by JoshLevi Soriano
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It is said that the original Mai Tai was made of J. Wray and Nephew 17-year-old rum, but it has been out of production for years. Fortunately, there are other amazing rums of different types out there that allow people to customize their own Mai Tais.
If you want to savor this refreshing cocktail, be sure to pick the best rum for Mai Tai!
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This is the real deal if you’re seeking a traditional, high-proof rum to use in a Mai Tai. One of the things we like about Smith & Cross Jamaica rum is it’s not produced using modern methods; therefore, it has never undergone cold filtering, over-dilution, or sugar addition.
The flavors of exotic fruits, spice, and caramelized bananas are dominant in this rum. Then, this flavorful journey ends with an earthy finish. All of these tastes can be attributed to the Wedderburn and Plummer pot still distillates used exclusively in this rum.
Alex Barbatsis, Head Bartender of The Whistler, says, “With Smith & Cross rum, you have the added richness and punch to complement the orgeat and lime. Pair it with Banks 5 Island Blend Rum since it has a rich dryness that makes any rum cocktail feel complete.”
Country of Origin: Jamaica | ABV: 57% | Tasting Notes: Leather, earthy, and tropical fruits
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Xaymaca, which translates to “country of wood and water,” is manufactured from a combination of spirits from the Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries. Maison Ferrand currently owns a third of these distilleries after acquiring the West Indies Rum Distillery in 2017.
Master mixer Alexandre Gabriel established the Xaymaca brand, which is the ancient name for Jamaica given by the indigenous Arawaks, who lived on the island long before Columbus arrived in 1494.
Molasses is fermented for 1-3 weeks before being distilled in a pot to produce the Xaymaca Special Dry. It is a fantastic aged Jamaican rum that may be savored neat or with a huge ice cube. It’s also great in cocktails as it becomes smoother mixed with other components.
Country of Origin: Jamaica | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Floral, white grape, sugar apple, apricot
More than 270 years ago, the Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum tale began in the distinct mysterious setting known as the Nassau Valley.
Nassau Valley’s unique geography naturally filters rain, resulting in streams of crystal-clear blue water that give the valley’s sugar cane an incomparable flavor. These are then transferred into the Reserve Blend, a dark rum with a fruity sensation and a lot of Jamaican grooves.
We like how it starts as peppery, fruity, and vibrant on the tongue; then, it slowly transitions into a smooth drink with no alcohol burn. Blending this rum, rooted in Jamaican tradition, in a Mai Tai will result in a smooth Tiki cocktail.
Country of Origin: Jamaica | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Ripe banana, oak, sweet mango, grapes, molasses, zesty
Related: The Best Tiki Drink Garnishes
According to Eric Lambright, the bartender at Sorry Charlie’s, “The Mai Tai is the best way to judge a tiki bar. On paper, it’s a pretty straightforward drink, but everyone has their own twist on it. I would go with the J Wray 17 year like the original, but alas, it doesn’t exist anymore.”
“In its place, I like the Denizen Merchant Reserve. This Jamaican rum closely resembles the J Wray with just the right amount of funk. Mix that with a little Martinique rum, and you’re on your way to a great Mai Tai. Just please don’t add pineapple,” he notes.
Country of Origin: Jamaica | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, earthy, cayenne, leather, smoke
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Diageo, a British alcohol corporation, produces Captain Morgan flavored rums. Sir Henry Morgan, a 17th-century Welsh privateer and adventurer, inspired the name of the company, and in 1984, their Original Spiced Rum made its debut in the United States.
Captain Morgan Spiced Rum is manufactured by mixing yeasts, molasses, water, and mash in a continuous still and then distilling it. The rum is matured for up to a year before being infused with spices and tastes from the Caribbean islands.
We appreciate the profile of this rum because it is uncomplicated and easy to drink. It’s great on its own, and it mixes well with other ingredients in different cocktails, so you may enjoy it any way you like.
Country of Origin: US Virgin Islands | ABV: 35% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, sugar, warm spices, and oak
Related: Is Spiced Rum Keto?
Hampden Estate, located in Trelawny Parish in the northwestern part of Jamaica, is one of the country’s oldest sugar estates and the island’s only distillery dedicated to producing heavy pot still rums.
It is the quintessential heavy pot-still rum of preference across Europe, thanks to its incredibly flavored pot still rums. This 8-year-old rum was distilled in a copper pot still with a dual vessel following a long fermentation with natural yeasts in the Hampden cellars.
