When we think of the top rum-producing nations in the world, Jamaica is high on the list. It’s a unique country with a rich, distinctive culture and heritage, and it makes a wonderfully robust, intense style of rum. The celebrated spirit is a core component in many rum cocktails, as well as a key part of tiki culture. It’s known for its funky flavour – a specific characteristic associated with high ester pot still rums.

As with all things spirit-related, the right choice for you depends on your personal preference, as well as what you’re using it for. Perhaps you’re after a well-aged dark rum to sip neat after a good meal. Maybe you need a simple mixing rum to go in a Cuba Libre or a Jamaica Mule. Or, it could be that you want that funk flavour for a perfect Mai Tai

History of Jamaica rum

The large-scale production of sugar on slave plantations in the Caribbean from the 17th century onwards left one important byproduct in the form of molasses. It was the molasses which formed the main ingredient in the growth of the rum industry. By the late 17th century, rum production was thriving, and the spirit became a staple export. It was being sent not just to other colonies in the region, but also all the way back to England, where it would become part of the tradition and culture of the Royal Navy.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, rum distillation was refined and islands began to develop their own signature styles. In Jamaica this was a fuller, heavier spirit that was used to add weight and flavour to blends.

Today, after centuries of change and revolution, Jamaica is the proud home of some of the world’s very best rum brands, many of which are absolutely booming in popularity. This is thanks in part to the resurgence of interest in cocktails over the past couple of decades, as well as Jamaica’s unique, exquisite style of rum.

Hampden Jamaican rums

The historic Hampden Estate in Jamaica

How the rum is made

The starting point is molasses which is diluted and then fermented to produce the wash – a sort of sugar beer. In Jamaica, many of the distilleries use natural, open-air fermentation – a method which relies on wild, indigenous yeasts, and can lead to longer fermentation times (sometimes up to a week or even more). This results in the development of a wide range of flavour compounds, known as esters, which in high quantities contribute to that funky flavour. 

Some distillers will also use a unique practice at this stage, adding dunder – a leftover liquid from a previous distillation – to the fermentation process to build up flavour and ensure a consistent ferment. This is not dissimilar to the ‘sour mash’ process in bourbon. At some distilleries, the dunder is kept in what’s known as a muck pit where it decomposes along with other waste products such as cane shreddings. This fearsomely flavoured muck is then added in small quantities during fermentation.

Distillation typically takes place in traditional pot stills (though some distilleries also use columns). These are less efficient when it comes to separating the alcohol from other fermentation by-products (known as congeners), and the result is even more flavoursome and full-bodied. The pot stills are a key part of the final rum.

The next step is the ageing process. This is done in oak and, thanks to Jamaica’s tropical climate, the maturation is accelerated hugely, enhancing the interaction between the spirit and the wood. During this, additional flavour characteristics are imparted into the rum, such as spice, vanilla, and caramel. Once aged, the rums are combined by master blenders to create a consistent, balanced product.

And there you have it…

best Jamaican rum muck

This is where the manufacture funk in Jamaica


We’ve mentioned funk a few times now, and you may be wondering what exactly it is. It’s a term you’ll hear a lot among rum enthusiasts, particularly in the cocktail world, where it plays a vital role in numerous delicious mixed drinks. 

Funk is a specific flavour profile we associate with Jamaican rums. It primarily comes from higher concentrations of esters and other congeners – flavour compounds produced during the traditional long fermentation processes and pot still distillation popular on the island. Esters are formed through the reaction of acids and alcohols, and they contribute significantly to the fruity, flora, and umami-like flavour. One of the best known esters is ethyl butyrate which creates that overripe almost rotten pineapple smell that is so characteristic of Jamaican rum. If that doesn’t sound immediately appealing, you’ll have to trust us on this one…Other smells you might get are bananas ,gamey meat, rubber, herbs and spices. 

Best Jamaican rum

Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton Estate

Top distilleries

By the end of the 19th century, there were more than one hundred distilleries in Jamaica. Today, however, just a handful remain.

