Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Un-Review: Spiced Rum Summit (Pt.1)


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'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?
- Proof
Okay, obviously not unique to spiced rum, but you still need to know how much armor your liver will need.
- Spice-itude
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.

Proof: 94

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'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.

Proof: 70

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 a movie. The only thing this needs is a wax seal or palm leaf wrapping to put it over the top.

Proof: 94

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."

Proof: 70

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.

Proof: 72.5

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.


SeanMike said...

Liquors that no one else embraces...then I must get you to try Jacquin's Orange Flavored Gin! It's the _Hollow Point_ of gins!


Blair, aka Trader Tiki said...

Wow Craig, you've really unearthed some interesting ones.

The only ones I've had or heard of are the Cpt. Morgan Line, Sailor Jerry, Kilo Kai, and the (legendary) Four Square.

Good round up!

Matt Robold (RumDood) said...

Great write-up Craig! This post reminds me that I have been remiss in some of my obligations to you regarding the arrangement of certain samples.

Fantastic round-up and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next batch. I haven't even heard of some of these rums.

Oh, and Blair is a liar because he's also heard of Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum.

tedw4rd said...

Great review!

That whole living in Pennsylvania thing is annoying, isn't it? The only spiced rums I've been able to find here are Captain Morgan's and Sailor Jerry's. The latter is (ashamedly) one of my favorite things to drink on the rocks.

Tiare said...

Great post Doc and i soooo love your drawing! you have perfectly captured the mad scientist look in the face!

I must admit i haven´t tried so many spiced rums and that`s mainly bec we have but ONE here and that´s Captn Morgan..seriously you need to bribe me good to buy it.

But i brought home with me from Nola the ONO Cajun..and i like it.


Crash said...

Please ask the folks at DDL to get you a bottle of Cuba Libré Spiced Rum to review.

Patricia Thomas said...

Spiced or unspiced, rum is always so enjoyable. Just like the best cigars . Cuba is the haven for fine cigars. THis is undoubtedly a fact.

Dr. Bamboo said...

SM: I need that.

Blair: Thanks! And I need to add Four Square to the list.

Matt: No worries! The rum will arrive when the rum gods decide it is time.

Ted: Yeah, PA isn't exactly a booze mecca. But we soldier on.:-)

T: Thanks! The ONO Cajun Spiced is slated for un-review very soon.

Crash: Thanks for the tip! I've never heard of it, but I'll see if I can scrounge some up.

Patricia: Undoubtedly.

Kaiser Penguin said...


Have I told you lately how much I love your blog? Your pith, wit, and cutlass are always hewn to perfection.

The Kraken bottle is pretty motherfucking badass, isn't it? Good rum too.

Unknown said...

I've been WAITING for this post. You were here scouting for rums a MONTH ago, slacker!

I'm surprised at the apparent quality of the's packaging has always looked so cheap to me. In fact, the Castillo white was the "rail" rum at the first bar I ever worked at, mumblety years ago. ;)

UnclePhool said...

Craig, I love the posts. I would love to have you come down to New Mexico and teach about tequila some time. My LBS (local bottle shop, none of them state store stuff here) has more than 100 different agave distillates.

Mad William Flint said...

I came across Kraken via In With Baccus.

It's a delightful thing, and cheap! At $20 a bottle I'm a happy monkey.

I generally drink it neat or with one cube.

It's a truly spectacular cigar pairing.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell said...

I quoted a bit of your Kraken thoughts on my review today. Just thought I'd let you know!

Slim Jim said...

found this Black Spiced Rum online at the cheapest price ever @ and couldn't resist adding this to my collection. received it the following day and was blown away by the quality of the bottle and the nectar inside..........please please buy if you like spiced rums