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Puerto Rico is infamous for its rum, and considering this Caribbean nation produces 70% of all rum sold in the US, it’s hardly a surprise.
Thanks to the hot climate, rum matures three times as fast in Puerto Rico than it does in, say, Europe, meaning they can produce three times as much, giving you a wealth of choices when you fancy a tipple.
Yet, as is the case with any form of market saturation, with so much on offer, some options are bound to be exquisite, while others, well… not so much.
It’s all too easy to accidentally bring a bottle home that isn’t up to scratch, even when thoroughly diluted by a tasty mixer, leaving you with a certified dust gatherer in your rack.
Not to worry, though, as we’re here to help you navigate the labyrinthine consumer conundrum that is Puerto Rican rum by presenting you with the 5 best options on the market.
No matter your budget or preferences, you’ll find the perfect Puerto Rican rum for you below!
Bacardí may have started out as a Cuban operation, but it moved over to the historic Casa Bacardí of Puerto Rico in 1936, which is where the US sources most of its Bacardí from.
While the lower price point may inspire suspicion in discerning drinkers, the beauty of Bacardí is its unparalleled value.
Yes, it’s a great rum for mixing both in a simple Coke Cola and ice concoction or a complex cocktail with a saucy name, but it’s also devilishly sippable with a few ice cubes alone.
Subtly sweet, with undertones of almond and vanilla, this classic blend satisfies rum newcomers and aficionados alike, and as the spiciness of this rum lingers on the tongue, you get plenty of opportunity to really savor the simple, elegant flavors.
Cocktail suggestion: Piña colada
Also available from Walmart
Operating out of Puerto Rico since the 1860s, Don Q has earned its place at the top of the Caribbean rum trade, producing fine specimens that inhabit the middle and upper markets, but it’s when they’re going all out that this brand really shines.
Their Gran Reserva is something of a Frankensteinian experiment, the results of which are a lot more enticing than the monster of Shelley's novel.
Composed of young rums (between 9 and 12 years old, and 50-year-old Solera rum, it has a multifaceted character you simply won’t find in any other drink.
Both sweet and dry, it offers a completely novel sipping experience, but even before it hits the tongue, you’re treated to sensory splendor, as the nose is rife with grapefruit, white oak, and elderberry blooms, underscored with a hint of dark chocolate and tobacco.
The taste fortifies this combination with the addition of citrus fruits and a decidedly woody finish. So fine is this rum, that it should be considered a crime to mix it. Savor it straight (perhaps with an ice cube or two) to make the most of it.
Cocktail Suggestion: Don’t use this rum in a cocktail. It’s perfect just the way it is!
Also available from Reservebar
Considered one of the best and most exclusive distilling outfits in Puerto Rico, Ron del Barrilito has conquered the rum world using a production method diametrically opposed to the nation’s more is more policy.
This brand specializes in small batch rums, which raises the price per bottle some (okay, a lot), but the attention to detail in each blend is astounding.
Our favorite is the Five Star, a highly collectible, limited blend aged in white oak casks for 35 years. You’ll get notes of plum, banana, almond, vanilla, and caramel, completed by a woody, verging on smokey, coda.
It’s silky smooth and devilishly moreish, but this is a rum to be savored over a great many years, so resist the urge to consume the whole thing in a few sittings.
Cocktail suggestion: Don’t even think about using this Five Star in a cocktail!!!
It’s always a good idea to check out what the locals are into when you go on vacation in order to experience the true spirit of the destination, and you can use the same trick to find the best booze!
Caliche is Puerto Rico’s favorite producer of white rum. The reason? Well, it’s just so dang smooth! It starts with the natural filtration of the water through the limestone formations surrounding the Caliche distillery in Ponce.
They then use multiple distillation processes as well as an advanced filtration system to create an immaculately clean and silky white rum with notes of vanilla and caramel, and an earthy finish.
It’s a little too sterile for aficionados, but for those looking for an affordable rum that goes down like a much more expensive spirit, then you can’t go wrong with Caliche.
Cocktail suggestion: Watermelon daiquiri
Also available from Reservebar
If you’re looking to eke out as much quality as you can from a very tight budget, head straight for the Palo Viejo white rum.
It’s not quite as interesting or smooth as Bacardi, but it’s a suitable stand-in if you’re pulling the purse strings.
The molasses-dominated aroma is quite impactful, especially compared to some of the other rums on this list, and the flavor is distinctly sweet and less articulate than more expensive blends.
While it can be sipped, most probably wouldn’t want to, us included. In our humble opinion, Palo Viejo is the ultimate rum for rudimentary mixes. It’s abundant, affordable, and goes down a storm with any number of soft drinks and fruit juices.
Cocktail suggestion: Caribbean rum punch
Here are a few tips you can use to narrow down your options and find a suitable Puerto Rican rum for you.
First thing’s first, think about your drinking habits. How do you enjoy your spirits? Would you rather use them to make a myriad of weird and wonderful cocktails, or are you more of a straight, on-the-rocks kind of drinker?
Mixing is the most common way to imbibe spirits, and if you subscribe to this method, it’s best to choose a Puerto Rican rum that’s at least vaguely affordable.
