Review: Stolen “Coffee & Cigarettes” Spiced Rum

stolen coffee and cigarettesThe 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.

Update 2016: Rebranded as Stolen Smoked Rum.

84 proof.

B / $15 / stolenrum.com

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: Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum

Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced RumWait a second? Finished rum? Finished, spiced rum? This bizarre and wholly unexpected product from, of all places, Captain Morgan, borrows from the whiskey industry by taking good old Cappy and finishing it in sherry wine casks. There’s not a lot of information about how long it spends in these casks, but the results are clear: This is a sweeter, more citrusy, and surprisingly intriguing rendition of Captain Morgan.

Up front, a familiar cinnamon character pervades the nose, with curious notes of golden raisins and almonds. The body is bolder. Quite sweet, here you get the citrus notes driven by the sherry, along with bright, light fruit, marshmallows, and a long finish that recalls maraschino cherries.

There’s lots going on here, and it’s more complex than standard Cap’n Morgan… but what will people use it for? The nuance of the rum will largely get lost in a glass full of Coke, and I’ve yet to see anyone consume Captain Morgan straight in the real world. That said, as spiced rum goes, this is unusual and unique, and certainly worth a look of this kind of thing is in your wheelhouse. Give it a try while you can; it’s unclear how long it will be on the market.

70 proof.

A- / $20 / captainmorgan.com

Review: Admiral Nelson’s Spiced Rum

AN Spiced RumThe budget alternative to Captain Morgan (to which it is 2nd in spiced rum market share), Admiral Nelson’s Rum is also named after a real person. In this case it’s a good guy instead of a pirate, the famous British Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Until 2011, Admiral Nelson’s Spiced Rum was produced by Luxco, a smaller company that owns a few random spirits brands. It was then sold to Heaven Hill, or pals in Kentucky, which has its eye on number one. Refreshed packaging has just been introduced — although the eyepatch-wearing, grog-swilling, beard-sporting, tight-pants-donning Nelson still smiles out at you front and center.

How does Nelson’s measure up against Morgan? Not badly, actually. On the nose, light cinnamon and gingerbread notes, backed with vanilla. Not at all boozy, the body is pleasant, quite sweet, and not overly spiced. Gentle and easy, it’s a spiced rum for those who like just a little kick of apple pie in their cola, yet is easy enough to sip straight, not the normal M.O. for a spiced rum. Don’t come looking for complexity — the finish is short, straight, and simple — but few shoppers in the $10 to $12 range have ever made such a request, anyway.

70 proof.

B / $11 (though more typically bought in the 1.75 liter bottle) / admiralnelsonsrum.com

Review: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum

Spiced rum continues its move upmarket courtesy of that most massive of standbys: Captain Morgan.

The Captain saw a line expansion with a 100 proof version in 2008, and now comes the even bigger gun: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum. This is actually an American rebranding of a product called Captain Morgan Black which the company has sold internationally since late 2011. The rum is a blend from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados (though the label notes only “the Caribbean”), spiced with cloves and cassia bark (we call it cinnamon!), and aged indeterminately in “double charred blackened oak” (whatever that means).

Ultra-dark and loaded with aromas — you can smell the vanilla when you crack open the bottle — it’s a clear competitor (and a worthy one) to the recent flood of high-end spiced rums, including Kraken and The Lash.

The emphasis here remains clearly on the sweet stuff. Vanilla and molasses, plus semi-sweet chocolate on the finish, it’s loaded with these dessert notes. Clove and cinnamon are present almost as afterthoughts, but you’ll catch them once your sweet tooth wears out. Finally, there’s a long, and surprisingly pleasant, finish, one which inspires one to consider girly-type cocktails but which begs to be consumed solo.

Captain Morgan has quite a winning spirit on its hands here, one which comes across at considerably lower proof than it is (and which can be awfully dangerous) and which elevates the Captain to the upper echelon of spiced rum makers. Well done.

