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Dark Rum Challenge

A six-way competition to determine the answer to that age-old question:
What’s the best rum to mix with ginger beer?

Dark-Rum-Challenge

When I’m feeling lazy or just have an urge for a refreshing highball, I will often opt for a Rum Mule. What’s a mule, you ask? A mule is a category of highball that is made with the base spirit of your choice, ginger beer, and a twist of lime.

(To find out why I am not referring to the combination of dark rum and ginger beer by a different name with which you may be more familiar, you can read the legal explanation here.)

My go-to combination to-date has been Coruba dark rum from Jamaica and Bundaberg ginger beer from Australia. (I never thought of my cocktail’s carbon footprint until now–oops.)

While I love my standard concoction, I got to thinking that there could be other rums that would work equally well or better with my favorite ginger beer, and so the Dark Rum Challenge was born. Here I’ll pit six dark rums against each other in straight tastings and then combine them with ginger beer for the highball tasting. I’ll be using a rum to ginger beer ratio of 1 to 3, and eschewing the lime to weed out any flavor inconsistencies from the produce. Each tasting comes with the opportunity for ten points, so the maximum point total possible for any contender is twenty.

While there are a lot of rums that are in fact dark, it seems as though a distinct category of “dark rum” has come to exist having the following attributes:

  • Relatively inexpensive (less than $20 US)
  • Dark in color
  • Full in flavor
  • Meant for mixing
Rum Mule

The most famous in this category is likely Meyers’s original dark rum from Jamaica, but recently Gosling’s Black Seal rum has caught on as the go-to for such highballs.

Here is the entire field of competitors in alphabetical order:

1. Coruba Dark Rum (Jamaica)
2. Cruzan Black Strap Rum (St. Croix)
3. Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum (Bermuda)
4. Meyers’s Original Dark Rum (Jamaica)
5. Trader Vic’s Dark Rum (“West Indies”)
6. Whaler’s Original Dark Rum (Kentucky, USA)

Let’s get down to business!

Whaler’s Original Dark Rum

Whalers-dark-rum

Whaler’s is for some reason a perennial Trader Joe’s favorite. The bottle is simple and plain with a tall ship and a terrible Mai Tai recipe on the back. I won’t insult you or the ghost of Victor Bergeron by reposting it here, but suffice to say it includes grenadine and orange juice. The cap is a screw on plastic type covered by plastic.

In the glass, the rum is quite dark as you can see in the photo. As I hold it up to my eye, I can’t see through to the other side of the glass. That’s a lot of caramel color, methinks. A swirl yields a few leglets that seem to mostly hang around the rim.

The aroma of the Whaler’s is mostly rubbing alcohol with vanilla and molasses. It smells very much like vanilla extract. There’s a little raisin in the back end as well.

The first sip is painful. It reminds me of the time I tried a sip of vanilla extract as a kid (hey–it smelled good!). The heat of the alcohol is the dominant feature here—it goes directly up my nose and through to the back of my throat. The flavor I pick up is akin to grape soda. It’s entirely unnatural and decidedly unpleasant.

The mouth feel is thin and fiery. The aftertaste is of that grape soda flavor. As it lingers, a saccharin sweetness takes over leaving me searching for water. Entirely unpleasant.

Neat Scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 0/2
• Mouth feel 0/1
• Taste 1/4
• Aftertaste 0/2
• Total 2/10

Let’s add some ginger beer and see if we can improve the situation.

Mixed with the ginger beer, the rum is much more tolerable; the aroma is not bad, but the saccharin sweetness is now even more pronounced. The aftertaste is just ghastly, and after a few sips, I find myself heading to the sink.

Highball scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 1/2
• Mouth feel .5/1
• Taste 1/4
• Aftertaste .5/2
• Total 4/10

Cruzan Black Strap Rum

Cruzan-Black-Strap-Rum

Next up is the Black Strap Rum from Cruzan. (Black strap is a type of molasses left over after the first two boils of the cane juice are completed.) The Cruzan bottle is like the others in the line (with the exception of the single barrel estate). It’s tall and handsome, featuring the Cruzan logo on the front and a recessed logo on both sides of the glass. The closure is metal.

