The beauty of rums, as whiskies, is that there are so many different styles and flavours. I actually got into superb rums before single malt whisky, whilst living in the Caribbean for some time in the 80's.
White and overproof rums are not really interesting to me, the golden and dark ones are. I will concentrate here on the latter.
Dave Broom has done great work categorizing the different rum styles and for the most part I agree with his categories, however I do think he dismisses/mislabels Trinidadian rum to a degree.
The one group of rums I've had the hardest time of finding any real favorites in is the agricultural style rums, i.e. the ones made of freshly crushed cane juice instead of molasses. Most of the examples I have tasted from islands Martinique, Reunion, Guadeloupe have been a little burning and harsh to my taste, lacking a smoothness and beauty I enjoy in rum. This is, of course, only my personal taste - I know plenty of people who truly enjoy the agricole-style rums. My favorite out of this category by far has to be the 15-year old Barbancourt from Haiti - a silky-smooth rum that is creamy; quite unusual in rums. Much debate ongoing whether or not Barbancourt or indeed any rum outside of Martinique (which received a D.O.C. in 1996 for rhum agricole Martinique) can actually be called a rhum agricole, because not all agricole's are made precisely same way to the letter, and some also argue that agricole refers to Martinique's terroir, and ONLY to that terroir. Hmm, each to their own, but even Martinique received the D.O.C. only in 1996.
Demerara rums from Guyana are truly beautiful rums with a fabulous heritage and pedigree. There used to be hundreds of sugar estates in Guyana, most situated nearby the Demerara river, each producing their own unique rum in style and flavour with their own stills. Nowadays one mother company owns most of the remaining stills and uses them to produce a wide variety of flavours. Skeldon, Versailles, Port Morant, Uivtlugt..just to mention some of the names related to the existing stills. These stills include world's oldest operational column still made of wood! The company is the one behind the wonderfully rich and aromatic El Dorado rums, I adore the El Dorado 15-year old as well as the 21-year old rum from El Dorado. Many fantastic old Demerara rums are bottled by independent bottlers in UK and in Italy (Cadenheads, Silver Seal, Luca Gargano, Berry bros, Bristol Spirits) and one can make real discoveries amongst these. OVD (Old Vatted Demerara) is worth mentioning, a nice and fruity blended demerara.
Jamaican rums have a history equal to the Guyanese, again a sad story as out of hundreds of stills & distilleries only 6 exist today to my knowledge. Pungent and powerful, partly due to the making process (pot still rums, and in fermentation the remains of previous fermentation called dunder are used to add to the process). Appleton is the big name here, by J. Wray & Nephew, and I would recommend anyone to try the Appleton Extra and their wonderfully dry Appleton 21-year old, with magnificent finesse. Other sometimes seen rum brands represent individual stills or distilleries and these are for example Monymusk rum and Long Pond.
Barbados has much going on right now - Mr. Richard Seale, an artesan of rums extraordinnaire, is even making an agricole-style rum (Saint Nicholas Abbey rum)there on the island which some say is the birthplace of rum. There is a great number of good rum coming from Barbados: Cockspur 12, Cockspur VSOR, Mt. Gay Extra Old, Doorly's extra old (aged in ex-sherry casks), plus some wonderful independently bottled rums such as the Rockley Still 16-year old rum finished in ex-fino from Bristol Spirits.
Trinidad has produced a lighter style rum for quite some time now - I believe even when they were using pot stills (now I gather all rum on the island is made with column-stills) the style was lighter - the lowlander of British colonial rums, I'd say! Caroni 1975 Ltd. is no longer in existence, but some wonderful examples of their rums can still be found in indy-bottles (by Luca Gargano and Bristol Spirits). Caroni was mainly state-owned and there was much talk about corruption to the highest degree that caused its demise. The remaining rum stocks are to be auctioned off. Angostura is almost the sole survivor now that sugar cane industry on the island has all but collapsed, and their Angostura 1824 12-year old is an intriguingly complex, layered rum that all should taste. The easier drinking Angostura 1919 8-year old is also very good. Angostura, once owned almost completely by Bacardi, produces more than 50 million litres of rum annually, most of it disappearing into the bulk rum markets, ending as a part of almost every well-known rum blend. LVMH is now making a young agricultural-style rum called 10 Cane on the island - not to my personal liking, but..
British Navy rum was a blend containing rums from Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and British Virgin Islands, or so I have read. Some say the blend also contained a tiny little bit of an obscure South African rum, which was so pungent it had to be treated carefully in blending or it could spoil the mix completely. Nowadays Pusser's Navy rum and Pusser's 15-year old Navy rum are perhaps best examples of the navy rum style.