94.6 proof.

A- / $22 / captainmorgan.com

Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum

Review: Flipflop Rum – Silver and Spiced

Best known for its ultra-affordable, thong-friendly wine series, Flipflop (or all-lowercased flipflop, as they write it) is now branching into rum, with two equally affordable sugar-based spirits.

There’s not a lot of information on provenance available: They hail from “the Caribbean” and are four-times distilled, but that’s all the info provided. We tasted both of varieties, which are now shipping.

Flipflop Silver Rum is surprisingly clean and easy, with a traditional sugar-based nose and a finish with plenty of molasses in it and a lightly chalky, coconut and chocolate character. Very modest medicinal character on the finish, like a clean vodka. Amazing quality for the price. 80 proof. A-

Flipflop Spiced Rum is spiked with “spices and natural flavors,” which tinge the nose with a bit of orange character. A bigger body brings with it some typical spiced rum character — more clove than cinnamon, but both are evident — and a broader, vanilla-fueled finish. There’s unfortunately a quite bitter aftertaste, though, which spiced rum fanatics will not likely thrill to. 70 proof. B-

each $14 / flipfloprum.com

flipflop rums

Review: Captain Morgan Tattoo Rum

For a good time, do a Google Image Search for “Captain Morgan Tattoo.” You’ll find plenty of pictures not of this spiced rum but of unique and ill-considered body art on all kinds of anatomical bits.

I’ve actually had a mini of Tattoo for years. It’s that mysterious. What’s it all about? Tattoo is a spiced, “extra dark” rum with additional flavoring agents added. It is said to have been developed as a Jagermeister competitor, and pouring a shot reveals how that works.

It’s dark to the point of near opacity, with a heady nose of citrus fruit, raspberries, and a touch of classic vanilla rum character. Promising, perhaps, but a sip offers a cacophony of flavors, from the rough rum body to the heavy allspice and clove finish. The middle is pure molasses, those citrus notes being largely drowned out by all the other stuff going on here. What’s missing? Any sort of balance. Tattoo is a mess of a spirit, almost liqueur like and just too overblown  with additives to be a serious rum.

But as an ice-cold shooter to prime college kids for a night out? Well, maybe I can see where the Captain is coming from.

70 proof.

B- / $18 / captainmorgan.com

Tasting Report: Ministry of Rum Festival 2011

Last year’s Ministry of Rum event was a tasty yet tiny look at the growing world of rum, and most of the same faces — with a few new ones — were back again in 2011. I focused on unfamiliar brands at this walk-around event… but made it a point to retry a few rums that I considered favorites — and which I didn’t like so much last time out. While most of my notes of the re-reviewed rums were consistent with 2010’s grades, a couple of marks were wildly different. Did recipes change… or was I not on my game last time out? Tasting events are always tricky, with opinions formed on the fly based on very limited (and spit-out) samples… so, as always, take all of these notes with a grain of salt. Or, as it were, sugar.

Ministry of Rum Festival – San Francisco Bay Area – 2011

Bacardi Solera 1893 Rum / B+ / much improved notes vs. last year, when I called this rum “rubbery”; still, not a lot to it; Mexico-produced

Diplomatico Blanco Rum / A- / a filtered Peurto Rican claro style; incredible smoothness and sweetness together; Venezuela

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum / A / remains a classic; made a fabulous Hotel Nacional Cocktail with Small Hand Pineapple Gomme

Smith & Cross Rum / B- / same rating as last year; huge body and tough as nails

The Scarlet Ibis Rum / B- / hard and rough; same notes as 2010

Brugal 1888 Gran Reserva / A- / just reviewed, tried another sip just for kicks

Zacapa Centenario 23 / A / remains a favorite, citrus and floral notes offering a lighter style rum despite its age; Guatemala

Zacapa XO Rum / A / incredible depth, another classic not to be missed; upgraded since last year’s A-

