I've been asked on a couple of occasions about rum substitutions for cocktail recipes. For instance, if a recipe calls for Gold Puerto Rican rum, what sorts of rums will fit the bill? Similarly, if a recipe calls for something specific that you may not have on hand, such as Appleton VX, what can be used in its place?
This is not an exhaustive list though I endeavor to update it as I try new rums. This general information is also available via Beachbum Berry's books, and other locations online.
Silver Puerto Rican rum
The clear sibling of Gold Puerto Rican Rum, silver Puerto Rican rum (discussed in E2 of 5 Minutes of Rum) is also a Spanish (or Cuban) style rum. And like the gold, it's typically a relatively dry, column-distilled rum with some amount of aging. I typically use Don Q Cristal or Cruzan Aged rum. Bacardi Superior is the market leader in this category, but there are several well-regarded options available.
Cruzan Aged (US Virgin Islands)
Don Q Cristal (Puerto Rico)
Flor de Caña 4 Extra Dry (Nicaragua)
Montanya Plantino Light Rum (US)
Ron Matusalem Plantino (Dominican Republic)
Cana Brava (Panama)
Gold Puerto Rican rum
Like it says on the tin, amber colored rum from Puerto Rico, therefore a Spanish (or Cuban) style rum, such as Bacardi Gold or Don Q Añejo. Typically a relatively dry, column-distilled rum with some amount of aging. I typically substitute Cruzan Aged Amber rum, a Spanish-style rum from the US Virgin Islands. If you want to go up the ladder a little, try Ron del Barrilito Two Star.
Cruzan Aged Amber (US Virgin Islands)
Don Q Gold (Puerto Rico)
Don Q Anejo (Puerto Rico)
Ron del Barrilito Two Star (Puerto Rico)
Flor de Caña Gold 4 (Nicaragua)
Ron Barcelo Anejo (Dominican Republic)
Gold Virgin Islands rum
Very similar to Gold Puerto Rican Rum, so much so that it's the perfect substitute for Gold Puerto Rican rums (see entry above). A relatively dry, column-distilled Spanish-style rum with some amount of aging, but a very light body compared to aged Spanish-style gold rums. I normally stock Cruzan Aged rum at home as it's readily available.
Cruzan Aged (US Virgin Islands)
Don Q Gold (Puerto Rico)
Don Q Anejo (Puerto Rico)
Flor de Caña Gold 4 (Nicaragua)
Amber, medium-bodied rum from the island of Barbados. I discussed one of my favorites, Plantation Grande Reserve 5 year in episode 1. There are many good rums in this category. Barbados rums tend to be a little more flavorful than Gold Puerto Rican rums because they're an English-style rum. In a pinch you could swap a Gold Puerto Rican rum for a gold Barbados rum, but the cocktail won't taste exactly as intended by the creator. When your recipe calls for Barbados rum, reach for one of these:
Planation Grande Reserve 5 year
Mount Gay Eclipse
R.L. Seale 10 year
Gold Jamaican rum
An English-style rum from the island of Jamaica. Usually a combination of pot and column distilled and then aged. Jamaican rums have a distinct essence that usually manifests itself as someone saying it has a "funkiness". Appleton rules this category in the US, for they represent most of the commonly-found Gold Jamaican rums on US shelves. For more information on this category, check out E6 of 5 Minutes of Rum.
JWray & Nephew Gold
Appleton Signature, formerly known as V/X (my default)
Appleton 12 year
Smith & Cross - Your mileage may vary on this substitution. This is one of my favorite rums in any category, but it's overproof (114) and very distinctive so it'll alter the flavor of the cocktail it goes into so experiment with it. I use it in Mai Tais and Navy Grogs to great effect.
Dark Jamaican rum
Episode 3 of 5 Minutes of Rum is an introduction to this deep-bodied style of rum from Jamaica. Myers owns the category and is the easiest to find, though my personal preference is Plantation Xaymaca (better flavor) or Coruba (better color).
Plantation Xaymaca (technically a gold Jamaican, but I deploy it as though it was a Dark Jamaican rum)
One of the holy grail rums in vintage tropical cocktail recipes. Full bodied, dark caramel color, and a touch of smokiness. Lemon Hart is the go-to name, though distribution comes and goes in the US. All Demerara rum comes from Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) in Guyana. They sell bulk rum to others and market their own line under the name El Dorado. The El Dorado rums are quite good and readily available. Stick to El Dorado 8 or 12 for mixing (though slip in the 15 when you're feeling fancy). Hamilton 86, from Ministry of Rum creator Ed Hamilton, is currently my go-to Demerara mixing rum. Outside of the US there are a larger number of merchant bottlings of Demerara rum. I regretfully have tried none of them.
Lemon Hart 80.
El Dorado 5 (go for the 8 if you can find it, the 5 is light in the characteristics of this category).
El Dorado 8
El Dorado 12
El Dorado 15
El Dorado 21 - Don't mix this one. Enjoy it neat.
Skipper demerara rum
Pusser's Navy rum - see disclaimer*
* In a pinch and can't find one of the above "full Demerara" rums? While not 100% Demerara, Pusser's Navy rum contains a blend of 5 rums hailing from Trinidad and Guyana. The Guyanese component contains some distillate from the fabled the Port Mourant double wooden pot still of DDL. So while not an exact swap, it's absolutely in the family and Pusser's (as of February 2016) seems to have stable distribution in the US.
