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