Hispanic style rums vary quite a lot, but to me at least they have some basic similarity in their flavour profile. They are dry, but still contain a basic sweetness, in the lack of better words to express this. A definite sugary essence is there as a backbone. From the famed (but very sweet) solera-made Ron Zacapa 23 centenario of Guatemala, with its licorice- and chocolate-like flavours, to Flor de cana from Panama, to Cuban rums (Havana Club, Ron Varadero, Ron Edmundo Dantes), to Dominican republic rums (Barcelo for example), to Venezuela (Pampero, Santa Teresa) and others like the also famed Matusalem Gran Reserva (now made in Puerto Rico?) and of course, the giant Bacardi - all these are wonderfully smooth, mellow rums with a roasted, sugary flavour. Again, this is just my opinion of course.
Many rums are made outside these areas and classifications - Where sugar is made from cane, rum can be found. English Harbour from Antigua (reminiscent to some degree of Bajan rums), Pyrat XO (very strong and definite orange liqueur flavour in this one!) Bundaberg from Australia, Khukri rum from Nepal, Tanduay from the Philippines (which is interestingly enough a huge rum-consumer country) etc. Many people swear by the Martinique rums of Neisson or Clement, or by Reunion's Riviere du mat Opus or Cap Savana - the flavours are different, taste before you buy (well, a smart thing to do always I guess). I do apologize if someone feels I have lumped their country or favorite rum unfairly to some group, but I admit to generalizing heavily in this post.
I personally have at the moment the following in my rum cabinet:
• 10 Cane Rum, Trinidad, 40%
• Angostura 1824 12yo, Trinidad 40%
• Angostura 1919 8yo, Trinidad 40%
• Appleton 21yo, Jamaica 43%
• Appleton Extra Jamaica rum
• Bacardi 8yo reserva superior
• Barangai Rum, Providence 1990, 15yo Trinidad rum, 55%
• Barbancourt 15yo, Haiti, 43%
• Borgoe 82, Surinam, 40%
• Brugal Extra Viejo, Dominican Republic, 38%
• Caroni Heavy Style Trinidad Rum 1983 – 22yo, blend of 78 barrels/20.986 bottles, Luca Gragano bottling, 52%
• Caroni Heavy Style Trinidad Rum 1982 – 23yo, stock of 8 casks, 1360 bottles, Luca Gragano bottling,62%
• Caroni Heavy Style Trinidad Rum 1982 – 23yo, 1 cask, 122 bottles, Luca Gragano bottling 77.3%
• Demerara – Diamond 2001 Sherrywood Cask, Special Ed. Painting Caribe, Guyana, 46%, 1 of 423 bottles
• Demerara Rum – Port Morant 14yo, Special ed. Painting Caribe, Guyana, 46%
• El Dorado 15yo, Guyana, 43%
• El Dorado 21yo, Guyana, 43%
• English Harbour Extra Old, Antigua rum, 40%
• Enmore Still Demerara dist.1988 – bottled 2000, 12yo, Bristol Spirits, Guyana, 46%
• Gold Magic rum, Caroni Distillers (1975) Ltd., Trinidad
• Havana Club Cuban Barrel Proof, 45%, Cuba
• Legends 2000 15yo rum, Caroni Distillers (1975) Ltd., 43%, Trinidad
• Long Pond Jamaica 16yo, Bristol Spirits classic rums, dist. 1986 – bottled 2002, oloroso finish, 46%, Jamaica
• Old Brigand “Finest Barbados Rum”, Extra Old 10 years, 43%
• Old Vatted Demerara OVD Rum, George Morton Ltd., Guyana
• Providence Estate Trinidad 10yo, Bristol Spirits classic rums, dist. 1990 – bottled 2000, 46%
• Pusser’s Navy rum 15yo, 40%
• Ron Barcelo Imperial, Dominican Republic
• Ron Cacique Antiguo, 40%, Venezuela
• Ron Varadero Gran Reserva, Anejo 15yo, 38%, Cuba
• Ron Zacapa Centenario, 23yo, 40%, Guatemala
• Royal Oak select Trinidad rum, 43%
• Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiquo de Solera, 15yo, Venezuela, 40%
• Special Old Cask 10yo, Caroni Distillers (1975) Ltd., Trinidad, 43%
• Tanduay 12yo, Philippines, 40%
• Tanduay 1854 Premium 15yo rum, Philippines
• Tanduay 18yo Barrel rhum, 40%, Philippinest
• Tanduay Centennial 23yo single barrel rum, 40%, Philippines
• The Versailles Still 18yo, Bristol Spirits Classic Rums, dist. 1984 – bottled 2002, port cask finish, Guyana, 46%
My apologies for ranting!!