We adore how the scent of this Jamaican rum is one of the most seductive and appealing scents ever. The fragrances of luscious tropical fruits, bananas, and pineapples abound, which can all complement a delectable Mai Tai.
Country of Origin: Jamaica | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Charred oak, pineapple, and allspice
We applaud Don Facundo Baradi Masso, who established Bacardi, as he faced multiple hardships before successfully growing the distillery. Facundo spotted an opportunity after a calamity when rum was still regarded as cheap, low-quality alcohol.
With the cost of sugar so cheap, there was a chance for him to earn a fortune by creating an attractive rum product, so he ultimately devised a method for producing superior-tasting rum, such as their flagship product, the BACARDÍ Superior.
To produce the raw rum spirit, Bacardi employs a technique known as “parallel distillation.” The fermenting liquid is distilled twice, yielding two distinct variants of the alcohol. These refined processes make a fantastic addition to any cocktail, especially Mai Tai.
Country of Origin: Puerto Rico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, fruity, floral, almond syrup
The Philippines is known to cater to sugarcane plantations, and sugarcane is one of the main raw materials in making rum. Don Papa is from the Philippines’ Negros island, the country’s sugarcane center, and was founded in 2012.
Don Papa Rum is a premium aged single-island rum made on the slopes of the active volcano Mt. Kanlaon, where the best sugar cane is ground to make sweet, rich molasses.
The sweetness and thickness of the spirit are preferable to be blended into cocktails than to be consumed purely.
Country of Origin: Philippines | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, oak, caramel, and candied fruits
“When making a Mai Tai, you want a rum that’ll stand against the other ingredients in it. You want the notes of the rum to compliment and blend with the sugars and citrus,” comments Rich Ramirez, bar manager at Lapeer Steak & Seafood.
“The Plantation Overproof rum allows for more body with the alcohol content. The notes of vanilla, cinnamon, orange peel, and almost burnt brown sugar with its funkiness plays wonders with the characteristics of a Mai Tai. It makes it boozy, tropical, and flavorful!” he adds.
Country of Origin: Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana | ABV: 69% | Tasting Notes: Coffee, molasses, orange, clove
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Trois Rivières Cuvée de l’Océan is made entirely from the juice of sugarcanes grown on the shoreline of the sunny Anse Trabaud plot in Martinique’s extreme south. Because the plantation is situated in a unique geographical location, it contributes to the wide range of flavors.
With this rum, you would surely be transported to the fresh, clean, and salty scene on a tropical beach. Its distinct and sweet flavor from numerous species of sugarcane is balanced by seawater and salty notes.
Country of Origin: Martinique | ABV: 42% | Tasting Notes: Mineral ore, seawater, brine, and smoke
Fritz Vaval is the latest generation of his family to oversee the Arawaks distillery, which was created in 1940 by his father. With this, he devotes himself to Clairin’s long-standing traditions.
We are in awe of Fritz’s ability to create a flawless rendition of mineral-driven, salty Clairin with a taste of the sea using a remarkably special handcrafted still, the only one in the Caribbean, and is powered by a train’s steam engine.
This Haitian natural spirit is manufactured from the Madame Meuze sugarcane species, which is fermented organically with wild yeasts from freshly extracted juice straight after harvest. It’s well-balanced, has plenty of briny sharpness, and pairs particularly nicely with fresh lime juice.
Country of Origin: Haiti | ABV: 49.5% – 51.1% | Tasting Notes: Ripe plum, green olive, salt air, and rosemary
“When choosing a rum for Mai Tai, think about mirroring flavors that are in the base of the drink (opposite characteristics) or echoing (highlighting flavors that are already present in the drink) ingredients,” suggests Abe Vucekovich, beverage director at The Meadowlark.
“A complex golden rum adds some depth and body to an otherwise very light and refreshing drink. I love Banks 7 Island, a blend of 23 rums from 7 different countries, with several of the rums aged in used bourbon barrels,” he adds.
Country of Origin: Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Java, Panama, and Guatemala | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Nuts, apple, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, banana
Oliver Chilton, head blender at Black Tot, came up with the concept for this drink, combining some of the finest rums from Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana, to keep alive a more than 300-year-old Navy tradition.
The inspiration for the name came from Black Tot Day, wherein the Royal Navy stopped issuing daily rum rations to its sailors.
We commend how the Black Tot captures all the characteristics of its rum blend. The fruitiness derived from the Barbados rum is noticeable but not cloying. There’s also the luxury of the Guyanese rums and the funky spirit of Jamaican rum.
