Review: Sugar Island Spiced Rum and Coconut Rum

Sugar island spiced Rum label 009Made 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

Review: Taildragger Rums

taildragger rums

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.”

Thoughts follow.

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

tailwindsdistilling.com

Review: Below Deck Ginger Rum

Portlanbelow_deck_gingerd’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.

70 proof.

B / $20 / eastsidedistilling.com

Review: Cruzan Key Lime Rum and Passion Fruit Rum

cruzan key limeCruzan 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

Review: The Pink Pigeon Original Rum

Pink-Pigeon rumRum 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.

Continue reading

Review: Kahlua Midnight Liqueur

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

kahlua midnight

Review: Malibu Red

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.

70 proof.

D+ / $25 / malibu-rum.com

Review: Whistling Andy Hibiscus-Coconut Rum

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

whistling andy hibiscus-coconut rum

Review: Malibu Winter

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

malibu winter

Review: Cruzan Coconut Rum

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