You gotta love a first. For his first line extension from Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, the “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar has added a Macadamia Nut-flavored expression to this Hawaii-born product.
What the heck is this stuff?
Distilled from Maui sugar cane, it is steeped with Macadamia nuts and colored blood red (fruit and vegetable juice color is added). Right off the bat, it’s an assault to the senses — the color of wine, but with the nose of crushed nuts. At first the aroma is hard to place — closer to hazelnut than macadamia — with light sweetness underneath.
The body reveals more nuance. Again, the nut notes are the most prominent component here, far overpowering any of the sweet rum elements present. The overall effect is uncannily like a gentler, slightly sweeter version of Frangelico, with a slightly winey, strawberry finish (likely driven by the intense coloring involved). Rum? It’s difficult to get even a hint of it, particularly the heavy funkiness of Sammy’s, but I trust him that it really is there as a base spirit. I can’t specifically peg macadamia nut here, either, for that matter.
Nonetheless, it’s a well-crafted and quite unique spirit. My recommendation: Use it in lieu of nut liqueurs, not necessarily rum.
A- / $20 / sammysbeachbarrum.com
The name alone gives one pause. Does one want to drink cigarettes? If they’re stolen, do they taste better? To clarify things a bit, look to the quotation marks. “Stolen” is the name of the brand. “Coffee & Cigarettes” is the flavor applied. Underneath, it’s spiced rum, making this the first flavored and spiced rum we’ve reviewed.
Now this isn’t our first run-in with tobacco flavoring agents, although Stolen is careful to note its flavorings are coffee and cigarettes, not tobacco. Important distinction? Let’s find out by sipping on this Caribbean-sourced, Florida-bottled, New Zealand-owned oddity.
I’m happy to report that the primary note on the nose is coffee. It’s a little dark and husky, but this comes across more as dark roast espresso with a touch of spice than, as feared, the flavor of old coffee with cigarette butts floating in it. The body is a touch less forgiving. The smokiness builds here, driving the character forward. At first, the spirit offers more of a light brandy character than a rum-like one, though the sweetness (particularly molasses-heavy) grows with time. The smoke flavor component is far more successful than in Ivanabitch’s vodka version, presumably because the coffee and spice elements balance things out a bit. The finish manages to pull all of this together better than you’d think.
Ultimately the spirit is far more of a success than I had feared, but for most it will likely remain a curiosity that generates more questions based on its avant garde label and unique recipe than interest in actually imbibing it.
B / $15 / stolenrum.com
Made from Caribbean cane sugar and bottled in California, Sugar Island is a new kid on the flavored and spiced rum block. (The company is not making an unflavored or aged variety.) Here’s how these new offerings measure up against the competition.
Sugar Island Spiced Rum – Very strong and pungent on the nose. The character is indistinct, with somewhat harsh, rubbery notes. On the palate, heavy burnt sugar notes overwhelm with unclear, clove-and-cinnamon character backing it up. A lengthy finish brings out not more sweetness but more of that rubbery, industrial character. Caramel added. 92 proof. C-
Sugar Island Coconut Rum – Tons of sweetness on the nose. Coconut is a secondary characteristic, overpowered by simple syrup. The body is heavy, full of gravity, with a powerfully sweet finish that offers a touch of mango character to it. Not at all difficult, but it’s a sugar bomb with few parallels in this category. 42 proof. B-
each $19 / sugarislandrum.com
American rum is on the rise, and the latest expressions include this trio from Tailwinds Distilling in Plainfield, Illinois. Tailwind makes Taildragger from pricey first-boil molasses from Louisiana (rather than cheap 5th-boil blackstrap), which is distilled in a 100 gallon pot still with a six-plate column.
Taildragger is not carbon filtered nor chill filtered, which is why it retains a lot of its raw cane character. It’s a rum, as distiller Toby Beall puts it, which is “a truly American hand-crafted rum just like you would have found in our early colonies.”
