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The 2012 Rum Howler – Top 30 Rums

Top 30This year, when I was deliberating over my 2012 Rum Howler Awards, it occurred to me that the line-up of rum which I had tasted over the past year was impressive. When I further considered all the rums I had tasted since I opened this website, I realized this was indeed an impressive amount of rum that I have tasted and scored. Adding it all up, I have tasting and scoring notes for over 300 rums which I have had the privilege of sampling over the past four years. (Note: In addition to the nearly 175 rum reviews I have published on this site, I also have tasting notes and scores compiled for over 125 more rums which I encountered at various festivals and judging events which I have attended.) This gives me a broad perspective on the world of rum. And perhaps, all this rum tasting and scoring gives me at least some of the qualifications to embark on a very particular quest to uncover and list the Best Rums in the World.

With this in mind, I made a decision a few months ago to compile a list of rums which would be suitable to taste side by side as part of this search. I began by examining my own Rum Reviews. Then, I referred to all of my scoring notes from those festivals and judging events I have attended to account for those rums which have not been reviewed upon my website. I compiled my list of the top rums I had tasted, and I set about obtaining sample bottles of each of them to determine which was the best. Obtaining the required samples turned out to be easier than I anticipated. For one thing, many of the rums on my list were already in my possession (or the possession of good friends who wanted to help). As well, when members of industry found out what I was doing, they immediately stepped forward with most of the additional samples I needed. (I did have to purchase two bottles on my own.)

I required a simple process to complete the task at hand, so I chose three friends whose palates I trusted, and over the course of a few weeks we tasted the very best rum the world has to offer. I served the rum in 10 flights of 5 rums each, generally doing 2 flights each time we met for judging. We scored each rum based solely upon taste, served at room temperature, using the following criteria:


0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+      I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.


So you see, I began with a list of about 300 rums; I whittled the list down to 50 of the very best; and then through my judging process, I determined the top 30. I think you will find some surprises on the list; as well, you will discover some notable rums did not make the cut.

And so it is that I finally come to the point, here is the final list. The 2012 Rum Howler – Top 30 Rums (as judged by my friends and I). In brackets beside each rum is the Average Score each rum received in the compettion)

30)  Cruzan Single Barrel Rum    (Judges Average score = 88.5)
29)  Panama Red 108 Overproof Rum     (Judges Average score = 88.75)
28)  Santa Teresa 1796 Antiguo de Solera     (Judges Average score = 89)
27)  El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve Rum     (Judges Average score = 89.5)
26)  Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve     (Judges Average score = 89.75)
25)  Rhum Barbancourt 15 Year Old Estate Reserve     (Judges Average score = 90)
24)  Ron Bermudez Anniversario     (Judges Average score = 90.5)
23)  Flor de Caña Centenario 12 Year Old Rum     (Judges Average score = 90.75)
22)  Dictador XO Perpetual     (Judges Average score = 91)
21)  Havana Club Selección de Maestros     (Judges Average score = 91.25)
20)  Zaya Gran Reserva     (Judges Average score = 91.5)
19)  5 Barrel Rum (Travellers)     (Judges Average score = 91.75)
18)  Dictador 20 Year Old Solera Rum     (Judges Average score = 92)
17)  El Dorado 25 Year Old Vintage Reserve Rum      (Judges Average score = 92.25)
16)  Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old Rum    (Judges Average score = 92.5)
15)  Dictador 12 Year Aged Solera Rum     (Judges Average score = 92.75)
14)  Cubaney Ron Tesero Grand Reserve 25 Year Soleras Rum     (Judges Average score = 92.75)
13)  Rum Nation Panama (Aged 21 years)     (Judges Average score = 93)
12)  Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum     (Judges Average score = 93)
11)  Ron Millonario Solero 15 Reserva Especial Rum     (Judges Average score = 93.75)
10)  Juan Santos 21 Year Antigua Reserva Rum      (Judges Average score = 93.75)
09)  Appleton Estate Master Blender’s Legacy      (Judges Average score = 93.75)
08)  Plantation Guatemala Gran Anejo Rum     (Judges Average score = 94)
07)  Panamonte Reserva XXV (25 Year Old Rum)     (Judges Average score = 94)
06)  Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero)     (Judges Average score = 94.25)
05)  El Dorado 12 Year Old Special Reserve Rum     (Judges Average score = 94.5)
04)  Ron Zacapa XO (25 Year Solero) Rum     (Judges Average score =95)
03)  El Dorado 21 Year Old Special Reserve Rum     (Judges Average score = 95)
02)  Diplomatico Exclusiva Reserva     (Judges Average score = 95.25)
01)  Ron Millonario XO Reserva Especial Rum    (Judges Average score = 95.5)


Note: Hera are a few other fun (and more current) Countdown lists:



23 Responses to “The 2012 Rum Howler – Top 30 Rums”

  1. James said

    Hi there. I’ve never really drank rum before, but I’m looking to try some. Out of the top 10 in your best of 2012, which has the least amount of heat? Could you also recommend a smooth one for mixing? Thanks!

    • For mixing I would recommend the CRuzan Single Barrel, or the Panama 108 or even the Five Barrel from Belize.

      As far as smoothness goes, just head to the top of my list and go with the Ron Millonario, (Although every rum on this list is fantastic!)

