7 Rums You Can Taste on a Caribbean Cruise

by Lena Katz

7 Rums You Can Taste on a Caribbean Cruise

by Lena Katz

The best way to combine cultural tourism, a history lesson, and cocktails in the Caribbean is to get to know the local rum. One bottle of an island's best booze can be much more than just another addition to your home bar cart. You can visit local small businesses, learn about historic legacies that go back 10 generations, and enjoy complimentary cocktails along the way. Here’s our selection of great rums from seven different islands that includes lesser-known artisanal brands, household names, inexpensive picks, and collector's items.

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Brugal distillery in the Dominican Republic / Brugal
Cruzan distillery
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1. Cruzan

Port: St. Croix

Best known for its inexpensive tropical fruit-flavored rums, Cruzan has been producing continuously since the end of prohibition — long enough to see different varieties go in and out of fashion. Pro tip: It's pronounced KRU-zhun.

Tour and Taste: This is a great tour. It starts with a history lesson about the entrance's many flags (one for every former ruler of the island) and then a rum-making 101 primer. But most people’s favorite part is the sampling at the end — two cocktails and four straight rum samples are included in the $8 price. Try the Black Strap if it’s available; it's the closest thing to what the sailors who invented rum used to drink.

Port: St. Croix

Best known for its inexpensive tropical fruit-flavored rums, Cruzan has been producing continuously since the end of prohibition — long enough to see different varieties go in and out of fashion. Pro tip: It's pronounced KRU-zhun.

Tour and Taste: This is a great tour. It starts with a history lesson about the entrance's many flags (one for every former ruler of the island) and then a rum-making 101 primer. But most people’s favorite part is the sampling at the end — two cocktails and four straight rum samples are included in the $8 price. Try the Black Strap if it’s available; it's the closest thing to what the sailors who invented rum used to drink.

Appleton Estate
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2. Appleton Estate

Port: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Jamaica produces many delicious rums, and this brand is ubiquitous. But it's also distinctive for getting its sugar from the estate's cane fields and using molasses produced from the estate's sugar mill. Other Jamaican distilleries must buy theirs from an island-wide “sugar pool,” while distilleries throughout the Caribbean now have to source theirs from other places, as many sugarcane fields and mills have shut down.

Tour and Taste: Appleton kicks things off with a welcome drink — rum punch, of course. The distillery tour is brief, and includes a couple of interactive demos about old-school rum-making processes. It ends with as many tastings as you can handle. The entrance fee is $25 per adult, and excursions are available from ports including Montego Bay. However, Appleton Estate is a long drive from any port, so most people just buy a bottle from duty-free shops if they’re only at port for a short while.

Port: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Jamaica produces many delicious rums, and this brand is ubiquitous. But it's also distinctive for getting its sugar from the estate's cane fields and using molasses produced from the estate's sugar mill. Other Jamaican distilleries must buy theirs from an island-wide “sugar pool,” while distilleries throughout the Caribbean now have to source theirs from other places, as many sugarcane fields and mills have shut down.

Tour and Taste: Appleton kicks things off with a welcome drink — rum punch, of course. The distillery tour is brief, and includes a couple of interactive demos about old-school rum-making processes. It ends with as many tastings as you can handle. The entrance fee is $25 per adult, and excursions are available from ports including Montego Bay. However, Appleton Estate is a long drive from any port, so most people just buy a bottle from duty-free shops if they’re only at port for a short while.

A barrel of Rhum Clement
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3. Rhum Clément

Port: Fort-de-France, Martinique

The spirit made on Martinique is Rhum Agricole, which differs from other rums in method as well as name. It’s distilled from fresh cane juice, not molasses. And the sugar cane must be grown in the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Martinique. The resulting product has a distinct terroir (sense of place) to its flavor. It’s not for everyone (some claim it has a 'funk'), while booze connoisseurs laud its freshness.

Tour and Taste: Habitation Clément on the east coast of the island claims the status as the birthplace of Rhum Agricole, and offers tours and tastings on a beautifully maintained Creole plantation-style estate.

 

Port: Fort-de-France, Martinique

The spirit made on Martinique is Rhum Agricole, which differs from other rums in method as well as name. It’s distilled from fresh cane juice, not molasses. And the sugar cane must be grown in the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Martinique. The resulting product has a distinct terroir (sense of place) to its flavor. It’s not for everyone (some claim it has a 'funk'), while booze connoisseurs laud its freshness.