Taildragger Rum White - (Not “White Rum” mind you, but Rum White!) Unaged and “meant to stand out,” it is as promised a fairly agricole-style rum on the nose, with notes of oily tar and some light coconut character behind it. The body brings out more charm. Here, stronger vanilla notes play with some tropical character, although the rustic, fuel-like tones remain evident, just more in the back seat. A solid example of this style, though fans of more traditionally filtered and aged rums may find its more savory characteristics too overpowering. 80 proof. B / $30
Taildragger Rum Amber – Aged in ex-American rye barrels for one year. Banana and light vanilla notes temper the agricole base, but it’s still there, off in the distance. Despite the light gold color, the oak has done quite a number on the palate here, giving this rum more intense vanilla and caramel notes, with ripe banana and whipped cream coming through on the finish. The body feels creamier too, but maybe that’s just my brain messing with me. 80 proof. B+ / $35
Taildragger Coffee-Flavored Rum – Huge, bittersweet coffee character on the nose, it really overpowers almost any sense of rum here. Over time, this develops in the glass, giving the spirit’s coffee-ground core a slightly tropical, fruity back-end. There is a somewhat brooding, almost smoky quality to it, which doesn’t quite mesh perfectly well with the fruity notes. Coffee lovers will rejoice. 60 proof. B / $ 29
Portland’s Eastside Distilling, which makes the awesome Double Barrel Bourbon, recently launched a line of four naturally-flavored rums. We got a look at one of them — intriguingly spiked with ginger.
Lightly gold colored, the rum has a mild ginger nose, with a bit of soapy quality atop it. Notes of green pepper and olive are in the mix if you go hunting, olfactorily speaking, anyway.
The body is initially innocuous. First it’s just a mildly sweet, slightly apple-tinged rum. Not much to report. Then the ginger hits. Hard, actually. That big bite comes on strong after a few seconds, really gripping the back of your throat and settling in for a good 20 seconds. Finally this fades, leaving behind a bit more of that green pepper character, a counterpoint to the otherwise mild sweetness that is present throughout this experience. Then, take another sip and start all over. Wheeee!
Definitely a mixer.
B / $20 / eastsidedistilling.com
Cruzan actually makes some credible flavored rums, but things are starting to change. Most notably: With its new flavors, the sugar level is clearly going up and the alcohol level is demonstrably going down. What was once a low 55 proof has now fallen even further to just 42 proof. These two new expressions don’t really come across like rum as all but rather as liquified candy. Is this what consumers are really looking for?
Cruzan Key Lime Rum – Quite a strong lime kick on the nose, but very restrained body, pumped up with sugar. It’s hard to tell this is rum at all, it tastes more akin to Rose’s Lime Juice. A long, sugary, sticky finish reminds you you’re in candyland. C
Cruzan Passion Fruit Rum – Better. Not nearly as sweet, but not as fruity, either. Passion fruit is one of the great, undersung flavoring agents in cocktails, spirits, and juices, and here it makes a less than powerful appearance. And as with the Key Lime, it’s over-sweetened but slightly more tolerable. C+
each $15 / cruzanrum.com
Rum is a spirit imbued with exoticism. It comes from places in tour guides like Barbados. Panama. Martinique.
Pink Pigeon puts all of that to shame. It is born in Mauritius, which I guarantee you will never find on a map. It’s here: A speck of an island over 1000 miles off the southeast coast of Africa — out there beyond Madagascar.
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out… and we’re gonna drink this new liqueur from the increasingly huge portfolio of products from Kahlua: Kahlua Midnight.
Midnight is a major departure for Kahlua, which has to date been happy to create new versions of its signature coffee liqueur by adding additional flavorings like you’d find in a coffee shop (various incarnations now include cinnamon, vanilla, hazelnut, mocha, and peppermint versions). Midnight is something different: A 70 proof monster mix of the classic coffee liqueur with rum.
In truth, even the standard 40-proof version of Kahlua has rum in it (it’s touted on the label), but it’s watered down and sugared up so those Desperate Housewives can sip it all day. At 70-proof, Kahlua Midnight is nearly full-strength booze, more rum than Kahlua — though it’s still just as black as before (caramel color is added). In case you’re unclear, the bottle is completely different than the standard tiki-friendly Kahlua one.
