The most expensive rums in the world have two main ingredients: quality and consistency. The ability to produce the same flavor profile every time is what makes rum extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive.
Like the flavors of wine, the flavors of rum vary by provenance and by year of production, but every bottle of a truly great rum of the same vintage made in the same year will deliver the same complexity, depth, and aroma.
Rum has the complexity and character of any aged alcoholic beverage — as long as it is served straight up or diluted with water, not mixed with vast amounts of sugar.
Choice of Sugar Determines the Character of Rum
Rum is distilled from fermented molasses or cane sugar juice. Whether the distillery uses molasses or cane sugar juice in its manufacturing process makes a huge difference in the character of the finished product.
Molasses is about half as expensive as cane sugar juice. Molasses is a thick, dark liquid that is left when sugar cane is pressed for juice, and the juice is heated to make sugar crystals. There is an irony, smoky, bittersweet taste that is stronger after the second cooking than after the first. As more and more sugar is extracted from the juice, the “full” or “second” molasses takes on the color and texture of barbecue sauce, of which it is a popular ingredient.
Cane sugar juice is the liquid pressed from sugar cane left raw and natural without heat treatment to produce white sugar. Rum distilled from fermented sugar cane juice has a different nose. The unprocessed cane sugar juice retains several notes that rum distilled from molasses does not.
It sports deep amber color from 1-dodecanol, peach aroma from gamma-dodecalone, fruity odor, and flavor that intensifies when rum is mixed in water from ethyl isovalerate, pineapple and banana notes from ethyl nonanoate. Carries rose scent from ionone, 2-methyl-1-butanol with its truffle scent, and methyl nonyl ketone with its notes of celery and rue.
These natural flavors and scents boil away during the heating of molasses. Molasses rums have their own fruity and floral notes, but they are more likely to be drowned out by the sugar added to the rum to make it sweet. Adding water to rum, however, intensifies its flavor.
Table of Contents
- Choice of Sugar Determines the Character of Rum
- Why Rum Is Perfect for Mixed Drinks
- Aging Has a Different Meaning When It Comes to Rum
- It Can Be Hard to Tell Where Rum Is From
- Here are 13 of the world’s most expensive rums
- 1. J. Wray & Nephew
- 2. Legacy by Angostura
- 3. Barbados Private Estate 1780
- 4. 50-year-old Appleton Estate
- 5. Original Royal Naval Rum Tot
- 6. Bacardí Superior Rum Bottled in Spain in the 1940s
- 7. 8-year-old Bacardí, Millennium Rum Atlantis Special Edition
- 8. Ron Bacardí de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII
- 9. Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo
- 10. Rhum Clement Tres Vieux 1952
- 11. Pyrat Rum Cask 1623
- 12. Bacardí Paraíso
- 13. New Grove Double Cask Moscatel Finish Rum
Why Rum Is Perfect for Mixed Drinks
Alcohol dulls the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel of rum. That is the reason there is a huge difference in the experience of drinking rum neat and drinking rum diluted with water, and it is not what most drinkers would expect.
Unlike wine, the less alcohol there is in rum (the more it is diluted), the sweeter it tastes. Scientific study has found that rum in mixed drinks has more caramel, maple, vanilla, and coconut aroma than rum drunk straight up. Diluted rum has more brown sugar, caramel, maple, vanilla, coconut and chocolate aroma, brown spice, and caramel aftertaste than rum drunk straight up. Diluted rum even has a warmer mouth feel than rum with higher alcohol concentration.
Aging Has a Different Meaning When It Comes to Rum
Rum is aged in barrels like scotch, but that’s where the similarities end. The scotch industry has created a model that gives scotch credibility at the age of 12 years. Since rum is produced in tropical climates, it ages much more quickly. If rum were held in its barrels for 12 years, all that would be left would be an oak extract. Rum loses sweetness as it is aged.
Not only is a good rum much younger than a good scotch, but it is also usually impossible to say precisely how old rum is. Latin American rum distilleries use a “solera” system. A solera consists of three to five shelves of barrels, each shelf containing rum of the same age.
When the distillery is ready to bottle rum, they take some rum from the barrels on each shelf but leave the barrel partially filled. The youngest rum has the most robust vanilla taste. Older rum loses the vanilla accent but acquires other rich flavors.