Tour and Taste: Habitation Clément on the east coast of the island claims the status as the birthplace of Rhum Agricole, and offers tours and tastings on a beautifully maintained Creole plantation-style estate.

 

Don Q's tasting room in Ponce
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4. Don Q

Port: San Juan, Puerto Rico

The widely acknowledged rum capital of the world produces many great brands, and Don Q is this island's heavyweight. While Bacardi is the biggest-name export, if you want local flavor and culture, it starts with Don Q.

Tour and Taste: Considering its massive rum industry, Puerto Rico offers surprisingly few distillery tours — mainly the conveyor-belt Casa Bacardi experience. You can tour Don Q's distillery in Ponce (by appointment only), or look for rum tastings held in Old San Juan’s restaurants.

Port: San Juan, Puerto Rico

The widely acknowledged rum capital of the world produces many great brands, and Don Q is this island's heavyweight. While Bacardi is the biggest-name export, if you want local flavor and culture, it starts with Don Q.

Tour and Taste: Considering its massive rum industry, Puerto Rico offers surprisingly few distillery tours — mainly the conveyor-belt Casa Bacardi experience. You can tour Don Q's distillery in Ponce (by appointment only), or look for rum tastings held in Old San Juan’s restaurants.

Brugal
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5. Brugal

Port: La Romana, Dominican Republic

While none of its rums enjoy instant name recognition, the DR has as much of a rum affinity as anywhere in the Caribbean. Brugal is the leading brand, with fifth-generation master distillers ensuring a consistent flavor profile among all their varieties.

Tour and Taste: This is a tour of a real working factory, so while it's not particularly scenic, it does show the inner workings of a major rum-producing operation, and tastings are included. (Note: It only costs $3 per person if you don’t take an excursion, and because the tour only lasts 15-20 minutes, many people say it’s not worth more than that.)

Port: La Romana, Dominican Republic

While none of its rums enjoy instant name recognition, the DR has as much of a rum affinity as anywhere in the Caribbean. Brugal is the leading brand, with fifth-generation master distillers ensuring a consistent flavor profile among all their varieties.

Tour and Taste: This is a tour of a real working factory, so while it's not particularly scenic, it does show the inner workings of a major rum-producing operation, and tastings are included. (Note: It only costs $3 per person if you don’t take an excursion, and because the tour only lasts 15-20 minutes, many people say it’s not worth more than that.)

Mount Gay Rum's visitor center
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6. Mount Gay

Port: Bridgetown, Barbados

One of the most surprising things about Barbados is that sugar cane — once the island's staple crop — has nearly disappeared. But rum production remains as busy as ever. Mount Gay, the iconic local rum, has been produced since 1703.

Tour and Taste: The popular Mount Gay Rum Visitor Center is right in Bridgetown, within walking distance of the port. This isn’t the distillery, but a blending and bottling center where you can do a guided tour and tasting. Or head straight to the bar.

Port: Bridgetown, Barbados

One of the most surprising things about Barbados is that sugar cane — once the island's staple crop — has nearly disappeared. But rum production remains as busy as ever. Mount Gay, the iconic local rum, has been produced since 1703.

Tour and Taste: The popular Mount Gay Rum Visitor Center is right in Bridgetown, within walking distance of the port. This isn’t the distillery, but a blending and bottling center where you can do a guided tour and tasting. Or head straight to the bar.

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum
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7. Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum

Port: Basseterre, St. Kitts

Among the smallest of the rum production facilities on this list, Brinley is a father-son enterprise that's still growing its business. If you live in the Northeast U.S., you may have heard of Brinley, as their grassroots marketing is strong. Flavors in their rum portfolio include vanilla, coffee, and coconut cream.

Tour and Taste: There is a Brinley Rum retail shop right on the dock in Basseterre.

Port: Basseterre, St. Kitts

Among the smallest of the rum production facilities on this list, Brinley is a father-son enterprise that's still growing its business. If you live in the Northeast U.S., you may have heard of Brinley, as their grassroots marketing is strong. Flavors in their rum portfolio include vanilla, coffee, and coconut cream.

Tour and Taste: There is a Brinley Rum retail shop right on the dock in Basseterre.

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