Appleton Estate

Perhaps the biggest name in Jamaican rum, Appleton was founded in the Nassau Valley in 1749. It’s known for its particularly rich, full-bodied rums, and makes use of unique processes such as natural limestone-filtered water, and a proprietary yeast culture developed from the estate’s sugarcane. The distillery uses both pot stills and column stills, which allows it to produce a really versatile range, from the lighter, simpler styles, to some really robust and complex expressions. Master blender Joy Spence doesn’t use dunder in the production process so though Appleton rums are rich, they are some of the least funky in Jamaica.

Worthy Park Estate

Situated in the heart of the island, Worth Park has been in operation since 1670, making it one of the oldest distilleries in the Caribbean. The distillery makes use of a very traditional pot still distillation process, which contributes to a very flavourful, fragrant rum. After distillation, the rums are aged in American white oak barrels. Worthy Park’s range demonstrates a lovely balance of refined smoothness, and that marvellous funk note. 

Hampden Estate

Another Jamaican distillery with a long, storied history, Hampden Estate dates all the way back to 1753. It’s known for its quintessentially Jamaican rums, among the world’s most ester-heavy. If you like funk, Hampden Estate is well worth a look. Much like Appleton Estate, Hampden carries out wild fermentation over a long period of time. Distillation is done in centuries-old pot stills, and the resulting spirit is bold, intensely fruity and floral. Despite this unique and wonderful style, Hampden Estate has only recently begun bottling under its own label. Prior to this, most of its spirit production was sold to European blenders. It’s great to be able to try this stuff though – it offers a glimpse into the historic Jamaican rum style.  

New Yarmouth

A lesser-known distillery on the island, New Yarmouth actually produces some extremely popular spirits, particularly blends like those from parent company J Wray & Nephew. It’s located in the parish of Clarendon and was founded in the 18th century. The rums range in style due to the use of both traditional pot stills and modern column stills. This allows for a wide variety of flavour profiles. It also makes use of dunder in the fermentation process, which helps make the pot still-style spirits even funkier. Today, it remains a large supplier of rum for blending, both locally and internationally, although you can sometimes find it bottled in its own right.

Long Pond

In the lush, verdant landscapes of Jamaica’s Trelawny Parish, you’ll find Long Pond Distillery, established in 1753. Wild yeasts are used to ferment the spirit in open vats over long fermentation periods. The rums are then distilled in traditional pot stills and the finished product is another rum high in ester content. The distillery has had a tumultuous history, closing in 2012. It remained dormant for a few years until 2017 when it was reopened by National Rums of Jamaica. However, this was followed by a fire in 2018, which destroyed a huge quantity of rum and most of the fermentation vats. Despite this, the distillery is still going, making some uniquely oily, fruity, spicy spirits.

Clarendon Distillery

Not far from New Yarmouth is the Clarendon distillery which merges modern techniques with some of the more traditional methods. You’ll find both pot and column stills for a wider range of spirits, as well as the distillery’s unique approach to supply chain management. It sources a significant quantity of its sugarcane from local estates, which ensures consistent quality and allows Clarendon to maintain full traceability. The rums range from lighter, refined styles, to rich, thick pot still spirits. These are bottled under the distillery’s own label, as well as exported for blending and bottling by a wide variety of companies all over the world.

Homemade Mai Tai Cocktail

Perhaps the ultimate cocktail for Jamaican rum, the Mai Tai

Jamaican rum in cocktails

Thanks to the robust, full-bodied flavours of Jamaican rums, they work brilliantly in cocktails. One notable example is the Mai Tai, in which Jamaican rum’s funky notes balance neatly with an equal measure of herbaceous white rum. A Planter’s Punch is another tropical classic, which relies on intense Jamaican dark rum to add depth to a simple mix of lime juice and sugarcane juice. 

And, of course, who could forget the funkiest, most intense and ferocious cocktail of all… the Zombie? It calls for an extremely generous combination of rums, a portion of which must be Jamaican dark rum. It’s a cocktail with some seriously strong flavours – some recipes even call for a dash of absinthe and cinnamon syrup. It’s another example of a mixed drink that requires the complexity and intensity of estery Jamaican pot still rum to really punch through.