Country of Origin: Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica | ABV: 46.2% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, dark chocolate, sweet fruits
One of the more affordable options from this distillery is the Rhum J.M Blanc. Like all Rhum J.M. AOC rums, it is made solely from sugar cane cultivated by the family in the Bellevue highlands. Those who enjoy an Agricole but prefer more zing may turn to this spirit!
Rhum J.M. Blanc comes in a stubby bottle that is both vivid and appealing due to the brand’s signature old-fashioned design. As for the rum itself, it is translucent, suggesting that it was filtered to remove impurities.
Although it can be used straight, Rhum J.M. is best used as a mixer, especially in classic cocktails like the Mai Tai that requires White Agricole. This rum contributes a pleasant vegetal note and a hint of spice.
Country of Origin: Martinique | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Banana, citrus peel, white pepper, minerality
Related: What is Rhum Agricole?
When making a Mai Tai, Patrick Banko, lead bartender at Stratus Rooftop Lounge, generally goes for a dark or barrel-aged variety of rum. “I lean towards the darker rums due to their elevated presence when mixing cocktails as opposed to their clear counterparts,” he says.
“The barrel finish provides a more hearty base, especially in full-bodied and flavor-forward cocktails such as a Mai Tai.
My favorite dark rum is Brugal’s Anejo. The complexity of the rum allows it to be heavily versatile when making cocktails or just consuming it neat. It has a unique savory component that is difficult to recreate with direct competitors,” he adds.
Country of Origin: Dominican Republic | ABV: 38% – 40% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, butter, wood, vanilla, spices
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At the Habitation Clément distillery, Rhum Clément VSOP spends at least a year aging in new French oak barrels. Once the rum has spent the required time in the smaller French barrels, it is transferred to bigger re-charred bourbon barrels, where it stays for 3 years aging.
Furthermore, the Clément V.S.O.P. is a dry, nuanced rum. It can be savored neat or over ice by anyone with a taste for dry liquors. Nonetheless, the spirit also makes for a great cocktail mixer since the Rum’s distinct flavor notes come through clearly.
Country of Origin: Martinique | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Sugar cane, milk chocolate, and peppery
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This iconic white rum is a blend made in Amsterdam with spirits from Trinidad and Jamaica. While the white rum’s production is not simple, it is worth the effort since it was given a 93 by the Ultimate Spirits Challenge and a Gold Medal by the International Review of Spirits.
The process of making this rum begins in Trinidad, at the Angostura distillery. It is estimated that approximately 60% of Angostura’s rum is matured for 3 to 5 years in previously used American oak bourbon barrels, while 40% of the bottle is unaged rum.
Besides these rums, a small percentage is also taken up by 15 various pot-still rums from Jamaican distilleries. After production, the final product is filtered to eliminate any remaining color. It has a medium to full body, with tropical fruit flavors complemented with grassy notes.
Country of Origin: Trinidad, Jamaica | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Peppery, vegetal, mango, pineapple, vanilla, toasted coconut
It’s time to take out the best rum and start mixing up some delicious Mai Tais! It’s not only great for summer but for other occasions as well. We hope you enjoyed this list of great rums for making this refreshing drink.
Which one will you try first? Share it with us!
Best Rum For Mai Tai Buying Guide
A Mai Tai is usually made of two types of rum: light and dark. These categories can further branch out to different characteristics, depending on several factors, such as the ones below. So, allow them to guide you in your rum choices!
Different types of rum include white, black, gold, aged, Navy, Rhum Agricole, spiced, and Demerara rum. Using the proper rum for a Mai Tai is essential, as some rums will not blend in or complement the other ingredients.
Most people agree that aged rum, usually Jamaican rum or those from the Dominican Republic, is ideal for making Mai Tais. The other components of a Mai Tai won’t overpower the richer flavor of these rums as they’re known to be robust.
Some people, like Danica Barrick of Simple Goodness Sisters, use a combination of light and dark rums. “The light rum provides fruity notes and is mild and smooth. The dark rum is there to assert itself more with richer banana and baking spices and burnt sugar notes,” she says.
On the other hand, some people allow each ingredient of the Mai Tai to shine. Lee Noble, mixologist at Art in the Age, says, “ I like a fairly neutral rum for Mai Tais to let the orgeat syrup and lime stand out, so I don’t use any rum with hogo (funky fermentative flavor) or Agricole.”
Meanwhile, Eric Vargas, lead bartender at Area 31, comments, “Spiced rums make for some of my favorite rums to work with Mai Tais. They bring just the right amount of full-bodied and well-rounded flavors to a truly classic cocktail.”
