Why spiced rum?
1) Because rum snobs and cocktail geeks hate the stuff. And as we've already established, I have a perverse compulsion to embrace liquor that everybody else writes off. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the people who publicly sneer at spiced rum are closet consumers. I mean, someone's buying all that Captain Morgan.
2) Because some of it is perfectly decent, and I'm loathe to dismiss an entire category of spirits without at least trying a few of 'em.
3) Because I've gone to great lengths to avoid doing product reviews and I love nothing more than contradicting myself. And if I'm going to completely go back on my word, I'm going to try to be original about it, since as far as I know , no one has done a roundup of spiced rum. (But I didn't really check...it's just a hunch. I honestly didn't have time to research this, since I was busy drinking a truckload of rum).
A note on this last point: The following should in no way be considered "reviews" in the conventional sense. For example, I will not be discussing things like price of a product, detailing how it was made, or recommending whether you should buy it or not. I will also be largely avoiding tasting notes. If you want someone to tell you about stuff like "woody undertones" and "citrusy top notes" I'm not your guy. Even though I clumsily attempt to do it from time to time, I don't consider it my strong suit.
Therefore, I will be adopting the term that bartender extraordinaire Fred Sarkis used to describe my recent discussion of his fine joint Embury: "Un-review"
So what will I be discussing?
In the interest of thumbing my nose at the traditional review process, I have come up with a several categories which are geared toward spiced rum. They are:
- Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?
Is there a pirate, boat, map or scroll on the label?
- Overall Packaging Coolness
How sweet-looking is the bottle?
Okay, obviously not unique to spiced rum, but you still need to know how much armor your liver will need.
How well does the product embody "spiced rum" vs. just "rum"?
- Coke Compatibility
Does the product work well in a Rum & Coke?
- Flamboyant Badass Quotient
Is the product something that can be envisioned being drunk by a Flamboyant Badass (i.e. a pirate)
- Another Round Likelihood
Do I want to drink more of this?
- Overall Assessment
Pretty self-explanatory, I think.
A few more notes, disclaimers, and pre-emptive ass-covering maneuvers:
1) My rigorous, scientifically sound tasting process consisted of me: A) sipping a shot or so of the rum neat in a rocks glass. B) making a Rum & Coke with it*- rocks glass, ice, no lime. C) taking notes. I also only tasted one rum per day.
2) The list of rums I will be discussing is by no means exhaustive. As nice as it would be to get my hands on every single spiced rum that's out there, we must remember that I live in Pennsylvania, so I'm lucky if I can find anything other than vodka, Jack Daniels and peppermint schnapps.
3) What I do have on hand is a combination of products that I bought myself, was provided by a brand directly, or given to me by fellow booze nerds. My opinions on a given product are not influenced in any way by the circumstances under which it was obtained. (In other words, I'm not saying I like something just because it was free).
On with the show...
- Spiced Jack #94 Spiced Rum -
Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (scroll)
Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Has a neat label with a fake scroll/parchment motif emblazoned with a winged skull wearing a military hat and aviator's glasses. It's what I imagine Hunter S. Thompson would look like if he was undead and in the Air Force. The bottle is oddly shaped and falls somewhere between a an ancient urn and your grandmothers perfume spritzer.
Spice-itude: Low. Mostly tastes of vanilla, with a noticeable alcohol burn and disturbing sweetness. Strange artificial taste on the finish.
Coke Compatibility: Low. It almost disappears entirely into the Coke, save for the alcohol...it's more like drinking a Vodka & Coke.
Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium. The scary label is offset by the foo-foo bottle shape.
Another Round Likelihood: Low
Overall Assessment: Not terribly rum-like. Pass.
- Original Trader Vic's Private Selection Spiced Rum -
Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: No
Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Nicely-designed retro label, with the Trader Vic "mask and crossed weapons" emblem shown prominently. Looks like something you'd find while cleaning out the liquor cabinet at your great-uncle's vacation home. Plus, if you buy the 1.75 liter size, the handle makes it convenient to tie to your belt, leaving your hands free for swordfighting or rope-swinging.
Spice-itude: Medium/High. Pretty punchy assortment of flavors. Vanilla most noticeable, but doesn't dominate.
Coke Compatibility: High. Makes an excellent Rum & Coke. The spice cuts through the sweetness of the Coke quite well.
Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium. It gets points for size (If you buy the 1.75 liter), and the Trader Vic connection, since Vic was definitely one of the original Flamboyant Badasses.
Another Round Likelihood: High
Overall Assessment: Good stuff.
- The Kraken Black Spiced Rum -
Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (boat)
Overall Packaging Coolness: High. 750 ml bottle with small jug-style ring handles on the neck. Label has an old-school illustration of a giant, bug-eyed octopus crushing a ship- pretty hardcore. It's evocative of something you'd see on the shelf of a 19th-century waterfront tavern...in a movie. The only thing this needs is a wax seal or palm leaf wrapping to put it over the top.
Spice-itude: Medium. Enough sweet- & spiciness to enjoy sipping on its own, but it's got a nice burn that keeps it from going into candyland.
Coke Compatibility: Medium/High. Meshes almost too well. The overall flavors are extremely complementary, and if it were a lower proof, it would probably not punch through.
Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium/High. "Kraken Black Spiced Rum" sounds Flamboyantly Badass to be sure, and the fact that this stuff is nearly opaque gives it some intimidation factor.
Another Round Likelihood: High
Overall Assessment: Nice. Tastes like rum, and may be the only one so far that works better on its own than mixed.
- Castillo Spiced Rum -
Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (map)
Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. Safe, uninspired type treatment over old-timey map creates a look that verges on "discount brand."
Spice-itude: Medium. lots of strong rum character with noticeable caramel. Could easily be sipped on its own...the most like a "real" rum out of this bunch.
Coke Compatibility: High. Not overly sweet. Manages to cut through while simultaneously melding extremely well with the Coke.
Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. But since it comes in a 1 liter bottle, a Flamboyant Badass would likely appreciate the extra 250 ml over the standard bottle.
Another Round Likelihood: High
Overall Assessment: Very much like a "regular" rum without sacrificing the spicy aspect. Thumbs-up.
- Lady Bligh Spiced Rum -
Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (pirate, boat, map)
Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. The only bottle I found was the plastic, roughly flask-shaped style that is clearly intended for concealing in your clothing. The label depicts what is essentially a slight variation of the Captain Morgan label, except with a female character that looks like Julianna Margulies dressed as a theme park pirate.
Spice-itude: Low. Has a cheap, hot taste overall, and a flavor I can describe only as "butterscotch cough syrup."
Coke Compatibility: Low. Despite having a decent amount of alcohol heat, it vanishes almost entirely...except for that synthetic butterscotch flavor that lingers on the finish.
Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. This is pretty much what the kids from Superbad would have grabbed in a desperate panic.
Another Round Likelihood: Low.
Overall Assessment: Pour it on your ice cream for an alcoholic dessert treat!
More to come...
UPDATE: Doug Winship from The Pegu Blog gave me a well-deserved 20 lashes with a wet noodle for forgetting to mention "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" when I originally posted this. Unfortunately, ITLaP has come and gone, but you should still scoot on over to his site and revel in a series of pirate-themed posts that will have you hankering for rum in epic quantities.
Seriously, the guy knows his pirate lore. He has "ship" in his name for goodness' sakes.
* I selected the Rum & Coke as the sample drink because 96.3% of all spiced rum is consumed in Rum & Cokes. However, this may or may not be true because I completely made up that statistic.