More expensive rums are finely crafted, designed to be experienced as is. They are unique and complete, whereas cheaper rums are blank canvases made with the assumption that people will be diluting them with fruit juices and soft drinks.
What’s more, if you’re incorporating your rum in cocktails or other combination drinks, you’ll get through more than if you were savoring a straight spirit, so, unless you’re made of money, it’s best to purchase some budget rum.
Typically, rum has an alcohol concentration of 40% ABV, but don’t take this as a given, as some may be ever so slightly less alcoholic, while others may exceed the standard.
Certain blends will only go over the 40% threshold by a few percent, but if you happen to come across one categorized as “overproof”, this means that it has an alcohol concentration level of 57.5% at the very least.
In fact, it’s quite common for alcohol in the overproof category to go well over the odds, as the strength is a large part of the appeal. It’s far more likely that an overproof spirit will reach the 75.5% mark or beyond.
This will have a drastically more potent effect, so it’s easy to drink too much too quickly, which is why it’s important you know what you’re buying and what you’ll be drinking in order to do so responsibly.
Much like a lot of other alcohol, especially spirits, older rum is better rum, even if it’s cultivated in the steamy climate of Puerto Rico. As rum ages in casks, the flavor intensifies and gains nuance, and the texture becomes almost buttery smooth.
Of course, age doesn’t completely guarantee a fine rum, as the craftsmanship plays a pivotal role in the quality of the product as well, but, by and large, older rums are finely crafted and are worth a lot of money.
Puerto Rico is notorious for producing fantastic white and dark rum, so no matter your preference, you’re in good hands.
If you don’t have a preference and you’re curious to know the difference, generally speaking, dark rum has richer flavors and more nuanced undertones than white rum, which is normally quite simplistic in comparison.
You can expect a light sweetness from white rum, while dark rum brings a deep sweetness with a smokey edge.
For fine dark rum, there’s really only one type of cask for the job… American white oak. As such, that’s what you should be looking for in a product description.
It’s quite possible that distillers will have taken an experimental route, choosing to use white oak casks that have aged another type of spirit, thus changing the character of the rum, so be sure to do plenty of research on the maturation process before picking up a bottle.
For instance, if you’re not much of a whiskey drinker and you stumble across a rum that’s been aged in old whiskey casks, it’s probably not going to be for you. Conversely, if you are a whiskey drinker, then it might well be the perfect rum for you.
White rum, on the other hand, is typically aged in stainless steel barrels in order to maintain transparency and lightness of finish, which is partly why the flavors are more muted and simple.
There are a few notes that it’s hard to get away from in rum, such as vanilla, or oak if it’s a dark rum, but there can be all sorts of other elements to the flavor profile of this spirit.
From citrus fruit to banana to coconut and beyond, the possibilities are basically endless, so if you’ve got a hankering for some flavors in particular, use them to narrow down your search and find the rum that's really going to hit the spot!
Got time for a few Puerto Rican rum FAQs before we part ways?
While Puerto Rico does make some dynamite rum, it’s not considered the premier rum-producing nation. Their Caribbean neighbors Cuba and Barbados are known for producing the best in the world.
Jamaica and Martinique are also big players in the rum industry, but Puerto Rico definitely has a monopoly on the rum market due to its incredible productivity.
As everyone has different tastes, it’s hard to say which Puerto Rican brand makes the best rum, but looking at sales statistics and opinions within the nation, Don Q seems to be one of the most beloved, high-end brands.
Ron del Barrilito rums are considered national treasures too, but as they’re so rare and expensive, they aren’t as popular amongst the general population.
Bacardí was founded in Cuba, but in 1936, after prohibition, the company moved its operations to a US territory in Puerto Rico in order to sell rum tariff-free to the States, which is when that “Puerto Rican Rum” label joined the infamous black bat on the bottle.
The base ingredient of rum is sugar cane or sometimes molasses, a byproduct of the sugar cane refinement process. Rum developed using fresh sugar cane is always going to be of a higher quality than rum made using molasses.
The piña colada is widely considered the national drink of Puerto Rico, and considering it’s loaded with tropical fruit flavors and lots and lots of rum, it’s hardly a surprise.
Strangely, the true inventor of this drink is unknown, with multiple different historic claims being made — It’s still a controversial topic in San Juan, the birthplace of the piña colada.
Captain Morgan is one of the most popular rums in the world, and although the infamous Destilería Serrallés of Puerto Rico had the rights to produce it for roughly 30 years, all Captain Morgan operations have now been shifted to the US Virgin Islands.
You can indeed bring some tasty rum home to the USA after visiting Puerto Rico, but you’re capped at 5 quartz, so choose wisely.
Our advice is to pick up the highest quality bottle you can afford and treasure it for many years, taking a celebratory sip every now and again when the situation calls for it.
There may be a ton of Puerto Rican rum on the market, but now you know the real players, you can pick out a bottle suited to you like a sugar cane savant.
You’ll of course be limited by your budget, but, as you’ve seen here today, there are fantastic Puerto Rican rums occupying all levels of the industry, so there’s a little something here for everyone — Cheers! Or, as they say in Puerto Rico, Salud!
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