Overproof spirits have been gaining in popularity over the past few years. Barrel-proof bourbons, Navy-strength gins, even 110-proof tequila are entering the market with regularity. But high octane rums have long been a staple on the liquor store shelves — with Bacardi 151 being the most notorious example — and are regularly drunk by the Caribbean locals.
Now Barbados-based Cockspur has entered the American market with their own version: Cockspur 130 Overproof Rum. How does it match up?
This rum is crystal clear, bottled straight off the still with no aging. Not surprisingly, it smells like ethanol — 130 proof is 65% alcohol — but not overpoweringly so. You can still smell a lot of sweetness, along with tropical fruits like bananas.
When you sip it, you notice right away that it’s strong, but you also notice that it’s full of flavor. Sweet with just a little spice, and lots of marshmallow and banana. Unlike some overproof spirits, Cockspur 130 doesn’t blow you away with its potency.
Whether or not you want to drink this straight depends on how sensitive you are to the fire of alcohol on your tongue. But you certainly can drink it that way if you want, and enjoy the taste a lot. It also has a great deal of potential in cocktails that I look forward to exploring further.
The most obvious competitor to Cockspur 130 Overproof Rum is Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum. They’re comparable in most ways, and while I haven’t tasted them head-to-head, I’m inclined to give the nod to Cockspur. A very nice, very strong rum.
Most Americans don’t generally think of Venezuela when they think of rum-producing countries. We tend to be focused on the Caribbean. And naturally so, as most of the rums enjoyed in the U.S. come from there.
But Venezuela has a long tradition of making fine rum, and Diplomático Reserva is a good example of that. The mid-range entry in the line of rums produced by Destilería Unidas – they have the Añejo and the Reserva Exclusiva on either side of it – Diplomático Reserva is distilled from molasses and aged for up to eight years in used Scotch and bourbon barrels.
It has sweet, fruity touches on the nose, somewhat reminiscent of brandy, which is common in rums produces in former Spanish colonies. The brown sugar element, though, lets you know that you’re smelling rum. It’s a very promising aroma.
The flavor is pleasant, although initially on the thin side. I expected a little more body from an eight-year-old rum, but this one skews light rather than dark. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that this rum works better when mixed in a cocktail, rather than enjoyed neat.
Diplomático Reserva rum has a slight oaky taste from the wood, which also gives it vanilla notes. I don’t taste much of the fruitiness that I detected in the smell, but it does have a mild sweetness that balances out the oak. There are also some hints of chocolate.
Overall, the Diplomático Reserva has a nice balance to it. It finds a solid middle ground between sweet and dry, light and dark, with none of the individual flavors dominating. That allows it to mix very well in a cocktail – try a Daiquiri or Mai Tai – by adding flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients.
If you’re throwing (or attending) a Halloween party this year, the Zombie is the perfect drink to serve. It has an appropriately creepy name, it’s delicious, it’s out of the ordinary and thus memorable, and it’s a fun drink for people to enjoy.
The difficult part to serving Zombies in a party setting is that they require several ingredients and take some time to make. But you can streamline the process and make it a lot easier on yourself by doing some pre-mixing.
I tended bar at my sister-in-law’s wedding rehearsal dinner last week, and I tried this method out. It worked perfectly, and the Zombies were a big hit.
The key is that you pre-mix most of the ingredients beforehand. I did mine a few days before, but you could do it right before the party instead. Whatever works best for your timeline.
Recipe from Professor Cocktail: professorcocktail.com
If you’d like to make your Zombies sweeter, you can add some simple syrup to the Pre-Mix. I’d start with an ounce and go from there.
For the Don’s Mix, I used B.G. Reynolds’ syrup. But you can also make your own — ahead of time, of course — by combining two parts white grapefruit juice with one part cinnamon syrup.
I know it’s a hassle, but you’ll want to squeeze limes for fresh juice. Lime juice has a very short shelf life — it starts to oxidize and change flavor almost immediately. So do it as close to when you’ll be serving as possible.
If you want to do this as a punch version, you could mix all the ingredients together right before the party and serve it in a big bowl or pitcher. If you’re going to go that route, however, you’ll need to do it shortly before you serve, and even then the flavor won’t be as good. But sometimes sacrifices have to be made.
Whatever route you choose, don’t go for the tired old shots and Screwdrivers for your Halloween party. With just a little extra effort, your drink service can be a lot more fun — and your guests can really have a haunting good time.
But you might be wondering: What's in a Zombie, anyway? Good question! Most of us have heard of the drink, but a lot of people have never tried one. And even fewer have had a Zombie made in the classic style.
Here is the recipe for the original Don the Beachcomber Zombie, as printed in Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde. (This gives you an idea of what you'll see if you buy it.)
