Let me start by saying I'm only going to review rums that are worthy of sipping on their own (or at least claim to be worthy). So no Bacardi or Gosling. Sorry those are unsippable in any of their forms or varieties. If by ill fortune you find yourself with no other alternatives, fear not, simply mix with some ginger beer and a squeeze of lime and serve over ice. And if you don't have that, just call it a night, okay?
Let me start by saying I've spent plenty of time appreciating whiskey and scotch. There are certainly rums that will appeal to those that are into that sort of thing. But I wasn't after that when I started trying rums, and I won't be reviewing any of those rums either.
In fact, I didn't know what I was looking for until I found it. It was a rum so exquisite, that provided an experience so pleasant, I decided to undertake an exploration of other rums to see if the experience was unique or whether the world of rums held other gems. There were others like it. So what was it? Simply put, (1) smooth, (2) flavorful, (3) sweet without being overly so, (4) no tar or tobacco aftertaste.
Let me start with one that is widely available and therefore a tempting purchase, Captain Morgan Private Stock. This is the only rum I'm reviewing that I won't recommend at some level. This is not a traditional spiced rum of the typical Captain Morgan or Sailor Jerry variety. This is super smooth, but it seems they did a deal with the devil to make it so. It has such an overpowering vanilla flavor, that instead of "feeling the burn" you will be feeling sick to your stomach. It tastes like they've add some "natural" flavors to this one, and not in a good way. Definitely not worth stocking, privately or publically. In sum: definitely smooth, too much vanilla flavor, and way too sweet.
Zaya is essentially Captain Morgan Private Stock, except done right. The smoothness is there. The vanilla is definitely there. Almost too much vanilla, Zaya approaches the too sweet line, but does not cross it. This is the most affordable sipping rum I've found. Definitely worth stocking. In sum: very smooth, a heaping helping of vanilla, but not too sweet.
Of my favorite rums, Ron Zacapa 23 is the most widely available. Note that only a small portion of this rum is 23 years old (maybe a drop?). In sum: You can't go wrong with Ron Zacapa 23, it just doesn't have the complexity of my favorites.
El Dorado 12 is sweeter than its older brother, the 15 year bottle. In generally, I've found rums aged past 12 years to be more oaky and drier than their younger siblings. This is what I buy when my favorite rum is not in stock. In sum: Approaching greatness, and definitely worth a try, especially if you find my favorite rum too sweet.
Dimplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is hands down the best sipping rum I've experienced. There is nothing to hate and everything to love about this SUPER smooth rum. It has the perfect level of sweetness and none of that nasty tobacco or tar aftertaste. I'm not going to try to describe the flavor profile, because I don't want you to enter this experience with any preconceptions. Diplomatico will win you over. Availability is hit or miss in my area, so call ahead if you are making the trip just for this rum. In sum: Perfect!