5 Essential Rum Cocktails

There are endless cocktails in the world, and new ones invented every day, but how many of these drinks are true essentials? In this series, we're discussing drinks everyone should know—five essential drinks for every major category of spirits.

My choices may seem somewhat arbitrary and even capricious. I'll probably even leave out one of your favorites. But that's the beauty of conversation, so please let me know what I'm missing!

This week, we cover the favorite tipple of sailors and tiki geeks alike: rum. Now, rum is a tricky category to limit to five essentials; first, there are simply a whole damn lot of rum cocktails around. More importantly, though, the rum category is broad and deep, and the word rum refers to such a mixed bag of spirits.

  • Light rum is made from molasses, aged for a year or two, and then charcoal filtered for a flavor that's smooth and crisp but mild. The most famous examples of this style include Bacardi and Havana Club.
  • Almost an entirely different beast, rhum agricole was originally made in the French Caribbean colonies, from pressed sugar-cane juice. It's usually funky and rich, and it only superficially tastes anything like a light rum.
  • In between, you find rums of various ages, styles, and depths of flavor. Rum is made on every continent but Antarctica, and the range of expressions is rather dizzying. I can't even begin, in the scope of this piece, to cover the many subtleties, nuances, and complexities of rum.

With this in mind, I'm even more certain that I'll leave out someone's favorite. So be it. I know you'll feel free to chime in.


Robyn Lee

Every category of spirit needs its own sour, and for rum, nothing beats the daiquiri. Just make sure you do it up in the classic style. This means no blenders, no fruit syrups, and no no no giant Bourbon Street slushie machines. A daiquiri is a simple, elegant work of beauty: light rum, fresh lime juice, and sugar. Combine in a shaker and shake very well to dissolve the sugar. You can, if it's easier, use simple syrup in place of the sugar, and although some might quibble, I won't.

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(I won't list them as essentials in their own right—they owe too much to the original daiquiri—but worthwhile daiquiri offshoots include the Hemingway and the El Floridita.)


Robyn Lee

Like the daiquiri, the Hurricane has suffered ignominy. I think it's time to reclaim the drink and make it ridiculously delicious again. As with the daiquiri, though, you need to go back to the beginning: dark and rich Jamaican rum, passion fruit syrup, and lemon juice. Not all that far removed from the daiquiri, when you think about it. Both drinks are sours, after all. But from similar ancestry come such different cocktails.

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Mai Tai

Jessica Leibowitz

One more drink ruined almost beyond redemption, the Mai Tai done right is quintessential tiki. Whether you think of tiki as a recurrent fad or an enduring lifestyle, the Mai Tai is nevertheless a cocktail you need. And to make it even more enjoyable, it's a drink that benefits from experimentation. The base recipe calls for two ounces of rum, but what's great is, you can mix two different rums to make up the two ounces. Certain rum aficionados have even been known to work through various combinations to test their favorites.

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Okay, I'm breaking my own highball rule again. The mojito, done up properly, is a little more complex than a simple spirit-and-mixer highball, though. Start with mint leaves in a serving glass—spearmint, if you can get it. Add a little sugar and gently, gently muddle, just to slightly bruise the leaves and release their oils. Squeeze in fresh lime juice. Add a dash of Angostura if you please! It balances the sweetness and adds in subtle herbal notes. Finally, add a good white rum (I like Banks Five Island) and stir. Add in some ice and stir gently to chill and mix the drink. Made with a tasty rum and the freshest ingredients, this drink transcends the cliché it has become.

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Planter's Punch

Robyn Lee

I can't think of a simpler and more delicious use of a great dark rum—aside from sipping, that is. But this isn't Sipping Spirits 101, and I have to assume most of you already have that down. Planter's Punch harks back centuries, and as Paul Clarke pointed out, it's a drink with any number of variations. Try the basic recipe and adjust it to your desires.

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More Drinks You Should Know

Essential Rye Cocktails »
Essential Gin Cocktails »
Essential Highballs »