Crusoe Silver Rum / B+ / coconut finish; both this and the spiced rum are organic

Crusoe Spiced Rum / B+ / huge clove and allspice character

Flor de Caña 4 Year Old Gold / B / smoky and woody, typical of Flor de Cana

Flor de Caña Grand Reserve 7 Year Old / B+ / better balance, but still lots of wood

Flor de Caña Centenario 12 / B+ / improving but wood still holds tight

Flor de Caña Centenario 18 / A- / easily the top Flor, with the sweetness finally balancing out the wood notes

Coeur de Rhum La Favorite Rhum Agricole Blanc / C-

Coeur de Rhum La Favorite Rhum Agricole Ambrè / C / 18 months aged; still really rough (Martinique)

Coeur de Rhum La Favorite Rhum Agricole Vieux / C+ / significantly downgraded from last year; tougher than I’d remembered by a mile; 3 years old

Montanya Platino Rum / A / one of the most exceptional white rums (aged, then filtered) I’ve had lately — and it’s made in Colorado; a full review of Montanya’s rums is in the works

Montanya Oro Rum / A- / aged in Stranahan’s whiskey barrels, left ruddy orange; lots of nut, coffee, and almond character

Lemon Hart 151 Demerara Rum / A- / amazingly clean for 151; very dark, with coffee and cocoa notes

Novo Fogo Gold Cachaça / B+ / rare, an aged cachaca — this one smooths out that spirit’s typical fuel notes

Santa Teresa Claro / B+ / Aged 2 years, then filtered; big citrus notes; Venezuela

Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur / B+ / citrus + rum liqueur

Santa Teresa Gran Reserva / A- / aged two to five years; bracing sweetness, one of the sweetest of the day

Santa Teresa 1796 Antiguo de Solera / A- / I called this “perfect” last year; in 2011 I’m finding a bit whiskey-like, tons of wood drowning out the sugars

Review: Bacardi Oakheart Spiced Rum

It’s a little hard to believe, but the top-selling rum company on earth — in fact, one of the top-selling spirits brands in the world — did not, until now, have a spiced rum under its umbrella. That is finally changing, as Bacardi this month has launched Oakheart, its own “smooth spiced rum.”

The emphasis is on smooth, to be sure: This rum (distilled in Puerto Rico, aged in American white oak) is on the mild side as spiced rums go, a muted spirit heavy on caramel and vanilla and pretty easy on the spice. Very light touch of cinnamon, but it’s almost passable as a moderately (and unspiced) aged rum. The finish is quite sweet and short, and while this is obviously a spirit designed for mixing with Coke (and to be a “well” spiced rum, based on its price), it’s so easygoing that it’s sippable straight. Aside from its sheer innocuousness, I can’t find else much to complain about here.

70 proof.

B+ / $13 / bacardi.com

 

Review: Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum

Cruzan is the latest rum maker to jump into the spiced rum game. Its “9” is rare in that it actually indicates what spices — nine of them, natch — are used to flavor the rum. They are: allspice, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, clove, mace, and juniper berry.

This, by the way, is not a gin.

I had a tiny sample of 9 well before it was released and found it a bit off-putting. Whether the recipe has been tweaked or my final bottle (#233 of the first 500 made) is proving more worthwhile in a more controlled review setting I don’t know — though the latter is more likely. Cruzan 9 proves itself to be quite a capable spiced rum, a nice mix of sweet and relatively mild spices.

Vanilla is the big note here, with cinnamon and nutmeg distant secondary characteristics. Any sense of heat from pepper and the like is absent in 9, it’s one of the smoothest and most easygoing spiced rums I’ve ever had, and it could pass for a racier aged rum if one didn’t know better. I find this restraint rather a delight. 9 is one of the few spiced rums I can fathom drinking on its own, and it’s a natural companion with Coke and lime.

Give it a whirl.

80 proof.

A- / $14 (or less) / cruzanrum.com