Popular Rum Brands Ranked Worst To Best

Of all the world's most popular liquors, it's rum that's arguably the most fun. Not only does it make you feel like a pirate, but it's a crucial ingredient in some of the best tropical drinks out there. Don't like tropical? You can never go wrong with a rum and Coke.

Rum has also been shockingly influential when it comes to the development of the world as we know it, and according to Food & Wine, things would look very different today if it weren't for the sugarcane industry and, in turn, rum. Both were built on the shoulders of slaves, and that's one of those historical details that often gets lost... and absolutely shouldn't.

By the 18th century, rum was incredibly popular, and from George Washington plying voters with rum to the rum-based cocktails of Prohibition, this versatile liquor has been front and center for a long time.

Now, let's talk about present day — and your next trip to the liquor store. Rum is one of those drink ingredients you're definitely going to want to keep on hand, so which of the most popular brands should you stock in your drinks' cabinet? They're definitely not all created equal, so let's talk about what you should reach for, and what's not worth your hard-earned booty.

Heaven Hill

There are times when a deal just seems too good to be true, and this is one of those times. You can get a 1-liter bottle of Heaven Hill rum for around $9, and just because you can, well, that doesn't mean that you should.

And here's the thing: It might be tempting, especially when you see the name "Heaven Hill" on it. It is, after all, the same company that's behind Anthony Bourdain's favorite bourbon (which is Old Fitzgerald, by the way), so that might give them some cred. Unfortunately, their expertise doesn't extend to their rum. 

The first clue that the folks at Heaven Hill don't take their budget rum too seriously is the fact that it doesn't even appear on their website. Still, it does appear on shelves, so we're mentioning it as a bit of a cautionary tale. 

There's nothing here even close to the richness that rum should have, and instead, what you'll get a whiff of is something closer to rubbing alcohol or nail polish. The taste isn't much better, and there's another word of warning here. Heaven Hill also makes Admiral Nelson's line of spiced rums, and these really aren't any better. Like... at all. If your first reaction is that the name sounds like a cheap knock-off of Captain Morgan, you'd be right — and even though an admiral might outrank a Captain, this is the exception that always proves the rule.

Burnett's

Burnett's is known for their vodka, and unfortunately, it's the kind of vodka that's responsible for ruining many college frat parties. If they can't get the relatively simple spirit of vodka right, what made them think they could get rum right? Who knows!

Sadly, their rums are so bad we can't even give them points for optimism. You might be tempted to use their white rum as a mixer with strong ingredients like the lime and mint you'd find in a mojito, but don't — you'll just ruin everything else with the overwhelming taste of gasoline. Their spiced rum is not much better, and the only reason it doesn't taste purely of rubbing alcohol is that there's so much anise in it that it's all you can taste. If you happen to like a nice Christmas potpourri in your nail polish remover, you'll love this one!

Burnett's also does coconut rum, and while coconut rum might seem to have so much potential it's hard to screw it up, this one does. Imagine what it would taste — and feel like — to drink sugar syrup mixed with liquified coconut oil, and you've pretty much got the idea. Hard pass.

Malibu

Malibu is confusing, and here's why: Everyone knows it as one of the most popular coconut rums out there, but as VinePair points out, it's not technically rum. In order for a spirit to be officially considered rum, one of the stipulations is that it's got to be at least 80 proof (or 40% ABV, or alcohol by volume). Read the fine print on a bottle of Malibu and you'll notice it's only about 42 proof, or 21% ABV, which makes it sort of the rum world's version of a toddler playing dress-up with their parents' clothes. 

And that's our beef with it. Sure, you can mix up a very tasty drink with it, and sometimes — like on a hot August afternoon — you just want a cold and easy tropical drink with an umbrella in it. And you can definitely make one with Malibu, but no matter how hard it tries, it's still not rum.

Malibu also loses some points because when on its own, it's pretty awful. Those delicious (not rum) drinks you might make with it are hiding a coconut flavor that has a bit of weird, chemical taste, almost as if it was created by someone who had heard all about the idea of coconut — the fun tropical flavors, the island vibes, and the hot afternoons on the beach — but never actually tasted one before giving it a try. Enjoy it for what it is, but we can't call this one rum.

Havana Club

Havana Club is to Cuba what Guinness and Jameson are to Ireland. That said, just like there's plenty of other Irish whiskeys that are not only not Jameson, but they're much better, there's a lot of rums that are a lot better than Havana Club.

Let's take the most popular as our example of just what's up with Havana Club. That's the 7 Anos — the seven-year-old — and even though that sounds like it would be a super respectable rum, it has a peculiar taste that can be a major turn-off for a lot of people, and it's a flavor profile found pretty often in Havana Club.

