Rum holds a special place in my heart – it reminds me of one of my first cocktail experiences, sitting with my father on a summer afternoon and sipping a rum and Coke. I distinctly remember enjoying the surprising dryness of the rum combined with the sweetness of the Coke. I drank a few more of those magical elixirs throughout the evening as my father and I smoked cigars and swapped stories. Since that evening, I’ve enjoyed many more rum-based cocktails in a vast array of styles – tried and true classics, renewed and freshly-popular tiki cocktails, and modern, unique twists.

 Rum is made from the sugar cane plant. The perennial grass thrives in a warm, tropical climate, and grows up to 20 feet a year. Most rum produced around the world is made using molasses, a byproduct of refining sugar from pressed sugar cane juice. The fresh cane juice can also be used to make rum – a rare process resulting in a very special, unique product. Each rum distillery has its own production processes, making for a wide range of rum varieties.

In honor of National Rum Day, I’ve selected four of my favorite bottles, along with cocktail recipes that bring out the best in each rum.

Rhum J.M. is a French A.O.C. Rhum Agricole (the extra “h” is the French spelling and the term for rum produced from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice) from the island of Martinique. French laws dictate that only specific types of sugar cane may be used to produce Rhum Agricole, and J.M. uses only five varietals from their own plots of land on the island. Once the cane is cut, the juice is pressed within an hour, and less than 48 hours later it is fermented and distilled to produce Rhum. I had the privilege to visit this distillery in March of 2017, and it was truly remarkable to be able to see the process first hand from cane to glass. Rhum J.M. 80pf is a wonderful representation of French Rhum Agricole from Martinique. It has a beautiful grassy, vegetal aroma with a palate of dried tropical fruit and a crisp, dry finish. I love this Rhum in a classic daiquiri, with a tinge more citrus than syrup to create a puckering, mouth-watering sip that yearns for a second sip almost immediately.


In a shaking tin:

2 oz Rhum J.M. 80pf

.75 oz simple syrup

1 oz lime juice

Shake hard with cubed ice for 8-10 seconds

Double-strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a lime wedge

Brugal has been producing rum in the Dominican Republic since 1888 – just like Young’s Market Company! With over 130 years of experience, they have gone through five generations of family craftsmanship at the distillery. Most recently, Jassil Villanueva Quintana has been named as Maestro Ronero, the first female to be awarded the title. All their rums are aged for a minimum of at least two years, with their oldest and most exquisite item “Papa Andres” a highly sought after bottling of select barrels. Of all their rums, I prefer the Brugal 1888, the namesake for the year they were established. This product is aged up to 14 years in two different barrels, once-used Bourbon barrels and then in sherry casks, known famously for their use in aging Macallan single malt whisky. The aroma of this rum has a slight baking spice and dried fruit quality with a palate of baked apple and toasted almonds. I think this is best enjoyed in a direct cocktail format, or even neat with a drop of water or two.

Rum Old Fashioned:

In a double-old fashioned glass:

2 oz. Brugal 1888 rum

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Bar spoon of demerara syrup

Stir with large ice cubes for 8-10 seconds

Garnish with an expressed orange peel

Mt. Gay has a long and rich history of producing rum on the island of Barbados, officially dating back to 1703. Ironically, the distillery was originally owned by a man named John Sober. He eventually re-named the distillery after a fourth-generation Barbadian named Sir John Gay Allende, who had helped transform the distillery into a great success. To produce their rum today, they utilize a coral-filtered water source from a well that had been dug by their founders. Also helping to create their unique rum, they have developed an heirloom yeast strain which is combined with open-air tropical yeast strains. Once the rum has passed through pot and column stills, the liquid rests in charred once used Tennessee whiskey barrels. From there, it’s up to Trudiann Branker, their first female master blender to work alongside Allen Smith, former master blender to select which barrels have reached maturity to bottle in one of their four expressions. My favorite of the lineup is the Black Barrel. After initial aging, it is finished in heavily charred ex-Bourbon casks. This rum has a complex aroma of spice and ripe fruit, with a palate of oak, vanilla, and caramel. I prefer this rum when mixed with a bit of sweet vermouth in a Manhattan variation.

Mt. Gay Manhattan:

In a mixing glass:

2 oz. Mt. Gay Black Barrel

.75 oz. Carpano Antica Formula

3-4 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir with large ice cubes for 8-10 seconds

Strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a brandied cherry

Worthy Park is a Jamaican pot-still rum producer which has recently been reborn over the past decade or so. The estate’s roots stretch back to 1670 when it was gifted to Lieutenant Francis Price after the English captured the island from the Spanish in 1655. In 1720, the production of sugar refining began and  has continued on today. Since 1918, the estate has been owned by the Clarke family, who oversees sugar cane production that, of course, creates quite a bit of molasses. A brand-new distillery was completed in 2005, marking the beginning of the chapter of their rum production on the island. The estate itself sits in the middle of a valley, with over 20 cane varieties growing on about 4,000 acres of land. All their rum is distilled in traditional pot-stills to create a product that feels and tastes heavy and full-bodied. Their rum lineup consists of silver, gold, and over-proof, in addition to a reserve. Being a big fan of Jamaican rum, I lean towards the over-proof, with a hefty 63% ABV. It has a delightful nose of green banana combined with the classic palate of Jamaican vegetal “funk”. Be careful with how you use this high proof spirit, as a little bit goes a long way. My favorite classic tiki cocktail is the Zombie, which uses three different rums. Don’t drink too many of these, or you might actually feel like a zombie in the morning.


In a blender:

.75 oz. Worthy Park Rum-Bar gold rum

.75 oz. Don Q anejo rum

1 oz. Worthy Park Rum-Bar Over-proof

.5 oz Falernum

.75 oz lime

1 teaspoon grenadine

6 dashes Herbsaint

1 dash Angostura bitters

.5 oz Don’s mix (2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon syrup)

Blend for 5 seconds with 6 oz crushed ice

Serve in a tall glass, garnish with a cherry

About the Author

Willem Van Leuven is a Craft & Luxury Spirits Specialist for Young’s Market Company in San Diego, California. His passion for craft spirits stems from over 18 years of hospitality experience working in bars and restaurants throughout Southern California. He was previously the president of the San Diego chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild and continues to be active in the San Diego cocktail community. When he’s not talking about libations, you can find him enjoying them both stateside and abroad, often in Mexico.