  2. Paw said

    Interesting to see that you have scored Dictador 12 better than Dictador 20, but I tend to agree. Dictador 12 has a very unique and pleasant taste, which is hard to find in other rums. Looking forward to see, if Diplomatico Ambassador will come into your Top 30 Rum Award list in 2013.

  3. Trevor said

    Was just thinking about trying the Appleton Extra – this made up my mind that it would be worth the try.
    Agree with El Dorado 12 and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva as top 5. They are my top 2 – sadly haven’t tried the other top 5.

  4. Love Belize Rum said

    I notice you have the 5 Barrel Rum up there. You should try the Don Omario From Travellers in your next tasting. It is a 10 year aged rum and if you like the 5 Barrel I know you will like this one as well.

  5. miketylerg said

    Just got back from the Dominican. While I was there I picked up a 1/2 case of Ron Bermudez Anniversario. My girlfriend and I did a blind taste test. Zaya, Ron Bermudez and Diplomatico Exclusiva Reserva. Zaya was by far the the smoothest and best rum to sip on. In our humble opinion. Ron Bermudez came 2nd. So I am confused by your 2nd place winner the Diplimatico.


    • I agree that Zaya is smooth, but the fuller more robust flavour of the Diplomatico trumped that smoothness in the combined opinion of the Judges. However, if you personally liked the Zaya better, then follow your own palate, at least one of my judges would agree with you.

      • Mike said

        Hey Wolf,

        I tried something over the weekend that was great.

        I poured a few shot glass of the Diplamatico and a splash of the Zaya like you would cream in coffee and wow. It was awesome!

  6. Gordon said

    Thanks for the wonderful insight Chip. As a Newfoundlander, we love our rums, it is a huge part of our tradition going back hundreds of years. Just wondering where Gosling’s Old Rum would fit in your lineup as a sipping rum. It is expensive but worth the experience. Again, thanks for a great blog..

  7. jurgen said


    Nice list! I’m a bit surprised that none of the JM or Clement are in the top30 list. Were they included in the overall list?

    • Hi Jurgen

      I have sampled a good portion of the Rhum line-up from both JM and Clement at various trade shows and events. So yes rhums from each line were included in the overall list which I began with.

  8. Hi Chip,

    Thank you for that great Advent calendar. I’ve followed this closely for the past month waiting every morning for your next choice. I’m really happy to see many of my own choices in the top 10. I thought however that the Plantation 20th would have scored higher. El Dorado 21yo and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva beeing my favorites, I look forward to try the Ron Millonario XO to compare.

    Thank you and happy new year!

    • Thanks Simon

      For myself, the Big surprise on my list was the Appleton 12 Year old Rum. It was frankly a rum which I almost never includded in the final tastings. But I had recently re-sampled it when I did my review of the Appleton 50 Year Old, and it seemed to have improved substantially since my original review. When my friends and I did our scoring, I noticed that all of us were very consistent in our new appreciation for the rum.

      I should point out that the scores for all of the rums in the top 10 (actually 11) were very close.

  9. Christian Kroemer said

    Hi Chip, I’ve been following your Countdown List from the start and just wondered about two rums: did Matusalem Gran Reserva and Pampero Aniversario even make it to the tasting without ending up in the Top 30 or were they not considered? As I own and kind of like both I’d be curious where they would end up in your ranking…


    • Hi Christian

      Both the Pampero Anniversario and the Matusalem Gran Reserva scored quite well when I reviewed them on my website. You can rest assured that both were at least considered for my tastings. However as you have seen they did not make it into the final 30.

  10. For the sake of those who are curious, I have shown the average score for each rum in the list. In those cases where two (or three rums) had equal average scores, I placed the rum which scored most consistently ahead of the rum whose scores where most volatile. To accomplish this I would compare the rums that were tied throwing out the highest and lowest scores for each. In ever case of a tie, this resolved the placement.

    I hope everyone enjoys the list, remembering to understand that such lists are obsolete as soon as they are constructed. I have just started to taste a new 8 year old rum called Ron Fortuna from Nicaragua, and if I had received the sample earlier, the rum surely would have had a chance to place on the list.

  11. Michael Otis said

    Greetings Mr. Wolf,
    I’m enjoying following the top 30 Rum Awards. i”m not clear on one matter regarding this award review. Is this “30 Top Rum Award” a count down to the best rum or rather a just a list of the 30 best rums?

    I’m betting with my son that if there a top rum it will go to the Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva.

    Thanks for your great website.

  12. russ said

    hi.just looking over the list and wonder if you might place the score beside each rum. going back and forth between each rum review and back to the list is a bit daunting to my aged[in oak casks] brain….as to the question of additives,caramel seems to be added to many spirits …tequila,rum ,whisk[e]y both for taste and colour.i guess the final product taste/experience and whether there is any residual taste or ‘morning after ‘lingering head from the additives is more important for me than whether it is a pure ‘rum’ or not…as well since i am not a ‘grape guy’ the overpowering sherry/port flavours in some rums and whiskies is more of a dislike of mine. atb russ

    • Hi Russ

      I would prefer to let the list develop fully before I post the judges scores. The only point I guess I should make clear is that my review score for each rum does not necessarily correlate to where each rum ended up on the Countdown list. I had four judges in all (including myself) , and my personal score was just one of the scores each rum received. In many cases the judges disagreed on the relative scores for a particular rum, and each judge who scored the rum had an equal voice.

  13. russ said

    Oh the suspense!

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