Every barrel always has some aged rum with rich character, especially when the rum is made from cane sugar juice. Even the barrels of the very youngest rum has some much older rum that has taken on unique, rich, complex flavors. Once rum it put in a glass bottle, the aging process stops. But the “age” of the mixed product is mostly useful for identifying an exceptionally well-blended rum.
Real connoisseurs of rum don’t ask how old their rum is. If the rum has been made well, no one knows. People who love fine rum just taste it for themselves.
It Can Be Hard to Tell Where Rum Is From
There are cheap rums that have so little flavor they are sweetened with sugar. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sweetening rum, as long drinkers are just looking for a buzz from alcohol and sugar.
There are expensive rums that have wonderful flavors that do not need sweetening. But putting them together may require using rum from more than one geographical source. Here are a couple of examples.
Suppose you want to add character to light, unaged rum. You could add a drop of the brand of rum Continental for pineapple flavor. Add Wedderburn for tropical fruit flavors. You add a dash of Plummer for a raisin flavor. Mixing brands of rums is a skill a lot like bartending but on an industrial scale.
Or suppose you wanted to take advantage of lower-cost imports without sacrificing quality. You might make a very international rum by combining rum from Barbados for hints of vanilla and banana, rum from Guatemala for its coffee notes, and rum from Nicaragua for a suggestion of chocolate.
There are infinite ways of combining aged rum with light, new rum for endless variations in flavor and feel. Once you have your mixture in a glass bottle, the flavors are fixed.
Here are 13 of the world’s most expensive rums
Prices are estimates and may vary depending on demand and foreign exchange rates.
1. J. Wray & Nephew
Price: $54,000 a bottle
John Wray opened The Shakespeare Tavern in the colonial capital of Kingston in Jamaica in 1825. His nephew became part of the business in 1860, and the enterprise prospered so that it became one of the most successful businesses in the colony. This J. Wray & Nephew was distilled 70 years or more before it was bottled – nearly 80 years ago. Only four bottles remain of this extraordinary rum that is the world’s most expensive rum.
2. Legacy by Angostura
Price: $25,000 a bottle
Legacy by Angostura is a blending of seven of the planet’s most esteemed rums. Each rum has been aged for no less than 17 years and selected from a collection of 80,000 casks. The product has a unique blend of flavors, including fallen tropical fruits, clove, vanilla, honey, and oak, and aftertastes, including nuts and dried fruit.
British jeweler and purveyor to the crown Asprey made the crystal decanter that serves as a bottle for this rum. Each decanter has a stopper made of sterling silver. When the rum is shipped, it is placed in a handmade wooden box with a velvet interior and a leather exterior. The ingredients, age, flavor, and detail poured into this rum make it one of the most expensive on the market.
3. Barbados Private Estate 1780
Price: $12,700 a bottle
In 1780, servants of Edward Lascelles, a customs officer and slave trader who became First Earl of Harewood, distilled rum they sent in barrels back to the earl’s estate in England. The earl’s servants put the rum in bottles and stored them in the basement, where they were undiscovered for 230 years.
The hand-blown glass bottles had been covered with spider webs and mold for over two hundred years, but they were washed and sanitized to be put on auction at Christie’s. The lot of 12 bottles fetched the equivalent of $180,000. The earl’s descendant, the eighth Earl of Harewood, donated the proceeds from the auction to a charity in Barbados as an act of reparation for slavery.
4. 50-year-old Appleton Estate
Price: $6,650 a bottle
Appleton Estate debuted in 2012 to honor the fiftieth anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. Planning for this rum began even before independence, with the selection of oak barrels in which it was aged for half a century. Despite more than half a century of aging, this carefully mixed rum has very little puckery tannin and a large spectrum of flavors and aromas. Just 800 bottles were produced.
5. Original Royal Naval Rum Tot
Price: $2.900 a bottle
From 1670 to 1970, sailors in the British Royal Navy were given a daily ration of rum. The rum served sailors was also served at royal functions, including royal weddings. When the tradition finally ended 50 years ago, the Royal Navy made 1000 bottles its Rum Tot available to the general public through an auction. The last of the Royal Navy rum has enormous sentimental value, but it also has exceptional quality.
Because rum consumed by British sailors was stored in casks warehoused in a cool climate, the Royal Navy’s rum absorbed only the mildest notes from the wood in the cask. It is overproof, 108 proof, or 54 percent alcohol. The nose is rich in oak and blackberry aromas, and the taste includes notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and tobacco.
