Not all rums are created equal. Some rums are sweet and rich like your favorite bourbon, while others are harsh and seem like they would be better used as industrial cleaner. In fact, some cheap rums give that $8 bottle of vodka a run for its pitiful money. The key to avoiding drinking repurposed bleach is to know what to look for and figure out how to distinguish between cheap and inexpensive. And hell yes there’s a difference. Here are fifteen outstanding rums that prove you don’t need to drop an entire paycheck to enjoy the tropic’s native spirit.

Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum

Not only is it an affordable rum, it tastes great. If only college kids knew about it, they might have parties that weren’t fueled by vaguely racist Russian knockoffs. “It’s a Dominican Rum from Brugal, aged for at least a year, and crisp on the palate with some fruit and coconut,” says Ray Anguiano, Head Bartender at Atwood Restaurant in Chicago. This is a great budget rum for people who don’t want to sacrifice taste just because money’s a little tight. $20

Plantation Grande Reserve Rum

Plantation Grand Reserve is an extremely versatile rum, mixing well with plenty of syrups, juices, and fruits. Its unique taste also means that however you’re drinking it, the character of the rum is going to come through. “Plantation has hints of caramel and chocolate, mixed in with a little spice,” says Brandon Lockman, Head Bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland. That means your mojito or dark and stormy are going to lean much more toward the spicy sweetness of molasses than the sickly sweetness of some of your other rums. $23

Ron Zacapa “Centenario” 23 Year Old Solera Rum

“It’s like sipping a good Cognac; it’s smooth and sophisticated,” says Angel Robledo from Le Soleil d’Or in The Caymans. Robledo’s thoughts surprise us a little, if only because rum is hardly ever advertised as something you can drink by itself. It’s similar to vodka there. Mostly you find it in cocktails or mixed drinks, so if a bartender’s recommending you at least try it straight, it might be worth taking that advice. $40

Clement Select Barrel Rum

This rum from Martinique is funky, grassy and delicately sweet. Julia Momose, Head Bartender at GreenRiver in Chicago, says the 3 years spent in the barrel give it spice and backbone. Spice we get, but backbone is an interesting word to describe the former drink of pirates and current stereotype of a Bahaman spring break. Scotch and bourbon have backbone, so we like finding a rum that can stand up next to our two favorite spirits. $35

EL Dorado 15 Year Rum

We mentioned it earlier, but it’s surprising some rums are better enjoyed like an aged Scotch. Sipped straight or on the rocks rather than mixed up with a slurry of island fruit and herbs. But when someone takes the time to age something for 15 years in any kind of barrel, you better at least give it an undiluted shot. The El Dorado 15 Year Reserve deserves that shot, with a full complement of its own individual tastes and characteristics. $48

Cruzan Black Strap Rum

It’s a fantastic mixing rum that works well in tiki drinks and adds depth to just about any cocktail. “Delicious as a daiquiri or a buck, its rich molasses characteristics also lend well to stirred cocktails,” says Brandon Wise, Beverage Director for Sage Restaurant Group. Having a bottle of this one on hand for a summer evening’s party means everyone participating will get a healthy buzz. $19

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum

It’s rich, chocolaty, and decadent with a really round texture. “It’s perfect for sipping and enjoying after dinner (or lunch, or breakfast, or whenever), but I also really enjoy it in (strangely enough) daiquiris,” says Darwin Pornel, Lead Bartender at Faith & Flower in Los Angeles. Though, to be fair, daiquiris are delicious, so maybe that’s not all that strange. What’s strange is people not letting themselves admit that daiquiris are delicious. $34

Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum

It’s light with brown sugar and oak notes, with a little bit of spice. “This is my go-to after a long shift or a busy day,” says Pornel. We can totally relate to that, especially with how much we like sitting on a porch or patio on a summer evening. Drinking whiskey like that is great, but sometimes, and forgive us for the sacrilege, we want something different. $36

Batiste Rhum

This white rum has a rich history and a unique flavor profile and it’s a great testament to its creators that it does. They could have easily made an adequate, environmentally sustainable rum and called it a day, but instead decided to make something people would actually enjoy drinking. “It is slightly dry for a white rum, so it really allows for other components to blend well without being overpowered,” says Cameron Brown, lead bartender at FARM at the Carneros Inn in Napa, California. $25

Pusser’s Rum

A dark rum, Pusser’s has a rich caramel and vanilla flavor. “The sugar and sweetness is still there, but it is equally balanced with the vanilla flavor. It tastes great in cocktails or all by itself,” says Brown. From what we can tell, the darker the rum, the more likely it is to have a unique flavor. Not to put down white rums, as there is a handful on this list, but the darker it is, the more of the sugar and barrel flavors get injected into the drink. $30

Hamilton’s Jamaican Black Rum

This rum has a great flavor with an awesome rhum agricole quality. “It’s rich and savory, but lends funky vegetal notes of fresh-pressed sugar cane. It’s versatile and can be used in many cocktail applications,” says Chris Burmeister, bartender at Outpost in Santa Barbara, California. We’ll also go out on a limb on this one and guess it’s the closest we’ll get to drinking like Jack Sparrow, so let’s keep this one coming. $25

Lost Spirits Polynesian-Inspired Rum

Perfect to sip on its own or blended into cocktails, this craft rum is extremely versatile. “Sipping the Polynesian style will get you (along with a satisfying but not overpowering burn) notes of pineapple, caramel and I even find some butterscotch and vanilla in there,” says Andy Luymes, lead bartender at Jsix in San Diego. Sadly it’s been discontinued by the distillery with no announcements about a re-release, so finding this one is going to be challenging. We recommend finding a liquor store that’s been untouched since the ancient days of early 2016.

Caña Brava Rum

Caña Brava is the ultimate bartender’s rum. “It’s a three-year aged white rum and we use it to make one of the best classic daiquiris around,” says Evan Charest, Mixologist at Patina Restaurant Group. “Although the rum is from Panama, it is made in a distinctive Cuban style.” Speaking of Cuban, we may have to redo this list when the rum finally starts making its way over here in high enough quantities. $27

Clément XO Rhum Agricole

Good luck finding it. This rum is no longer made, as the 1952 vintage that it got its flavor profile from has run dry. Extremely smooth, with flavors of caramel, toffee, tobacco and spiced fruit, this one has a complexity to it that can be hard to find in other rums. Not many distillers are finding tobacco in their flavor profile, so if we can get our hands on a bottle of this, we’ll be rationing it like Prohibition Era bourbon. $204

Capovilla Liberation PMG Rhum

Distiller Gianni Vittorio Capovilla collaborated with Luca Gargano of the Bielle Distillery on the island of Marie Galante to make this truly special rum. Made from rare, heirloom sugarcane, this rum is aged in previously used French wine barrels, meaning an already sweet drink is getting an extra boost of sugar and color. Sweet flavors of brown sugar, orange zest and coconut are abundant, so we’ll leave it up to you how you want to enjoy them. $150

Tovala Meal in front of oven_Credit Audrey Ma (1)

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