Brian Adee, the mixologist at Kitchen Ambition, recommends “Use the best and most aged rums because the original Mai Tai spared no expense on its choice of rum. Make sure you balance the molasses sweetness of Jamaican rum with the grassy aromas from a rhum agricole.”
Ultimately, the flavor outcome will rely on your preference, and there’s no reason to restrict you from experimenting with various rums. We suggest making yourself familiar with their characteristics. Remember, you aim for a harmonious blend of flavors when making cocktails.
The ingredients used and the production process are major factors that contribute to the rum’s final quality, flavors, and other characteristics. With this, you can research how the rum was made by reading labels or doing a quick web search.
Mildret Corona, Bartender at Rhumbar Ultra Lounge, comments, “I prefer molasses-based rums for Mai Tais because rums that have been distilled from molasses bring a rich, full flavor to the drink. A rum distilled from sugar cane juice will be on the grassy and vegetal side.”
Regarding fermentation, rums can be fermented with either wild or produced yeasts. Using natural yeast will give the rum some of the flavors and aromas of its surrounding environment, which may vary from batch to batch.
On the other hand, some distillers employ carefully cultivated strains to ensure consistent results every time. Fermentation speed is another thing yeast contributes. Some yeast varieties are more efficient than others at fermenting sugar into alcohol.
For instance, Bacardi has modified its yeasts to accelerate molasses fermentation, resulting in lower levels of flavor-inducing esters and congeners. Therefore, the quick action of the yeast in Bacardi contributes to its light flavor.
Different rums’ flavors depend on their style, or specifically, their ingredients and methods. Here are the different kinds and their characteristics to give you an idea of what they add to a Mai Tai.
Dark: Characterized by deeper, richer flavors, including spicy undertones and a pronounced molasses or caramel finish brought by lengthy aging in charred barrels.
Gold: Its flavor and strength fall between light and dark rum, making it a good “in-between” choice. It is also referred to as a lightly aged rum.
Spiced: Usually baking spices, like vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon, but also ginger, clove, rosemary, cardamom, and pepper.
White: Light rums tend to be vegetal or grassy and sweet. Because of their subtle flavors, they’re becoming increasingly popular in the cocktail industry.
“Depending on its proof, the rum will add stronger or milder flavors to the cocktail. For instance, a higher-proof rum will have a more intense taste, while a lower-proof will be milder and slightly sweeter,” says Michael Murdy, mixologist and founder of Robust Kitchen.
Rum alcohol content typically ranges from 40% to 57%, but it could go as low as 35% and as high as 75%. For rich, complex-tasting cocktails such as a Mai Tai, it’s best to use a rum that’s high in alcohol to balance out the array of flavors.
But you can choose a lower or higher ABV rum if it’s your preference. Just make sure that you can still create a balance of flavors from the other ingredients of the cocktail.
Due to the expansion of the rum business over the past years, consumers have access to a wide range of differently priced rums. It is essential that you examine the price of rum first and make sure that it is within your financial means unless you mean to splurge.
Sometimes, the price also tells you something about the rum’s quality. Because of the ingredients that go into making them and the production process, rums of higher quality tend to be more expensive.
However, there are also budget-friendly rums with interesting flavors that are perfect for cocktails.
Best Rum For Mai Tai FAQ
1. Do you need dark rum for Mai Tai?
Most modern versions of the Mai Tai call for a black rum because its robust, complex flavors greatly complement the other Mai Tai ingredients, like orange curaçao, lime juice, and orgeat. It can also make the drink richer and have a full body.
2. Can I use non-alcoholic rum for Mai Tai?
Good news for people who don’t drink alcohol: you can make a Mai Tai using non-alcoholic spirits! However, it’s worth noting that not all non-alcoholic rums can equate to the richness and boldness of a real rum’s flavor or characteristics. With this, you can adjust your recipe to achieve the desired flavors.
3. Which is sweeter: light or dark rum?
Light rum is generally sweeter with a light flavor, whereas dark rum has a more robust flavor profile. How they’re produced accounts for the key distinctions of their tastes. To get the desired depth of flavor, dark rum is matured for many years in charred oak barrels. Light rum, on the other hand, spends less time in oak casks.
4. Is flavored rum good for Mai Tai?
Using flavored rums in a Mai Tai isn’t a new concept. People have been using these for years and are pleased with the results! However, if you intend to use flavored rums, we advise you to match the flavored rum’s taste with the rest of the ingredients. Don’t use too much of the rum to let the other ingredients shine.
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