6. Bacardí Superior Rum Bottled in Spain in the 1940s
Price: $2,825 a bottle
This clear vintage rum by Bacardí is something of a trip through a time machine. In the 1940s, many rum drinkers appreciated extra alcohol. Every bottle of this Bacardí vintage contains 700 ml (about three cups) of alcohol, with no trace of the impurities still common in other brands at the time. Bottles must be opened with care because they are all over 70, and some nearly 80 years old.
7. 8-year-old Bacardí, Millennium Rum Atlantis Special Edition
Price: $2,800 a bottle
This 8-year-old Bacardí rum is now a 28-year-old Bacardí because it was produced for the Atlantis Resort on the north side of Paradise Island in the Bahamas to mark the new millennium. Only 3,000 bottles were produced. Because the rum was sold at auction, it no longer comes in the original bottle. Numerous retailers offer small amounts of this rum in baccarat crystal containers as boutique rum. Many who have drunk the rum report is has a sherry finish.
8. Ron Bacardí de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII
Price: $2,050 a bottle
Just about everyone who drinks rum is familiar with the brand name Bacardí, but Ron Bacardí de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII is an exceptional rum.
Facundo Bacardí emigrated from Spain to Cuba in 1830. At that time, rum was considered an unrefined drink that was shunned by upmarket taverns. Facundo invented a method of filtering rum through charcoal to remove impurities and then aging it in white oak casts to produce the first clear rum in the world. In 1862, Facundo and his brother José set up a distillery in Santiago de Cuba in a building that had fruit bats in its rafters, giving the company its easily recognized logo.
Political problems forced the Bacardí family to flee Cuba several times, and the company is now headquartered in Bermuda. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the company, Bacardí had eight master blenders create a genuinely exceptional rum that they will never duplicate.
Ron Bacardí de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII was aged in cognac casks that were at least 60 years old before filling. This gave the rum an exceptional collection of mild flavors, including crème caramel, dark chocolate, sweet dried tropical fruit, raisins, dried pineapple, prunes, coffee beans fresh from the grinder, and burning sandalwood. The nose of this rum is reminiscent of espresso and burnt sugar. The aftertastes are richly complex: nutmeg, cinnamon, more coffee beans, prunes, pineapple, and bitter chocolate.
9. Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo
Price: $1,350 a bottle
Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo is an expensive rum crafted with an especially complex solera system that limits the distillery to producing just 1,000 bottles per year. “Extra Añejo” means “extra old,” and the defining quality of this fine rum is its amber glow made possible by the lengthy aging process. Its nose features delicate oaky and smokey notes, and the rum and delicate notes of dried fruit, fresh pear, and coconut. Like many other Cuban rums, it presents a strong note of chocolate. Drunk straight, this rum has a warm finish.
10. Rhum Clement Tres Vieux 1952
Price: $1,250 a bottle
For many years, some of the world’s finest rum was produced in Martinique. The Habitation Clément near Le Francois had established a rum distillery about the time the United States enacted Prohibition. To compete in a shrinking market, the distillery reinvigorated the production of “Rhum Agricole,” rum made from pressed sugarcane juice instead of molasses.
Rhum Clement Tres Vieux 1952, bottled in 1991 from rum started in 1989, has a special cachet as the last rum made at the historic l location of the Habitation Clément before the distillery was moved. It is reported to be woody, and very dry, with hints of fruit and spice, best enjoyed with a Cuban cigar that has hints of chocolate.
11. Pyrat Rum Cask 1623
Price: $285.00 a bottle
Pyrat Rum Cask is a blend of nine rums that have been aged 40 years or more. Pyrat features flavors of citrus, caramel, and honey. This rum is bottled in a decanter with a picture of Hoti, patron saint of bartenders and restaurateurs.
12. Bacardí Paraíso
Price: $250.00 a bottle
This super-premium “sipping rum” is drawn from the Bacardí family’s private collection. All of the rums used in this blend have been aged at least 23 years in cognac casks. The makers hoped this widely-available rum would position Bacardí as an elite rum. It did.
13. New Grove Double Cask Moscatel Finish Rum
Price: $95.00 a bottle
Mauritius is better known as the former home of the dodo than as the home of really fine rum. But New Grove Double Cask Moscatel Finish is a relatively affordable premium rum with notes of coffee, honey, and vanilla.