In the glass, the rum is extremely dark. I find myself unable to see through to the other side. A swirl in the snifter leaves a thin ring at the top of the glass that begrudgingly gives up a number of droplets that eventually fall at a snail’s pace. This stuff appears to be highly viscous.

The aroma is quite pleasant and nearly devoid of astringency. The dominant scent is strikingly similar to pancake syrup; not real maple syrup, mind you, but the fake stuff like Mrs. Butterworth’s. I’m intrigued—time for a taste.

The first taste brings home the pancake syrup flavor with a healthy dose of molasses. The heat of the alcohol now takes hold and my mouth is dealt a blow, but the pancake syrup flavor hangs on through the long finish. My mouth is completely coated with this thick rum now, and I’m not unhappy about it. If you didn’t savor the rum in your mouth like you would with a proper aged rum, you could probably drink this rum with a few ice cubes.

Neat scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 1/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 2/4
• Aftertaste 1/2
• Total 6/10

Mixed with the ginger beer, the Black Strap does not announce itself in the olfactory sense, but with the first sip, the pancake syrup flavor comes alive, adding a flavor to the ginger beer that competes more than it complements. I’m disappointed in the lack of synergy here, as the neat tasting was far better than expected. Oh well, this is why we do the research.

Highball scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 1.5/2
• Mouth feel 1.5/1
• Taste 2.5/4
• Aftertaste 1/2
• Total 7.5/10

Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum

Goslings-Black-Seal-Rum

Next is Gosling’s Black Seal rum—the go-to rum of many a rum mule aficionado. We’ll get to the mixed drink soon enough, but first a taste of the pure stuff.

Gosling’s bottle is a simple shape and there are no adornments save for the foil embossed plastic label depicting a black seal with a barrel of rum balanced on its nose. The closure is red plastic covered by plastic.

In the glass, the rum is most definitely not black. In fact, it’s more of a deep mahogany with red highlights. A swirl leaves an oily ring atop the glass where droplets then form and drizzle downward ever so slowly.

The aroma is more like an aged rum than I expected. There is a mild astringency, but beyond that, there are hints of orange and root beer. This one might have potential.

The first sip leaves me searching for adjectives. The heat and spice are not overwhelming, yet no flavors jump out. As I ponder, I notice a drop lingering in the back of my throat reminding me of cough syrup, the aftertaste of which is bitter and saccharin sweet. A second sip allows me to pick out some flavors, and now I am getting a root beer flavor along with molasses and pancake syrup, but not in a pronounced fashion. Orange is definitely there in the front palate as well, but the dominant flavors are akin to root beer and sarsaparilla.

Here are the neat scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 1.5/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 2/4
• Aftertaste .5/2
• Total 6/10
Let’s add some ginger beer.

Mixed with the ginger beer, no negative aromas are created and the root beer notes initially combine nicely with the ginger. There is a bit of a saccharin bitterness on the finish, but all in all I’m pleased. Subsequent sips are slightly less enjoyable, however, as I realize that the root beer and sarsaparilla flavors are significantly changing the character of the mixer. The combination of the ginger and the sarsaparilla are reminding me too much of cola, and now I’m realizing that some rum mule lovers might really prefer a good old Cuba Libre.

Highball scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 2/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 2.5/4
• Aftertaste 1.5/2
• Total 8/10

Trader Vic’s Dark Rum

Trader-Vics-Dark-Rum

This product of the “West Indies” is bottled by World Spirits in Princeton, Minnesota. The label claims this private selection rum was hand selected by Victor Bergeron’s family. The bottle is upright and unremarkable. The paper label bearing the Trader Vic’s logo is easily scuffed. The cap is a plastic screw-on variety covered by plastic.

The appearance of the rum is indeed quite dark in both the bottle and the glass. There is definitely a lot of caramel color employed here. A swirl of the snifter produces an oily ring atop the glass that releases a few droplets ever so slowly.

