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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moonlighting: Sept '09

I've been falling down on the job. From time to time, I'm apparently supposed to use this space to alert visitors to other places they can go see my stuff. Many of my hooch-soaked colleagues do this, and it's high time I got on the stick too.

Here's a couple other places you can go see some more of my booze-centric words & pictures:


Brains from outer space need quality cocktails too.

Since late '07, I've had the privilege of writing and illustrating the "Last Call" cocktail column for Bachelor Pad Magazine. BPM is a quarterly periodical* that brings you the finest in retro living: Classic movie reviews? Hip lifestyle advice? Interviews with swell people? Zany cartoons? Nifty fiction? Shapely & seductive women by the truckload? Bachelor Pad Magazine has 'em all.

Subscribe here and find out why I drew a brain in a flying saucer filled with liquor (aside from the obvious reasons).


Monkeys make fine bartenders if provided with the proper tools and motivation.

I've also been writing & drawing a monthly column for since about this time last year. It can be found in their monthly newsletter, which contains a multitude of drink recipes, photos, and news from the world of cocktailing. So if you want to keep abreast of compelling issues such as the evolving relationship between primates and mixology, you can subscribe here, and also catch up on previous installments in the archives.

Thanks for stopping by!

* Made with real ink and paper! Not like those flimsy online magazines that disappear if you kick the plug out of the wall.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Save the Date...and Save the Whales!


If you haven't already seen a slew of other boozeblogs alerting us to the fact that tomorrow night (9/3) we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Thursday Drink Night, then here's the highlights:

~ TDN has been going on for a year, and we're celebrating!
~ There'll be a bunch of prizes awarded in a number of categories!
~ Jeff Berry and Martin Cate will stop by!
~ It's open to everyone, so don't be a wallflower!
~ Oh, and the theme is "tiki".

Speaking of tiki...

I've had this recipe kicking around for a while now. It came with a tiki mug I bought from the Queequeg Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai., which is an organization of fine, upstanding tiki freaks. I'd been meaning to make it for some time, and I finally rounded up most of the ingredients, so make it I did. Here's the recipe:

Queequeg's Harpoon

1 oz. Lemon Hart Demerara Rum (80 proof)
1 oz. Gosling's Black Seal rum
1 oz. Hurricane rum
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Queequeg's Blood*
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. club soda

Shake all (except club soda) w/ 8 oz. crushed ice. Pour into Queequeg MS Society mug. Add club soda. Garnish with cranberries and pineapple chunks on a bamboo spear. Repeat as necessary.

*Queequeg's Blood (cranberry syrup)

2 parts dried cranberries
1 part water
1 part cranberry juice (NOT from concentrate)
.5 part sugar
.5 part brown sugar
1 pinch whole cloves
1 three-inch cinnamon stick

Boil everything together at low heat, stirring constantly for 40 minutes. Let the mixture cool. Remove cinnamon stick. Blend mixture in blender until consistent. Strain multiple times through cheesecloth to remove particles. Bottle & enjoy!

Now the first problem I ran into was not having Hurricane rum, which is a small-batch, aged, slightly overproof gold rum that isn't exactly a commonplace item. Tiki guru extraordinaire Jeff Berry told me suitable substitutes would be something like a gold Puerto Rican (such as Bacardi 8) or amber Cruzan rum.

But because I like to ask people for advice and then not follow it, I subbed Old New Orleans Crystal rum and thought it worked fine. I also left out the club soda because it didn't really seem necessary.

The second problem I ran into is that even on paper, the "Queequeg's Blood" looks like a pain in the ass to make. I made it, and rest assured, it is. Plus, when I made it (using a "1 cup = 1 part" ratio), it yielded a paltry 3-4 oz. of liquid. So I came up with a recipe that's a lot less labor intensive, yields much more usable end product, and tastes the same in my opinion:

Queequeg's Blood (ver. 2.0)

1.5 cups dried cranberries
1.5 cups unsweetened cranberry juice
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
.5 cup brown sugar
15 whole cloves
2 three-inch cinnamon sticks

In a medium saucepan, bring everything to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.. Lower heat, and simmer lightly for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool, strain and bottle. Yields approx. 2.5 cups liquid.

So when all this tinkering was concluded, I ended up making this:

Queequeg's Harpoon (12" dance remix)

1 oz. Lemon Hart Demerara rum (80 proof)
1 oz. Gosling's Black Seal rum
1 oz. Old New Orleans Crystal rum
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Queequeg's Blood (ver. 2.0)
.5 oz. simple syrup

Shake everything with cracked ice and strain into double old-fashioned glass or tiki mug filled with crushed ice. Garnish with cranberries and pineapple chunks on a bamboo spear.

So instead of punching holes in an innocent sea creature, gather up your giggle water and make a few of these. If that still doesn't satisfy your bloodlust, there's always Deadliest Catch.