In all honesty, Kahlua Midnight — in taste — is not a great departure from its mother, standard-grade Kahlua. The coffee is clear on the nose and the palate. Rum, as with regular Kahlua, is really just hinted at, indistinctly and more on the undercarriage of the nose than in the body, where the strong coffee character is simply overpowering to anything underneath it. It’s got more of a boozy kick in the middle, but the finish is mild, dominated by a clear, fresh-ground coffee character.
What’s the point of Midnight? It’s primarily meant for consumption straight, on the rocks. God help the hacker that uses this stuff in lieu of standard Kahlua and doesn’t realize what he’s getting into.
A- / $24 / kahlua.com
On paper, Malibu Red is a terrible, terrible idea: Take standard Malibu (coconut-flavored rum), and add white tequila to it.
The brainchild of R&B artist Ne-Yo, I am here to tell you that, yes, Malibu Red is as bad as you think it will be.
Fundamentally these are two great tastes… that just don’t go together: Super-sweet coconut rum on the nose, muddled with sharp agave-heavy tequila. Like putting orange juice on your cereal, these flavors collide in an often angry, unsatisfying fashion, and it’s difficult to get a real handle on either one. The finish is cloying and muddy, leaving you desperate for one side to take hold. Neither does, and your mouth ends up coated in a syrupy, tangy, almost medicinal film.
D+ / $25 / malibu-rum.com
Coconut rum? Sure. Hibiscus-coconut rum? That’s a new one.
The evocatively named Whistling Andy is naturally flavored with both of the above and is imbued with a deep orange color. First things first: The rum (distilled in Bigfork, Montana from cane sugar) is extremely sweet, with a nose redolent of cookies, caramel, nougat, and — especially — honey. What you don’t particularly get is, surprisingly, coconut. That’s largely relegated to nuance somewhere in that cookie character.
Is it the interplay with the hibiscus that mutes the coconut? While it’s not particularly floral, there’s more flower character here than coconut, that’s for sure. But it’s the intense sugariness that just about stopped me in my tracks on this one. Yes, rum is sweet, but this is so wild in its intensity that I often had trouble swallowing baby sips. The flavor’s a knockout, but I’m about 10 years too old to be able to handle this kind of brix.
B / $26 / whistlingandy.com
Malibu Rum, always one to experiment wildly with additional flavors and added tweaks, updates the classic coconut rum with this limited-release version: Malibu Winter.
The twist: Little flakes of real coconut are suspended in the liquid, giving the spirit the distinct look of snowfall and, for the first time ever, successfully associating the words “Malibu” and “holidays.”
There’s no change to the formula or proof level (42 proof), although this version seems slightly thicker (and a bit less clean) in the mouth. If that’s the case, it’s why the coconut flakes stay suspended absolutely perfectly in the rum. Unlike, say, Goldschlager, they don’t settle to the bottom. No shaking of the bottle required: Each pour has a healthy dose of white flakes suspended within. You can taste and feel them in your mouth, but just barely.
Otherwise, everything here is as expected for Malibu, though the bottle has a clear cut-out in the white frosting so you can long for the festivities inside.
A- / $14 / malibu-rum.com
Coconut continues to be a vital flavoring agent in all manner of spirits (we’ve got coconut vodka coming later in the week for you), and our friends at St. Croix’s Cruzan sent us their rendition of the classic coconut rum. They even put their money where their mouths are: Sending a mini of Bacardi Rock Coconut for comparative purposes.
Results? For starters, Cruzan Coconut is only 42 proof, so I watered the 70-proof Bacardi down appropriately. If you’re looking for (natural) coconut flavor, Cruzan categorically has it. It’s overloaded with the stuff, and it’s also packed with sugar. It’s not the lack of tropical flavor that undoes this spirit, it’s all that sugar: Imbued with the stuff to the point of being cloying. You can almost taste a chalky texture in the body — whether that’s from coconut or sugar, I don’t know, but the effect is daunting. In comparison to the Bacardi though, I still preferred the Cruzan: Its flavor is simply bigger and more authentic.
I also tried Cruzan Coconut against, of course, the gold standard of coconut rums, Malibu. Also 42 proof, Malibu is, clearly the superior spirit, balanced in coconut and sweetness, not cloying, and actually well enough made that it can be consumed solo — unlike almost every other flavored spirit known to man. Sad to say it, but you don’t seem to need native coconuts nor sugarcane to get the job done — that’s right, best coconut rum going today is made in Canada.