The taste of Havana Club is best described with a little imagination. Anyone who remembers being a curious kid peeking into their father's/grandfather's/uncle's cigar box or cabinet probably remembers the smell without even trying. It's the smell of cigar smoke, fresh — and old — tobacco, a bit of leather, and a dash of charcoal. That smell is what drinking 7 Anos is like, and while cigar aficionados might love it, anyone who can't stand the smell of smoke needs to stay far, far away.

Don Q

Don Q is, at best, an okay choice to make — and it's proof that sometimes, you really do just get what you pay for.

Their most popular offerings are arguably their Gold and their Cristal, but and here's the thing: Their Gold isn't really the deep, golden, flavorful rum you might be expecting, and the pale yellow color reflects a sort of not-as-strong flavor as it could have. What flavor there is, it's more the flavor of alcohol than of anything else, and the best thing to do with a bottle of this is mix it with something very strong and very flavorful. 

Now, let's talk about Cristal. Don Q advertises this clear rum as a great substitute to make in any vodka drink, and boasts that most won't be able to tell the difference. And wait... that's something to be proud of? Rum and vodka are absolutely not the same thing, and you should definitely be able to tell which one you're drinking. That says it all right there, and while we might be tempted to give some serious slow claps to the marketing department for putting a great spin on a tasteless rum, we're judging rum based on the drink alone — and we like our rum to, you know, taste like rum.

Cruzan

Cruzan has another entrant in the coconut rum category, and technically, this is as much of a rum as Malibu is. Cruzan Coconut is — along with their other flavored beverages, like their peach, blueberry lemonade, and pineapple rums — only about 42 proof (or 21% alcohol by volume, or ABV) as well. That, as we learned with Malibu, means that it's not technically rum, which requires an ABV of at least 40%

That said, Cruzan's other types of rum can be pretty perfectly, well, fine — and they actually come in at the 80 proof that's required by any liquor that really wants to be legitimately called rum. And here's the thing that we like: Not only is it affordable (and you shouldn't expect to pay more than $15 a bottle, usually less), their Aged Dark Rum really is aged in oak casks. It has a sweet caramel taste — and you can definitely taste molasses — but it might be a touch too far into the sweet side of things for some people's tastes.

While Cruzan might be more popularly known for their flavors, we won't tell you not to try one of their other, more straightforward rums. That's doubly true if you're mixing, because if you're mixing rum with something like Coke, you're clearly not going to be bothered by that potentially off-putting sweetness.

Tanduay

If the name Tanduay doesn't sound familiar now, don't worry, it will soon enough. This reasonably-priced rum is wildly popular in the Philippines, where it's made from sugarcane sourced from an area that's known as one of the sugar capitals of the nation. In 2020, they announced it was finally going to be available in Hawaii, and in 2021 — their 167th anniversary — they announced that they were going to be partnering with the Minnesota Timberwolves to promote the brand across the Midwest.

So, should you grab a bottle of Tanduay when you see it popping up on shelves? We won't tell you not to, but we'll also say there's much better rums out there. 

As we mentioned, it's incredibly popular in the Philippines, and we might be tempted to chalk that up to a combination of price point (you'll find it for about $20 in the US) and some national pride, and both of those things are completely respectable. Still, Tanduay might not be for everyone: The Asian Gold Rum has a bit of a strange, almost peppery burn that goes along with it, and there's something there that gives an almost nutty, candied fruit vibe. It's definitely something you want to mix carefully — try it in a Mai Tai — but if that sounds like it would suit your palate, you might be reaching for your new favorite rum.

Appleton Estate

You're starting to get a little higher in price with Appleton Estate, and you can expect to pick up a bottle of their Signature Blend Rum at somewhere between $24 and $34. But is it worth the jump in price?

Eh. The bottom line is that it really depends on what you're looking for. Esquire gives kudos for Jamaican rum for being among the best kinds of rum in the world, and it makes sense. Not only have Jamaicans been making rum for a long time, but the country has the perfect climate for letting a natural fermentation process take place. That usually gives Jamaican rum a strong flavor known as Jamaican funk — think smoky, spicy, woody, and sweet, all rolled into one. 

That's what you might expect from Appleton Signature, but it just doesn't deliver the same kick that Jamaican rum has become known for. There's very little that stands out about Appleton, and it's entirely possible that after you drink it, you'll think, "Yep, I just drank that!" The neutral flavor might make it great in some cocktails, but it also might be exactly what you're not looking for.

Plantation

If someone offers to buy you a bottle of Plantation rum, it's generally a pretty safe choice. 

There's a ton of different options in their range, and it can get a little confusing, but here's the general idea. Plantation's bar classics are classics for a reason, but that said, they're definitely not for everyone. Take the Original Dark, which might make you think you're going to get a dark spiced rum that's heavy on things like molasses, and a little bit of that extra charcoal, aged rum kick. Go in thinking that, and you'll be sorely disappointed — it's got more of a fruity flavor than you might expect, and that can be just kind of confusing.