Don the Beachcomber's Zombie Punch (1934)
Jeff Berry Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari Club Tiki Press/SLG Publishing, 2007
The original version, the one that started it all, as served at Don the Beachcomber's famed Hollywood restaurant. This was the drink that made Don's reputation and secured his place in cocktail history.
3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice 1/2 oz. Don's Mix* 1/2 oz. Falernum 1 1/2 oz. Gold Puerto Rican Rum 1 1/2 oz. Aged Jamaican Rum 1 oz. 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara Rum Dash Angostura Bitters 6 drops (1/8 tsp.) Pernod or Herbsaint 1 tsp. Grenadine 6 oz (3/4 cup) Crushed Ice
Put everything in a blender. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chimney glass. Add ice cubes to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.
*Don's Mix was one of the Beachcomber's secret ingredients. It's made by combining 2 parts grapefruit juice with 1 part cinnamon syrup. It is also available for purchase from B.G. Reynolds' syrups.
This recipe, still perhaps the best one in existence, contains several of Don the Beachcomber's signature touches, including the blend of multiple rums, the use of exotic spices, and the one-two punch of Angostura bitters and pastis. It's no wonder this is one of the most imitated drinks in the world.
Obviously Don's original version of the drink contains some obscure ingredients, like Don's Mix, falernum and Lemon Hart Rum. (The book explains what all of those things are, and more.)
But Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde also contains a lot of recipes that are easier for the home bartender, including a simplified Zombie recipe that includes only ingredients you can find no matter where you live.
Even if you're not looking to master mixology at home, the book contains plenty of interesting history and fun facts that I think you'll enjoy learning.
A demonstration from Val, a bartender at the recently closed PKNY Tiki bar in New York City. He has a somewhat unusual method regarding the shaking and the ice, although what he's doing makes sense. I tend to prefer a little less lime juice in mine — 3/4 ounce — but I'm not as big a fan of tartness as some people.*
Finding spirits beyond the usual stuff can be hard. Sure, it's easy to pick up a bottle of Popov Vodka at the corner liquor store. But what if you want some El Dorado Rum or a bottle of Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon? In that case, you probably need to order it online — and Caskers is a great place to try.
Caskers has a small, but carefully curated selection, which means you can find some really good quality stuff there. The prices are okay — I'd say about in the middle of what you can expect to pay. They're not the cheapest, but you'll pay more most other places.
One of the things I like best about them is that they don't soak you on the shipping like some stores do. They periodically run free shipping specials — like the one they've got going right now. Between now and Labor Day, all orders of $150 or more qualify for free shipping. Also, they ship to most states, which is good for those who live in places with lousy stores. Like Virginia.
Please note: I'm not being compensated to say this stuff. This is not an ad. However, if you go through the link and buy something, I earn some referral credit. But I wouldn't send you to them if I didn't think it was a good service. So be a mensch and use my link, please.
Everything under the sun has its own day. And today is rum's chance! (Apparently August is also National Rum Month, but that seems to be pushing it a little.)
Rum is probably my favorite spirit. It encompasses so many different possibilities. Sweet, spicy, dry, fiery, toasted, smoky, mixed in a cocktail, or enjoyed on its own. If there's something spirituous you have in mind, rum can probably make it happen.
My favorite rum to drink neat is El Dorado 12 Year Old. I have many more expensive rums in my collection, but this remains a favorite. It's affordable, versatile, and delicious. Costing under $30 a bottle, it makes a great cocktail, but is also a pleasure to sip like a fine whiskey or brandy.
El Dorado is a demerara rum from Guyana, so it has a rich flavor of brown sugar, along with fruit and spice. It's not overly sweet, though, and some find it slightly smoky (although it's very subtle). It's easily one of the best rums around.
My favorite mixing rum is probably still Appleton Estate V/X. I adore Jamaican rums in general, and the V/X works well in so many different drinks. Plus it costs less than $20 a bottle.
It's hard to beat the classics, but if you're looking to try something new, here are a few recipes that you might want to explore further.
For a twist on a classic, try substituting an aged rum for bourbon in a Manhattan.
2 oz. Ron Zacapa 23 Rum 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Another classic with a slight difference.
Deck Hand Daiquiri Adapted from a recipe by Tony Abou-Ganim
2 oz. Shellback Silver rum 3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice 1 oz. Simple Syrup Fresh, seasonal fruits and berries
In a mixing glass, muddle fresh fruits with simple syrup. Add lime juice and rum, then shake with ice. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lime and fruit of your choice.
Looking for something savory? Try this.
Garden Mojito Adapted from a recipe by King & Grove
1 1/2 oz. Brugal Extra Dry Rum 1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup 4 Cucumber Slices 6 Basil Leaves Club Soda
In a mixing glass, muddle cucumber and basil with simple syrup. Add remaining ingredients (except soda) and shake with ice. Strain over crushed ice, then top with club soda. Garnish with a cucumber slice.