B+ / $13 / cruzanrum.com
DonQ’s latest flavor is the always crowd-pleasing Passion Fruit, an exotic treat that nonetheless has become familiar to U.S. palates. DonQ’s Pasión is bright on the nose with tropical notes, but it’s hard to peg it specifically to passion fruit. On the palate, it’s even trickier, as the rum component comes across a little too harsh and the passion fruit a bit too sweet. The ultimate spirit tends to veer, oddly, toward cherry notes, when I’d hoped for something lighter and fruitier. This would probably be fine in a big and fruit-bombed tiki cocktail, but for more subtle drinks it’ll overpower the blend.
B- / $16 / donq.com
Malibu is clear. Malibu Black is brown.
With that out of the way we can introduce you to another extension of the Malibu rum line: Malibu Black, a stronger, less-sweet, and more-brown version of the classic coconut rum.
That description is, basically, all you need to know. Malibu Black has much more bite (70 proof) — to the point where you can actually taste the alcohol, unlike standard Malibu (42 proof). It is considerably less sweet, to the point where it has no discernible aftertaste aside from a vague tropical character. And it is brown.
The overall flavor plays down Malibu’s tropical character and replaces it with orange (and orange peel) notes. The coconut is still quite strong, especially on the nose, but the finish isn’t that lasting sweetness that you get with standard Malibu. Instead it’s more of a classic rum character on the fade-out, reminiscent of a fairly standard white rum, chased with a bite of old German chocolate cake.
B- / $13 / malibu-rum.com
As it did with “Torched Cherry,” Bacardi continues its tradition of double-flavoring rums and giving the finished product one, nonsensical name.
Bacardi Rock Coconut is naturally flavored with rock melon and coconut water, hence, I guess, “rock coconut.” Rock melon, by the way, is a fancy name for cantaloupe.
As for the character of this rum, the emphasis is certainly on the coconut here. It’s strong on the nose and the body, and only if you leave the rum in your mouth for several seconds do you get any sense of fruit here, and even then it’s vague, mainly citrus in tone.
Frankly I’d wanted a little more coconut out of this, and it certainly could have used some more of the “rock” that’s promised. All told, your typical beach-goer isn’t going to be able to tell the difference between this and Malibu in his fruity cocktail, but it doesn’t really offer anything special to elevate it above the competition.
B / $20 / bacardi.com
We’ve reviewed rums from this Puerto Rico distillery a few times before (here, and here), but this time we’re really getting into the good stuff, with DonQ’s Gran Anejo the top of the company’s standard product line.
DonQ Limon Rum is the company’s citrus-flavored rum. Lemon/lime is the focus here, and the rum (aged about one year) part of the equation takes a back seat to the citrus notes. Much like a citrus vodka, but sweeter. A bit of tough bitterness mars the finish, but this would be a perfectly good substitute for citrus vodka in a Cosmopolitan or in a Caribbean-style Lemon Drop, and obviously would work well in a Mojito. 60 proof. B+ / $17
DonQ Gold Rum is a blend of rums aged 1 to 4 years — and is said to be the rum used in the world’s first Pina Colada. Light gold in color, with a fairly strong medicinal character to it. More woody than you’d expect, but that lends itself more to tannin than gentle smokiness. 80 proof. B- / $18
DonQ Gran Anejo Rum has been recently repackaged and renamed, dropping a “D” from the old DonQ Grand Anejo moniker. A blend of rums aged 3 to 12 years in both American white oak and used sherry barrels. This is DonQ hitting its stride in full. The sherry notes are strong and lush, giving an orange tartness to balance the sweetness of the rum, well mellowed by time in wood and smooth as silk in the body and finish. Notes of straw, raisins, and cinnamon in the body. Good balance all around, though slightly tight in the finish. A totally solid choice for sipping after dinner. 80 proof. A- / $70
The problem with cherry flavored spirits, of course, is the cough syrup connection. Cherry flavoring is so endemic in over-the-counter throat and lung remedies that most drinkers immediately want to climb back in bed once a cherry liquor hits their lips.