Dark rum (non-Jamaican):
This is sort of a nebulous term; this section deserves a revamp for more distinction. But until then...these are fuller bodied rums, similar in appearance to Dark Jamaican rums, but are not straight substitutes for Dark Jamaican rum. That's not to say you can't swap them out, but you'll be altering the recipe and may need to tweak it further to retain balance in your cocktail. Kōloa makes one such dark rum: Kōloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum. I find it to have more prominent spice notes (but not to be confused with their actual spiced rum - maybe just listen in to E22 for more detail on that). Another very good dark, but not really Jamaican, rum is Plantation Original Dark rum, featured in episode 19.
Kōloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian rum
Plantation Original Dark rum
Lost Spirits Navy rum
Lost Spirits Polynesian rum
Pusser's Navy rum
Denizen Merchant's Reserve (as of August 2014, my go-to rum for a Trader Vic's style Mai Tai)
Overproof rum, specifically "151 class" overproof
This category can be a bit of a can of worms.
Lemon Hart 151: In the realm of classic Donn Beach tiki drinks, the overproof you need is Lemon Hart 151. It is a dark, smoky overproof Demerara English-style rum. At the time of this update (April 2015), Lemon Hart 151 remains unavailable in the United States. About 3-4 years ago, the last of the old "yellow label" Lemon Hart went off the market. After a dry spell, Lemon Hart 151 was re-introduced courtesy of Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum who distributed it for the producer here in the US. The label was updated to a different look (red, more scripting on the letters). This was, by and large, the same rum and was perfectly suited for your 1934 Zombies. For more information, please see episode 9 of this here podcast. In the May of 2014, word got out that Lemon Hart 151 was being taken off of the US market "until mid-2015" by the owner of the brand (not Ed Hamilton). If you see a bottle, grab a bottle.
As of 2017, Lemon Hart has returned to the US market with their signature 151, as well as a reformulated 80 proof and a spiced rum. The new new Lemon Hart 151 is a good pickup.
Hamilton 151 Overproof: Ed Hamilton, who has recently been bottling his own line of rums, now has an overproof demerara rum to market called "Hamilton 151 Overproof", distilled and aged on the banks the Demerara river. Mr. Hamilton understands the importance of Lemon Hart 151, and this rum is the real deal - as close as possible to Lemon Hart 151 (maybe slightly improved, depending on your taste). This is the primary (and only accurate) substitute for any recipe calling for "Lemon Hart 151". Ask your local liquor store for it by name.
If you cannot get a bottle of Lemon Hart 151 or Hamilton 151 Overproof, here are your available options. Note you'll get the proof and the color, and some of the body, but not the full flavor:
Plantation OFTD: An all-star tiki cocktail cabal helped Alexander Gabriel, master blender from Pierre Ferrand and Plantation Rum, develop this blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica, and Barbados. Coming in at 138 proof, it's a shade below 151 but you won't notice it when you mix it into the old classics that call for Lemon Hart 151. A fine pick-up for your home bar.
For non-Lemon Hart 151 applications, there are some good overproof options. Please don't bother with Bacardi 151 (July 23,2017: Bacardi is no longer on the market), even as ignition fuel for flaming drinks. Rather than soaking a sugar cube or crouton in 151 prof rum, soak it in lemon extract. You'll get a much better flame.
Lost Spirits Cuban-Inspired 151 - this is a fantastic rum that will challenge what you expect from an overproof rum. While not a Lemon Hart 151 substitute, you can substitute it anyway in recipes that call for LH151 and get very good (just not identical) results.
Cruzan 151 - this is a good light Spanish-style overproof that I'd use in recipes that call for Bacardi 151.
Don Q 151 - similar to Cruzan 151.
Agricole rum (Rhum Agricole) Blanc
Rhum agricole is the designation given to the spirits made from sugar cane on the island of Martinique. The process for producing rhum agricole on Martinique is governed and defined by an AOC, the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Ok, technically you can have a rhum from Martinique that does not adhere to the AOC and therefore cannot use that labeling. But the good ones are labeled with the AOC designation so for the conversation here I'll consider all agricole rhum from Martinique as adhering to the AOC. Agricole rhum from Martinique is made from pressed sugar cane juice rather than molasses, which imparts more of the soil/land into the spirit. This is the biggest distinction from other styles of rum. The "blanc" rhum agricole is un-aged, though it may have rested (n a vat) for a period of time before being bottled. This rum is your best bet for a 'ti punch.
Rhum agricole can be hard to find in chain liquor stores, but it's worth seeking out. In terms of substitution, the closest style would be the Barbancourt rhums from Haiti as they follow a similar French lineage as Martinique rhums and are also distilled from cane juice rather than molasses. It's not a straight substitution, but you can get some of the same characteristics from Barbancourt.
Rhum JM Blanc
Clément Premiere Canne
Clément Canne Bleue
Rhum Barbancourt Blanc
Agricole rum (Rhum Agricole) Vieux ("old", or aged)
Everything from the section previous applies, with the addition of aging in a barrel. After aging rhum agricole blanc in a barrel for 3 years, the AOC says it can be labeled "vieux", or "old". These are generally smoother than their blanc counterparts while still retaining the characteristics that define an agricole rum and they're golden in color. They're excellent paired with a Jamaican rum in a Trader Vic's Mai Tai and really shine in a classic recipe from Donn Beach, the 3 Dots and a Dash. They're also very nice sipping rums.
Similar to the note on agricole blanc: in terms of substitution, the closest style would be the Barbancourt rhums from Haiti as they follow a similar French lineage as Martinique rhums and are also distilled from cane juice rather than molasses. It's not a straight substitution, but you can get some of the same characteristics from Barbancourt.
Rhum JM VSOP
Rhum JM XO
St. James Royal Ambre
St. James Hors 'd Age
Clément Select barrel
Clément Single Cask
Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star (8 year)
Rhum Barbancourt Estate Reserve (15 year)