Top 10 Jamaican rums

We’ve put together a list of 10 top examples of the range and variety of rums from Jamaica. These can be used in cocktails, enjoyed neat, or combined in a Highball with a simple mixer. There’s something for everyone here…

A bottle of Dunderhead Rum

Sip it, mix it, you can’t really go wrong here

#1 Dunderhead Rum

Its humorous name hints at the Jamaican practice of adding dunder (some of the leftovers of previous fermentations) during the fermentation process. This makes the spirit extremely complex and it also boosts the levels of funk. Ooh, that’s funky. It’s a very reasonably priced spirit, punching well above its weight with its brilliant citrus zest, spice, toffee apple, and molasses. And, of course, plenty of funk.

#2 Mezan Jamaica 2010

Here we have a lovely vintage Monymusk, produced at the Clarendon distillery. In this case, it’s aged rather uniquely; its 12-year bourbon cask maturation was split between Jamaica and Europe. This is classic pot still stuff, with a mouth coating, rich palate with plenty of caramel, mixed spices, charred oak, tropical fruit, and light vanilla. Delicious.

#3 Smith and Cross Jamaican Rum

Smith and Cross make a traditional navy-strength Jamaican rum. At a fiery 57% ABV, you can certainly sip it neat, but it’s also a very popular cocktail rum, particularly in the world of tiki. Served on its own, however, you’ll get a superbly aromatic spirit with aromas of tobacco, cocoa, spice and dried fruit, with an intense, rich palate packed with prunes, cedar, vanilla, candied citrus, and big spice. Give it a try with a few ice cubes and a squeeze of fresh lime and you’ve got an instant cocktail…

#4 J Wray and Nephew White Overproof

Another very strong spirit here, J Wray & Nephew’s Overproof is actually the bestselling high-proof rum in the world. The brand also accounts for some 90% of domestic rum sales in Jamaica. Despite the lack of age, you’ll still get plenty of flavour, with a powerful profile of big fruit and spice notes. Keep a bottle on hand for the back bar. We particularly like this stuff when floated on the top of a drink to give a cocktail an extra kick.

#5 Secret Distillery #1 6 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

An indie bottling from the wonderful Boutique-y range and a rather mysterious one at that, having been produced at an undisclosed distillery. What we do know is it’s been matured for 6 years, and there are 1,821 bottles of the stuff. It is chock full of fruit, allspice, and sweet toffee, with a long dried fruit finish. Bottled at cask strength too!

#6 Saison Rum 4 Year Old – Triple Cask

This stuff is aged in not one, not two, but three different types of casks for a total of more than four years. The first couple of years are spent in bourbon barrels in Jamaica, then it’s put into medium-grain French oak for 18 months. Finally, it gets shipped to the Charente in the heart of the Cognac region for a six-month finish in fine-grain oak casks. Another cross-continental maturation here, and the result is full of tropical fruit, banana, toffee, allspice, and toasty oak. 

#7 Long Pond 16 Year Old 2005 – Kill Devil

From the legendary Long Pond distillery in Jamaica, this 2005 vintage rum spent 16 years maturing in a single cask before being independently bottled by Hunter Laing. A total of 253 cask strength bottles join the Kill Devil collection. Expect big funky flavours of pineapple and banana with savoury spice and earthy tobacco notes. A very special rum. 

#9 Hampden Estate HLCF Classic Overproof

Produced at a distillery known for its classic, archetypical Jamaican rum, this is bottled at a whopping 60% ABV. It’s aged for four years and offers funk, oak char, and fruity intensity in spades. Imagine eating banana bread with salted butter next to a wood fire, over which someone’s charring pineapple chunks…

#8 Appleton Estate 12 Year Old

We begin with one of the all-time Jamaican classics, and one that belongs on every bar’s rum shelf… Appleton 12. This is a subtle blend of the pot still, molasses-driven intense house style, with plenty of ripe fruit and all the spice, cocoa and vanilla sweetness you’d expect after 12 years in oak barrels. Great in cocktails, equally great on its own.

#10 Long Pond 22 Year Old 2000 – Rum Sponge Edition No. 21a (Decadent Drinks)

OK, the name’s a bit of a mouthful, but thankfully, so is the rum. This is another expression from Long Pond, in this case, aged for 22 years in refill barrels in the cool of England so it matured very slowly compared with Jamaican-aged spirits. There are just 189 bottles of this stuff, at high-proof, offering up mouthfuls of ginger, sweet vanilla, rich tropical fruits, and plenty of spice. It also has “deliberately incorrect” information on the back label, which was a tribute to the independent bottlers of the past. Interesting…