Bacardi bypasses that problem with its new cherry rum by “torching” it — now, they don’t burn the cherry, but to Barbados cherry essence the company adds “torched plant aloe” to the mix.
The result is a somewhat smoother spin on cherry, balanced by a sort of smoky creaminess that comes on after a big and bright cherry opening.
Yes, drink too much in one gulp and you’re in Robitussinland, but in a land of non-credible cherry rums and vodkas, Bacardi’s experiment is at least as good as anything else out there.
B / $15 / bacardi.com
Coruba is Jamaican rum (imported to New Zealand and sold from there). These two new bottlings are flavored rums that have been considerably doctored not just with flavoring agents but lightened down to just 42 proof.
Coruba Mango Rum is an intensely sweet experience, and mango is really only hinted at in the finish. It’s so sugary that there’s no real hint off fruit, just sweetness with a touch of tropicality. Probably fine in any number of rum-and-juice cocktails, but not a winner on its own. C-
Coruba Coconut Rum is more successful, a decent competitor to Malibu with a more delicately flavored spirit than Coruba’s mango concoction. Here the coconut is more muted and the resulting spirit much less sweet, with a mellower, earthy finish. In fact, this rum can be safely sipped solo, though it would clearly find a better home in a tropical beach drink. B
$16 each / coruba.co.nz
Rum Jumbie (the name refers to spirits allegedly trapped inside the caves of the Caribbean who would possess the souls of rum drinkers) makes several light, flavored rums plus a rum liqueur.
The flavored rums are all uncolored, are sourced from Panama, and are bottled at a scant 48 proof. Flavors are natural but otherwise unspecified.
Here’s how they stack up.
Rum Jumbie Mango Splash has a delicate mango nose and moderate tropical flavor. A little bite on the finish, but a fine ingredient in a tropical cocktail if you like a rum with a very mild and light body. B+ / $16
Rum Jumbie Pineapple Splash captures the aroma of fresh pineapple, but the flavor is off. Pineapple notes are pushed aside by out-of-place cocoa and vanilla character, with a sort of woody finish. B- / $16
Rum Jumbie Coconut Splash is extremely sweet, with sugariness that drowns out a lot of the coconut character. As with the other Jumbies, it’s heavy on the nose with the prescribed fruit (coconut is a fruit, right?), but the body doesn’t totally pan out. (Try Brinley.) B / $16
Rum Jumbie Vanilla Splash has almost no vanilla aroma and what little vanilla flavor there tastes synthetic. Fortunately it’s so light it doesn’t really taste like much of anything. Not a fan. C / $16
Rum Jumbie Liqueur is a 60 proof concoction of “aged rum and tropical fruit flavors,” and it’s already awesome from the start because of the bottle shaped like a guy playing a bongo drum and wearing a straw hat that serves as the cap. The amber nectar inside however is not quite as cool. It’s got cola and orange notes, apples, and loads of cinnamon and other exotic spices… but it doesn’t really come together. Perhaps it’s the loads of sugar in the blend that makes this hard to put down more than a few sips of. Perhaps it could make an interesting cocktail ingredient… but how? It’s simply too muddy and sweet and leaves a varnish-like coating on your palate that I wanted to scrub off. C / $30
DonQ is a huge rum brand from Puerto Rico. It’s now producing three flavored versions, two of which we were fortunate enough to review. Flavorings are natural and the proof level is rock bottom, so drink all you want.
DonQ Coco Rum is (obviously) a coconut-flavored rum (aged at least one year). Quite sweet and with merely moderate coconut character, it comes across, oddly, as a little bit chalky on the palate. This isn’t bad, but it isn’t a standout. I think Malibu or, better yet, Brinley Gold Coconut, are both quite a bit better. 42 proof (same as Malibu). B- / $17
DonQ Mojito Rum is not a mojito in a bottle but rather a mojito-flavored aged rum (see the difference?). Add club soda and you’ve got a mojito? Sort-of… It’s very tart and moderately, authentically minty — but the lime component tastes funky, which might be why lime is not mentioned on the bottle, only “infused with natural mint.” Like the Coco, this isn’t unpalatable, but I think the better solution to the mojito problem is to stick with an unflavored rum, add mint, lime, and soda yourself, and call it a day. 40 proof. B- / $17