Do you like sweet and easy? Here you go.
Port Royal Punch
1 750 ml bottle Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum 1 32 oz. bottle Pineapple Juice 3 cups Mango Juice 4 1/2 oz. Grenadine 3 Oranges (sliced thin and quartered) 1 cup Soda Water
In a punch bowl or large serving vessel, add the ingredients and stir. Serve over ice in a punch glass.
Spiced rum is a category of spirits that often gets no respect. And for good reason, too: it's usually pretty gross. But there are times when spiced rum can be useful. Mixing up a punch or grog, for example, or giving a little extra zing to a Rum and Coke. What should you do in those cases?
We sampled six popular spiced rums to find which ones you can safely use, and which you should avoid. Here are the results.
Coruba Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $16 (750ml)
Jamaican rums are probably my favorite overall, so I was looking forward to this one. Sadly, it didn't match up to the quality and taste of Coruba's dark rum. It has the typical spiced rum flavor profile of vanilla, cinnamon and caramel. But that's about it. This isn't a bad rum, but it's slightly harsh and much lighter than regular Coruba. Nothing much to recommend it.
Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Score: (Highly Recommended) Price: $17 (750ml)
This is by far the highest octane rum in the bunch, clocking in at a whopping 92 proof. You can smell the ethanol when you lift the glass to your mouth. This stuff doesn't mess around. It's also very strong tasting — this isn't a subtle spirit. But the flavor works very well. Lots of cherry and vanilla, cinnamon and cloves, maybe even a little almonds in there. It has just the right amount of sweetness, giving it a nice balance. My favorite of the bunch.
Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $20 (750ml)
The ubiquitous privateer Captain Morgan makes a foray into the finished rum category with this new offering, which rests in Sherry casks after aging. It starts out well, with a sweet and fruity aroma that's appealing. The taste is also sweet and fruity, and the Sherry flavor is there — but so is a chemically aftertaste. I could have recommended this as a sweeter spiced rum if not for that odd, off-putting note.
Shellback Caribbean Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $16 (750ml)
I had good things to say about Shellbacks Silver Rum when I reviewed it a while back. Unfortunately, their spiced rum doesn't earn the same praise. It has the same overpowering aroma of vanilla extract — which is not a deal breaker; this is spiced rum, after all — and the vanilla continues onto the palate. But that's all there was. Lots of sweet, artificial vanilla, with little other spice.
I'm not usually a fan of Bacardi's offerings — their mainstay rums are just too flavorless to be of any interest — but their spiced rum brings something nice to the table. Oakheart has a rich, fruity smell — lots of plum and vanilla. The taste is pleasantly spiced (cinnamon) and fruity, with some caramel-like sweetness. There's a little bit of oak, but not as much as the name would imply. A solid spiced rum and one of the two best overall.
Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $16 (750ml)
I love Cruzan rums in general, but this was a bomb. It reeks of brine and medicine, and the taste is the same. An overload of spice with salt and pepper, allspice and juniper assaulting the senses. It ends up all running together and tasting pungent. A spiced rum shouldn't be sweet, necessarily, but it should have some sweetness. This was too dry. A disappointment.
The Bottom Line:
Sailor Jerry and Bacardi Oakheart were the best spiced rums of this batch. Both are recommended, but Sailor Jerry is better, and its higher proof means it will stand up in cocktails especially well.
Shellback Caribbean Silver Rum Bajan Rum Grade: (Average) Price: $16 (750ml)
Shellback Caribbean Rum, currently available in silver and spiced varieties, represents another bold move into the spirits world by E.&J. Gallo, the ubiquitous California winemakers. It’s produced in Barbados by the West Indies Rum Distillery, the company that also make the rum that goes into Cockspur and Malibu.
Shellback Silver Rum is reportedly aged for at least one year in once-used American bourbon barrels, which are the most popular barrels for aging rum. It must be heavily filtered after that aging, because it’s completely clear in appearance. There’s a little bit of spice on the nose, but mostly vanilla. Lots and lots of vanilla. You could easily mistake this for vanilla extract. (This could be from the aging, although a year in wood isn’t very long, but more likely it means the distiller gave it a little help.)
The vanilla also hits you on the first sip. It’s not as strong as the aroma, but it’s definitely there. This rum is sweet, with a fruity, molasses-y flavor. There’s just a little spice and acidity that hits you at the end, but mostly it’s sweet vanilla. It also has an appealing creamy texture. This is the standard 40% ABV, but it goes down very easily.
Shellback Silver Rum is acceptable to drink neat, but it’s obviously designed to use in cocktails, and it works well there. It’s good in a Cherry Daiquiri or Cuba Libre. Any rum drink that works well with a hint of vanilla would likely taste good with Shellback.
This isn’t an especially sophisticated rum. But it’s a useful one, and the low price — I’ve seen it on sale for $11 — can’t be beat.