Puerto Rico: Don Q Cristal Rum, $14
A rum that costs less than a movie ticket should not set high expectations, but consider this the exception. While most white rums aren't known for their flavor (aside from a hint of sweetness), this one goes through multiple distillations, and is aged in white oak barrels, producing a smoother texture and a sweeter, more complex flavor. Look for notes of pineapple, chocolate, and butterscotch, especially when served over ice.
Dominican Republic: Brugal Extra Viejo Rum, $30
Brugal has been a Dominican staple since 1888, and the Extra Viejo variety is arguably the best of the breed. While it lacks the complexity of other "Extra Viejos", it's a steal when you consider the price: Notes of vanilla, coffee, and oak give it a well-rounded flavor, and a thick, syrupy texture makes it satisfying to sip. We recommend adding an ice cube (and maybe a splash of water) to cut through the viscosity and bring out the subtler flavors.
Trinidad and Tobago: Zaya Gran Reserva 12-Year-Old Estate Rum, $23
With several international awards to its name (and a 95-point rating on Wine Enthusiast), this rum is distinguished by its bold, unmistakeable flavor. Like many dark rums, it's certainly sweet, but a 12-year aging process in whiskey and bourbon barrels gives it a spicy, bittersweet flavor that's reminiscent of brandy. Notes of raisin, caramel, nuts, and baking spice make it especially pleasant to sip, and a good first bottle for a rum initiate.
Jamaica: Appleton Estate Rum 12-Year, $26
With a pedigree dating back to 1655, Appleton Estates has earned a storied reputation. The distillery makes several top-tier rums (like an unforgettable 30-year), but their standard 12-year variety is hardly a slouch. Expect standard notes of caramel, sugar, and spicy oak, though you'll also pick up more nuanced flavors: orange peel, coconut, and hints of vanilla. To get the full effect, let it sit in the glass for five minutes before you start to drink, and sip slowly (if you can).
Venezuela: Pampero Especial Rum, $28
One of several fine rums distilled in South America, this Venezuelan favorite is another great starting point. Smooth, sweet, and refreshingly simple, it doesn't have the complexity of the other rums on this listbut then again, that's not always what you're looking for. With pleasant notes of vanilla, honey, and molasses (notice a trend?), think of it as sweet, buttery goodness meant for a hot summer's day on the porch.
More of a whiskey drinker? Here are five top-shelf bottles for $50 or less.
Copywriter, cold brew advocate, purveyor of handcrafted birthday haikus since 2009.