When most people think of rum, they think of a spirit made in Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico and Jamaica, mixed into tropical drinks with fruit skewers and tiny umbrellas.

Ron Abuelo rum breaks both those molds. Its exceptional dark rums are oak aged in select small oak barrels for up to 30 years, and are meant to be sipped neat or on the rocks. And for more than 75 years, they’ve been made by the Varela family in Panama.

Back in 1908, Don Jose Varela established the first sugar mill in the recently-formed Republic of Panama, and almost 30 years later, he started distilling alcohol from his sugar cane crop. Today, the third generation of Varelas are still making that rum, Ron Abuelo (Grandfather’s rum), in four estate-bottled, dark oak-ged rums: Añejo (aged more than 2 years), 7 Años, 12 Años, and the flagship of their line, Centuria.

I recently traveled to Panama, and got a chance to sample Ron Abuelo Añejo in its native country. Very popular in its home país, the Añejo (SRP $15.99) is a blend of select aged rums. Medium-bodied, and lighter in color than its more aged brothers, it has hints of sweet fruit, toasted coconut, spices and vanilla. If you absolutely had to mix Ron Abuelo into a cocktail, this would be the one to use.

Ron Abuelo Centuria, a blend of rums aged up to 30 years in small oak barrels

At home, I got a chance to try the other three expressions in the line. The 7 Años ($22.99), is slightly darker than the Añejo, and has a distinct caramel flavor added in with the coconut and spice. Move up to the 12 Años ($32.99), and you get an incredibly smooth, full-bodied rum perfect for sipping after dinner or after a long day at the beach. (This one is my personal favorite.)

If you’re looking for a rum to celebrate a special occasion, open a bottle of Ron Abuelo Centuria. Originally crafted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the family business, the Varelas opened up the private stocks from their closely guarded “reserva de la familia” and used a selection of rums aged up to 30 years. Sure it tips the retail scales at $130, but after sampling this rare rum, I can tell you it’s worth the extra dollars. Incredibly full-bodied, it has a deep oak nose with a complex flavor that rivals some cognacs.

So put the fruit back in the bowl and throw those little paper umbrellas into the beach bonfire… it’s time to sip rum.

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Photos: Ron Abuelo Rum