Can Spiced Rum Be Serious?

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.


Images of leering pirates and tattooed sailors have worked out great as marketing tools for producers of spiced rum. But for those seeking to elevate spiced rum from the realm of boozy training wheels to the arena of fine sipping spirits, this cartoonish character can get old quick. In an article in the November/December issue of Imbibe magazine, I wrote about several spiced rums that are trying to move out of the boisterous, party-hearty shadow cast by the giants of the field.

The biggest-selling spiced rums on the market aren't really designed with nuanced flavors in mind. Sweetened and spiced with easy-to-love flavors like cinnamon and cloves, and with a big, oftentimes cloying punch of vanilla, these rums are made mostly to be mixed with cola, consumed by people who like the idea of rum and Coke (but not the taste of it).

Some of the newer spiced rums, on the other hand, are pushing the concept of "rum" further forward, and are sidestepping the crowd-pleasing burst of vanilla in favor of a drier, more pronounced spice character. Along the way they're producing a product that's arguably more interesting to older drinkers (including die-hard rum lovers), and more versatile for adventurous mixing.

The possibilities of spiced rum became clear to me this past summer at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. I had a taste of a new spiced rum from Chairman's Reserve, which lightly laces a base of aged St. Lucia rum with delicate touches of nutmeg, allspice, and orange peel. Rich, complex and surprisingly dry, the rum demonstrated that it's possible to venture into the "spiced" category without the spirit becoming a syrupy caricature of itself.

Since then, I've tried other spiced rums that have accomplished this to varying degrees: Seven Tiki Spiced Rum, from liquor giant Bacardi, still has a pronounced vanilla note but has a pleasing depth of nutmeg; Cruzan 9 is big with cloves and nutmeg, and avoids the sticky sweetness found in so many spiced rums; and The Lash, a smaller label made in the Netherlands from aged Trinidadian rum, is dark, dry and almost aggressive with the pyrotechnic flashes of allspice and cinnamon.

Of course, homemade spiced rum is easy to make—we'll get to that in Friday's "Time for a Drink" column—but the debut of these new rums seems to mark a new phase of maturity for spiced rum. These are a few brands that are available. Do you have others that you like? What are some of your favorites?