That said, there are bottles in the Plantation line that are downright delicious, but you're going to pay a little more for those in the Signature Blends Collection. These are aged not in the Caribbean but in France, and if you're not sure which to try, reach for the Grande Reserve. Imagine a vanilla-forward Caribbean rum that had a midlife crisis, headed to France, mellowed out a bit, and came back smelling a bit like the forests of Europe.

Rhum JM

Rhum JM is a little different from many other rums you'll see on the shelves, and trust us when we say that it's a good thing. The brand goes back to 1845, and it's made on a 1000-acre plantation in Martinique. That plantation includes everything from the actual sugar cane fields to the distillery itself, and they pride themselves on the fact that within an hour of being harvested, their sugarcane is on the way to becoming rum.

And it shows. You're going to pay a little more for a bottle of Rhum JM than you would some of our other brands — the most affordable, their Gold Rum, goes for around $45 a bottle — but here's the thing: it'll last. This isn't a rum you need to mix with anything, and that both gets and subtracts some points for them. It really depends on what you're looking for — if it's something for your rum and Coke, this isn't it. If you're looking for a rum that's smooth, heavy on the honey and vanilla, and easy to sip, look no further. 

There's another footnote to this, too: their Gold Rum is 100-proof, or 50% alcohol by volume (ABV), so it packs a massive kick. Given that can be way too much for some people, Rhum JM is not going to go any higher on our ranking.

Goslings Black Seal

Gosling's Black Seal is, in a nutshell, pretty darn good. It's a little bit like drinking a sweet fruitcake, filled with molasses and candied fruits, and here's the thing: While you can definitely sip it alone, there's better sipping rums out there. Also, this gets some major points for having a signature cocktail that it was made for... literally.

Esquire says that it was around World War I that British soldiers started mixing their rum with a tried-and-true cure-all for sea sickness: ginger. Goslings trademarked the Dark 'n Stormy cocktail, which is basically Black Seal rum, ginger beer, and an optional slice of lime.

And it's a cocktail that, quite honestly, is pretty darn delicious. The strong molasses flavor of Black Seal makes it impossible to replace it with any other rum and still get a Dark 'n Stormy that's quite the same, so it gets serious points for that. Alone or on the rocks, it might be a bit too much like drinking a traditional British Christmas pudding for some taste buds, but anyone who loves ginger will love Black Seal in this vintage cocktail.

Bacardi

Ah, Bacardi! Bacardi is 100% a solid choice, and no one is going to be upset to see you show up to a party with a bottle. That said, we do have some recommendations from within the brand.

Their flavors — which include coconut, dragonberry, and lime — are technically called "Spirit Drinks," and that's a legit way of separating them from the honest-to-gosh rum. Still, we love these: They don't have the same chemical taste as brands like Cruzan, and the flavors are spot-on. (Try using lemonade as a mixer for the coconut. You're welcome!)

If you're looking for an actual rum, you're not going to go wrong with Bacardi's standards, but that said, there's two that really stand out.

The Carta Fuego is nothing short of amazing, and while some might debate about whether or not it's a "true" rum, it's so darn good that we honestly don't care. This 80-proof red rum is aged for a year and comes with a serious kick thanks to some spicy cinnamon. You absolutely don't need to mix Carta Fuego with anything, but whatever you do choose to add it to, it'll totally add some heat. 

Then, there's their dark rum, the Carta Negra. It has an amazing sweetness you don't always expect from dark rum, along with just a dash of cinnamon. Otherwise? Think vanilla, coffee, caramel, and a bit of licorice, and you're there.

Captain Morgan

And here it is — the Captain. Captain Morgan is one of the most widely recognized rum brands, and there's a very good reason for that: It's darn good. Sure, someone might say there's plenty of other rums out there that are more complex or more traditional, but who ever gets upset that someone "only" brought a bottle of Captain Morgan to the party? 

That's what we thought. And here's why this rum takes a rightful place in our top spot. Captain isn't just affordable, but it has a combination of spices that's definitely pleasing to most palates. It's heavy on the vanilla without having any of the weird anise or licorice flavors other rums might try to use to set themselves apart, and that's okay — those flavors are acquired tastes, and there's nothing worse than a mouthful of licorice when you're not expecting it (or don't like it). Captain, on the other hand, is smooth enough to just sip, and it's so versatile it'll compliment any mixer. 

Then, there's Captain Morgan Black, which is so good that if you're keeping one on hand, you should definitely get them both. Black spiced rum can be a bit bitter and overwhelming, but while Captain Morgan Black is definitely strong stuff, it's the stuff of molasses, cloves, and a dash of vanilla. Want a rum you'll taste in any mixer? This is it, and it's amazing.

Bottom line? Captain Morgan is legendary for a reason.