    I strongly recommend getting a quality overproof rum- Lemon Hart 151 or El Dorado 151, I like both. If you used Bacardi 151, you are ruining an otherwise fine drink.

    Next, Rhum Agricole, great as a component to mai tai – I like Clement VSOP and Depaz, but St. James Ambre can be much cheaper.

    My new favorite White Rum for the price is El Dorado 3 yr Cask Aged, which is hard to find but can be had for about 17 bucks. (See Also RumDood review of Oronoco, like most of the rum reviews, it is spot on point)

    Zaya Aged Rum has a very unique flavor with lots of creamy vanilla flavor-I think it is a very beginner friendly sipping rum.

  • Sylvia

    December 28, 2009, 17:37

    We just moved into a new house and are stocking our new liquor cabinet. I’m pretty sure all of these are going to make their debut in our new place! I can’t imagine having a Mai Tai without it!!
    Seiko Space Walk Watches

  • 3030vision

    December 29, 2009, 00:49

    Hi all,
    I’ve recently become a (somewhat obsessive) fan of rum thanks to a new tiki/rum bar here in San Francisco. I used to have bad associations with rum drinks and especially tiki drinks but I’ve seen the light! Rum drinks can be deliciously complex without being cloyingly sweet– yay!

    My new challenge is figuring out what cocktails to make myself at home. I’ve recently made a batch of falernum so I have that to start with. I can make a pretty delicious cocktail with falernum, citrus, and this half-empty bottle of Smith & Cross. But what else? I appreciate the rum recommendations above but would love to hear some suggestions of simple rum cocktails. Maybe something besides a mojito, unless that’s what all you rum lovers are drinking at home!

    Rum!! Thanks!

  • 3030vision

    December 29, 2009, 02:06

    Thinking about this more as I compare this Smith & Cross to a bottle of Charbay I purchased this weekend (so different!). With all the various types and styles of rums out there, what cocktails/mixers is each type of rum best suited for? For example, white/silver is referenced above for mojitos and aged rum for mai tais. This seems key to enjoying rum more– what do I do with it? What are some general guidelines for mixing?

  • Matt Robold

    December 29, 2009, 07:57

    There are more Rum 101 posts in the pipe. The holidays seemed to somewhat mandate holiday drinks, but rest assured that there will be more about “what do do with your rum” coming up.

    Actually, most of the newer rum reviews include at least one cocktail, and future reviews will likely include several suggestions, while the cocktail posts will start including rum recommendations as well.

    Keep up the good drinking! Smith & Cross is a great place to start. Might I hazard a guess that the new bar you’re referring to is Smuggler’s Cove?

  • 3030vision

    December 29, 2009, 13:11

    Thanks for the response Matt. Yes, Smuggler’s Cove opened my eyes to the world of amazing rum cocktails! The drinks I had there during their soft opening blew me away and started my recent obsession which brought me to your site (the recipe for falernum which I made recently).

    Happy to say I’ll be spending NYE at Smuggler’s, so I’m looking forward to trying some new cocktails. Otherwise I’ll keep an eye on your site for some good, simple rum cocktails and more Rum 101!

  • Kris

    January 23, 2010, 15:21

    Now January ’10 is 2/3 over and we’re still chatting up an article posted last June! I love it! Really nice site as well.
    Questions: I live in a provincial backwater in northern New Mexico and find some of these rums difficult to find (‘cept Sailor Jerry’s). So I was wondering how everyone felt about bacardi 151 for an overproof and Pusser’s 15 yr. old for an aged? I can also get a few Appleton’s.

  • Dagreb

    June 8, 2010, 15:30

    So many rums, so few dollars.

  • Jeffero

    May 23, 2011, 08:44

    Love the website for rum review and posts like this.

    Any updates on future Rum 101 posts?

  • Tripdforlife

    July 14, 2011, 18:43

    How about a little Kilo Kai Spiced from Curacao? Or some good ‘ol Oronoco Brazilian white, or just a simple Appleton White. Anyway keep up the good work.