As I take in the aroma, the first quality I notice is the astringency. The alcohol smell is mixed with artificial fruit flavors: banana, cherry and grape. Did they add some Runts candy to the tank? After the artificial fruit smell comes vanilla and molasses.

The first sip is odd. These flavors do not come from sugar cane, nor do they come from oak. Just what is going on here? The main flavor is now grape soda mixed with vanilla extract. The mouth feel is oily, and now I find my throat coated in cough syrup-like bitterness. Wow, this is terrible.

Neat Scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 0/2
• Mouth feel 0/1
• Taste 1.5/4
• Aftertaste 0/2
• Total 2.5/10

Mixed with the ginger beer, the rum’s artificial fruit flavors combine with the ginger beer to create a flavor more suitable to a second tier energy drink. The grape soda quality persists as does the cough syrup aftertaste. That’s enough of that.

Highball scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 1/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 1.5/4
• Aftertaste .5/2
• Total 5/10

Coruba Dark Rum

Coruba-Dark-rum

Coruba has recently been my go-to dark rum, but I don’t believe I have ever tasted it neat. Let’s change that. The Coruba bottle is a simple shape and the plastic label is bright and brash, featuring an orange and yellow palm tree. The cap is metal with no additional foil or plastic.

In the glass, the Coruba exhibits a pronounced red mahogany coloring—it’s not nearly as dark as some of the others in the field. A swirl leaves a ring at the top of the snifter from which a few legs develop.

The aroma carries with it very little astringency. There are hints of molasses and char mixed with a surprising grassy quality. A second sip reveals the slightest hint of vanilla.

The mouth feel is spicy and I can feel my lips heating up between sips. The aftertaste has a grassy Jamaican funk mixed with a hint of orange and tobacco.

Here are the neat scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 1/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 2/4
• Aftertaste 1/2
• Total 6/10

Mixed with the ginger beer, the Coruba blends well. With no strong fruit flavors or saccharin sweetness, a great balance is struck with the ginger beer. The ginger beer provides the ginger and sweetness and the rum provides the kick as intended. After being left flat by the others, I’m quite pleased.

Highball scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 2/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 3.5/4
• Aftertaste 2/2
• Total 9.5/10

Myers’s Original Dark Rum

Myers-Dark-Rum

It would be hard to find someone unfamiliar with Myers’s rum in the US. It’s in every liquor store you have ever been into, and it’s synonymous with good times and tropical drinks. Myers’s was my preferred dark rum before I discovered Coruba Dark, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what I liked better about it. Let’s taste the Myers’s and find out.

The Myers’s bottle is great. I love the dark brown glass, the odd almost rectangular shape, and I especially like the line drawing depicting sugar cane, distillery and rum barrels. The actual Myers’s Rum logo is a bit out of place with the font selection, but other than that, I’m a big fan.

In the glass, the rum appears a bit darker than the Coruba, with the reds being replaced by browns. A swirl yields the thinnest of rings at the top of the glass from which droplets form, but do not readily descend.

The aroma is almost entirely without astringency. The scents I pick up are of molasses and a bit of vanilla. Like the Coruba, there is a slight grassy funk that is typically associated with Jamaican pot still rums.

The first sip reminds me more of a blended whiskey for some reason. There is a heat combined with a sort of dusty character before the molasses and orange flavors come in.

The mouth feel is oily but thin at the same time. There is a slight bitterness, but no saccharin sweetness. The finish is mild and uncomplicated.

Here are the neat scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma .5/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 2/4
• Aftertaste 1/2
• Total 5.5/10

Once mixed, the rum mixes fairly well with the ginger beer. The dusty quality remains as does a bit of bitter saccharin sweetness, but again, there are no fruit or root flavors competing with the ginger beer, so it’s a fairly successful combination.

