When it comes to luxury sipping libations, most of us tend to reach for top-shelf scotch, bourbon, or cognac. Rum isn’t even in the conversation. But while the “kill-devil” is best known for its role in easy-drinking party cocktails like the Dark ’n Stormy, the daiquiri, and the mojito, the islands’ favorite elixir offers far more sophisticated strains that can go toe-to-toe with the finest and most rarefied single malts.
One glorious example is the $1,500 Papá Andrés 2015 Alegria Edition from Brugal, a 126-year-old label based in the Dominican Republic. A mere 97 bottles ever made it into the U.S., so aside from being wildly expensive, Papá Andrés is also incredibly hard to find. But the pleasures inherent in this exquisite Caribbean unicorn are very real indeed. Redolent of coffee, sweet vanilla, and coconut, Papá Andrés drops a depth charge of flavor, including oak, dark cherry, and caramel, on whomever is lucky enough to taste it. Savor it neat and try to remember that feeling, because you’re unlikely to encounter rum of this stature again.
The lavishly priced Papá Andrés isn’t your everyday sipping rum, but the tropics offer plenty of worthy alternatives. Below, rum guru Mikael Mossberg, cofounder of the liquor-curating app Distiller, has recommend four more of his favorites.
Plantation XO 20th Anniversary
Aged up to 20 years in bourbon casks and finished in small French oak casks in Bonbonnet, France, the Extra Old packs plenty of vanilla, cocoa, candied orange, coconut, and oak.
Rhum Clément X.O.
If you see a bottle of Rhum Clément X.O., buy it without hesitation. This gem is no longer being produced and is a beautiful example of the French style of rum, with notes of leather, licorice, and toffee.
Angostura Cask Collection No. 1
This limited edition is a blend of 8 and 10-year-old rums that spends 12 months in first-fill bourbon casks. Expect tart mango, apple, and a brown-sugar finish.
Appleton Estate 21 Year
A favorite of many rum connoisseurs, the 21-year-old represents a rare success of extended tropical aging—a rum that is at once woody and refined, fruity and moderately sweet, with a signature note of flamed orange.
Cocktail: The Smooth Operator
Skip the Pina Colada and try this rum-infused twist on a classic Manhattan, courtesy of drinks maestro John McCarthy, bar director at New York's Masa y Agave.
2 0z. Brugal 1888 rum
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Amaro Montenegro
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Pour over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an expressed lemon peel.