Tiki lovers, listen up. You need to know about this bold bottle.

By Chris Hughes

Like so many people, my experience with overproof rum was initially limited to wilder college days and bottles of Bacardi 151. In Texas, the only food group more popular than tacos and smoked brisket is Dr. Pepper. So, our preferred way to consume 151 was in a Flaming Dr. Pepper—a trashy boilermaker where a shot of Amaretto and overproof rum was lit aflame, dropped into a watery lager, and guzzled in one nauseating gulp. Sure, it tasted like Dr. Pepper—if Dublin, Texas’s finest left you with a crippling hangover.

But overproof rum offers so much more than the specter of an embarrassing undergrad epoch. This is not cheap Chianti and that fleeting threat of majoring in jazz history. Overproof rum is essential to the Tiki canon, and its strong backbone can help cut through the citrus juices and sticky syrups present in a number of cocktails.

What is Overproof Rum?

Any kind of rum bottled at over 100-proof. Originally, it was conceived to economize cargo space. Early rum exporters, ever conscious of their ship’s real estate, would instead transport an uncut product and dilute it with water when they arrived at their destination. But then people, particularly sailors, developed a taste for the hard stuff. Two overproof ratios were eventually established: Navy-strength (bottled at 57-percent alcohol) and 151-rum (bottled at 75.5-percent alcohol).

Related: The Best Tiki Bars in America

Starting in 1655, the British Navy went from rationing French brandy to Caribbean rum, which was diluted with half a pint to one quart of water—hence the navy connection.

Courtesy of manufacturers

Overproof Rum Brands to Try

Today, the top American selling brand is Smith & Cross, a nutty, pot-distilled Jamaican rum that expertly tames the citrus and pineapple gum syrup present in our Yuzu Mule, a darker take on the vodka-fueled classic. 

I’d also recommend one excellent domestic example, Privateer Navy Yard from Ipswich, Massachusetts. Double distilled and produced from 100-percent grade “A” molasses, it has intoxicating flavors of custard and candied figs that makes for the ultimate Mai Tai or Painkiller.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Stocking a Home Tiki Bar

Better versions of 151-proof rum include those by Hamilton, distilled in Guyana, and Plantation Rum’s O.F.T.D., a blend of dark rums from Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana. Admittedly, Plantation’s clocks in just a smidge below the 151-mark (technically 69-percent ABV), but with its nose of coffee, orange peel, and pineapple, it’s a standout of the category.  

In between these two heavy hitters are outliers like the un-aged overproof “whites,” like that from Jamaica’s Wray & Nephew. At Cane and Table in New Orleans, they use the potent, banana-scented spirit as a floater in its stripped-down Hurricane, which eschews grenadine and the typical barrage of juices.

Whether aged or un-aged, navy-strength or high-octane 151, these rums are like the proverbial gentle giant: brawny, sweet at heart, and largely misunderstood. Go ahead; dust off that old bottle of Bacardi. Or give one of these aforementioned examples a try. Just avoid plunking it into a pint of Bud Light, and you’re guaranteed to swoon over this warm-weather stunner.  

Cocktail Recipes to Try

Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Stylist: Kathleen Varner, Food Stylist: Mary Claire Britton

Hurricane
New Orleans’ cocktail mascot (a result of the scarcity of whiskey and overabundance of rum in the 1940s) can easily veer into saccharine territory, but Cane & Table’s simpler take allows the aged and white overproof rums to shine.
Get the recipe: Hurricane

Photographer: Greg Dupree, Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton, Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

Yuzu Mule
Sweet pineapple gum syrup (a great ingredient to have in your tropical cocktail arsenal) helps counter intensely citrusy Japanese yuzu and stiff Navy-strength rum. All that’s left to create a marvelous nouveau mule? The requisite splash of spicy ginger beer.
Get the recipe: Yuzu Mule

Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton and Karen Rankin

Mai Tai
Despite dozens of fabulous drinks that have come out of Tiki’s golden age, the Mai Tai is far and away its poster child. In fact, this Trader Vic original was so popular that it depleted world rum supplies in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Get the recipe: Mai Tai

Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton and Karen Rankin

Painkiller
What do you get when you mix one secretive restaurant owner and barmaid, a Pusser’s rum founder, and a drink blending competition? A nutmeg-freckled Tiki beverage that’s now known as the official cocktail of the British Virgin Islands.
Get the recipe: Painkiller