Highball scores:

• Appearance 1/1
• Aroma 2/2
• Mouth feel 1/1
• Taste 3/4
• Aftertaste 1.5/2
• Total 8.5/10

three-dark-rums

Here’s a tabular summation of the rum challenge:

Neat Ranking

1. Coruba Dark Rum
6
1. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
6
1. Cruzan Black Strap Rum
6
2. Myers’s Original Dark Rum
5.5
3. Trader Vic’s Dark Rum
2.5
4. Whaler’s Dark Rum
2

Highball Ranking

1. Coruba Dark Rum
9.5
2. Myers’s Original Dark Rum
8.5
3. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
8
4. Cruzan Black Strap Rum
7.5
5. Trader Vic’s Dark Rum
5
6. Whaler’s Dark Rum
4

Overall Ranking

1. Coruba Dark Rum
15.5
2. Myers’s Original Dark Rum
14
2. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
14
3. Cruzan Black Strap Rum
13.5
4. Trader Vic’s Dark Rum
7.5
5. Whaler’s Dark Rum
6

In the end, I ended up sticking with Coruba, but the experience was really illuminating. I think the main take-away for me was the realization that the two Jamaican rums were much drier than the rest, which allows ample opportunities for mixing. This is somewhat ironic seeing as I don’t tend to prefer Jamaican sipping rums for that same reason. The other rums were either downright terrible or trying too hard to impart a unique flavor profile. In the case of the Gosling’s it was the root beer, and with the Cruzan it was the pancake syrup–each is somewhat interesting on its own, but these foreign flavors are at risk of being unwelcome when mixed.

Thanks as always for reading. I’d love to hear your comments!

Aloha,
Josh


25 Comments leave one →
  1. February 29, 2012 12:57 pm

    Great research Josh. I couldn’t agree more with your final choice. I know there are die hards who wouldn’t hear of replacing Gosling’s in their highball, but it really can be improved upon. As you so precisely noted, Whaler’s and Trader Vic’s (hurts to associate his name with this adjective) are ghastly while Cruzan’s Black Strap is best left to a half ounce or so for added depth with lighter rums. I wonder if a funky Demerara rum wouldn’t play just as nice with the ginger beer?

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      February 29, 2012 1:33 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Paul! Demerara rum improves most things, so your point is well taken. That reminds me that I should get some El Dorado “Superior Dark Rum” for such purposes. Unfortunately, DDL’s distribution is still pretty poor around here, as you are well aware. I’ll have to check Ledger’s for the El Do dark.

  2. AndrewC permalink
    March 17, 2012 9:07 pm

    Good comparison. I’ve never found Bundaberg anywhere, and have always used Reed’s. Don’t know how it compares. . .

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      March 18, 2012 3:34 pm

      Reed’s is a little drier than Bundaberg and slightly less pungent. I’ve tried both side-by-side, and I although I like the Bundy better, the Reed’s is still a solid backup.

  3. September 21, 2012 10:59 pm

    Good work Josh, glad you didnt remove the whole thing and had the sense just to reword the review to keep the copyright vultures from your door. Bundaberg ginger beer is a fantastic drink and my favourite GB except of course home made. Coruba and BGB a perfect match despite what the lawyers say.
    MJ

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      September 22, 2012 9:04 am

      Mahalo, MJ. I couldn’t agree more!

  4. tanuki permalink
    November 26, 2012 7:31 pm

    I tried kind of a funky version of this tonight. Was looking for something different to sip on, realized that I had a bottle of Ginger People ginger beer in the fridge, and figured wtf. The Ginger People stuff is very heavy on the ginger (why I love it), and cloudy. Problem was I didn’t have any dark rums left, so I opted to try the Seven Tikis. I rationalized this by hoping that the spiced rum would work with the heavy ginger (did I mention that this is a funky version?). In truth, I’m looking for ways to use up the Seven Tikis, because shelf space.

    My verdict: not a great mule, but a pretty good way to use up the Seven Tikis. I had to go to a 1:2 ratio so’s I could taste the rum against the ginger. The result is a mellower and warmer ginger beer, with a little added complexity. There is just a little bit of that saccharin note that you mentioned. The nice thing about it is that it starts off tasting refreshing, and ends up feeling warming. Not a bad way to go on a November evening.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 26, 2012 8:58 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Tanuki. I’ve found that the Seven Tiki spiced works well with Coke, but I’ve never tried it with ginger beer. With cola you end up with a spiked vanilla coke, which isn’t too bad. That said, my bottle has lasted a very long time as well. I could stand to diversify!

  5. Scott Thomas permalink
    April 13, 2013 10:31 pm

    Pusser’s is amazing with ginger beer – but then I like Pusser’s in just about everything – on the other hand, I like to sip Pusser’s neat so much that I rarely mix it.

  6. Zachary Tucker permalink
    November 23, 2013 1:33 pm

    Do they add artificial flavors to cheap dark rums? I was wondering that today, after buying a 750ml bottle of “Mr. Boston” brand ‘imported’ Virgin Islands rum. Seems like they can just add caramel color and some unique flavoring agents to un-aged white rum and say it’s
    “dark rum.” Especially if it’s “imported” (in large steel tanks) from somewhere in the Caribbean.

    • Zachary Tucker permalink
      November 23, 2013 1:35 pm

      What about Ginger Ale? I’m new to this combination.

      • Josh Miller permalink*
        November 23, 2013 11:14 pm

        Ginger ale works OK, but ginger beer has the bite that stands up to the rum creating the synergy I so enjoy.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 23, 2013 11:12 pm

      Without a doubt.

  7. Sandy Garcia permalink
    September 9, 2014 9:58 am

    Dang! And, I just bought Whaler’s for the first time!!!

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      September 9, 2014 10:03 am

      No worries, Sandy. You’re only out a few bucks, and you can hide any terrible rum with enough fruit juice and bitters. Cheers

  8. January 30, 2015 12:39 pm

    I’ve started to get into drinking Stone Fences (aka Stone Walls) with cider and rum. I’ve tried Crispin Brown’s Lane (cider) with Captain Morgan Private Stock and I’ve tried Crispin Brown’s Lane, Crispin Original and Crispin Blackberry Pear with Myers’s. I definitely preferred the Myers’s to the Private Stock, though I feel like dark vs. spiced may be too different of a rum. Do you have any suggestions for this cider and rum drink? By the way, I like the way you wrote this up.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      January 30, 2015 2:18 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Mike. I don’t know that I’ve ever combined rum and cider. I usually spike my cider with calvados/apple brandy. I’ll have to get back to you on that one! Cheers

  9. Steve permalink
    April 19, 2015 2:03 pm

    Great article Josh. I agree with Scott on the Pusser’s. Sounds like fun research!

  10. EMC2 permalink
    November 16, 2015 5:54 pm

    now you just need to try it with Bundaberg Rum too 😉

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 16, 2015 6:23 pm

      I think I’ll pass on that 🙂

      • November 28, 2015 5:57 pm

        Dark & Stormies are gaining popularity here in Hawaii. In fact, a poster sign in the main aisle
        At the bar by United at HNL airport is selling them for big bucks. YIKES . THE rum???

  11. saraleib permalink
    December 22, 2015 3:40 pm

    I can’t believe I hadn’t read this yet. I haven’t yet gotten into blackstraps, but have had the coconut drink at my local rum bar, Cana, in LA. It’s simple. Fresh coconut water shaken on the rocks with Cruzan blackstrap and poured back into the coconut. And surprisingly it works really REALLY well. I get what you mean about the pancake syrup. It’s certainly different than throwing some El Dorado into a coconut. But it steered to your article, so that’s good. Might have to try my own experiment of these rums with coconut water. Previously, I’ve just tried to see which one makes the best Cuba Libre…

  12. soldiers disease permalink
    November 12, 2016 5:09 pm

    First time reading your blog, thanks for the taste test! I’d recommend Fever Tree as an excellent ginger beer for mixing, it has a heavy bite and not as much cloying sweetness as Bundaberg or Reed’s.

  13. Allen McCormick permalink
    February 19, 2017 12:15 am

    Josh wonderful research and well written review. I wish I could have been there to participate as I marketed Coruba in New Zealand for 30 years and we had a mean Coruba Ginja ready to drink for a few years using Coruba and ginger beer. All the best from down under.
    Allen

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