If you’re going to make tiki drinks, you are of course going to need rum. That is a given, as much as additional factors like citrus, bitters and ice are likewise a given, but despite the importance of rum as a key ingredient, it’s not always given the utmost respect by home mixologists. There are those who believe you can just throw any old rum into a punch, or a daiquiri, a mai tai or a painkiller, and the results will be more or less indistinguishable.
It should go without saying that these people are of course incorrect. Choices of superior rums are the single biggest thing you can do to boost your tropical cocktail game, and it’s very often worth shelling out that additional $5, $10 or $20 to take your rum bottles to the next level. It’s something we learned when we blind-tasted 10 cheap, bottom-shelf white rums labeled at $15 or less—those last few bucks absolutely make a difference.
That is clearly the thought behind the Tiki Lovers line of rums from Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck, well known to mixologists as the creators of The Bitter Truth line of cocktail bitters and liqueurs. Each of the three entries—white rum, dark rum, pineapple rum—is a blend of distillates from around the Caribbean and South America (via Guyana), and all are geared for classic tiki cocktails. As you would expect, they include quite a few recipes on the official website.
Right off the bat, the company does a few things I appreciate. For one, their website and product descriptions are up front about much of their sourcing, at least implying the source of most of their spirits. Secondly, they freely admit whether each product contains artificial coloring or added sweeteners. And finally, they’ve made the novel approach of pricing all three of the rums equally (in the $35 range), implying that all are worthy of the same respect.
Let’s get to tasting the whole lineup, though, and see which entries stand out.
The core white rum of the Tiki Lovers lineup is a blend of unaged, high-ester Jamaican rum from Monymusk and Worthy Park, combined with aged Trinidadian rum (probably from Angostura) and unaged Trinidadian column still rum. The aged rums in the blend have been filtered to strip them of color, but this one retains explosive flavors nonetheless. It’s bottled at a substantial 50% ABV (100 proof).
After tasting this lineup, it seems clear to me that the Tiki Lovers white rum is most certainly the unheralded star of the show. The “white” rum in any lineup is always going to be the most likely to be overlooked, but here it’s the company’s ace in the hole. It’s explosive on both the nose and the palate, with big notes of fresh grass and the earthy Jamaican funk known as hogo. It’s fairly sweet on the palate, while avoiding syrupy-ness, and awash in big notes of pineapple juice, dried mushrooms and dessert banana.
This is certainly far more wild and earthy than most people would likely expect from a friendly label with a name like Tiki Lovers, and certainly speaks to the owners’ taste in funkier rums—it’s almost like a white rhum agricole, albeit with more sweetness. Indeed, this might present as a bit too sweet for some palates, but it still drinks fairly easily. I have no doubts that this one will make for an intensely flavorful daiquiri in particular.
All I can say is that if your knowledge of “white” rum starts and stops with Bacardi, something like this is likely to vastly expand your consciousness.
One gets the sense that this product lineup was particularly designed with the average home consumer in mind rather than the rum geeks, which leads to the use of the generic “dark rum” name rather than simply a blend of various aged rums in this expression. In specific, this rum is a blend of unaged Jamaican pot-still rum from Hampden Estate and fairly young Bajan (Barbados) rums aged 2-3 years, from Foursquare Distillery. It’s topped off with more still, though—unaged column still rums from Trinidad and Guyana, along with 3- and 5-year-old rums from Trinidad. There’s a lot going on here. It’s bottled at a commanding 57% ABV (114 proof), in the general zone typically marketed as “navy strength” in Jamaican rums like Smith & Cross.
As Tiki Lovers freely admits, the inclusion of so much unaged rum in this particular bottle means it also contains caramel coloring to give it a darker sheen. This is also where my feelings become complicated, as I’ve written in the past how the lack of definition of the dark rum label tends to invite too much deception. After tasting this bottle, I find myself wishing it could simply have been a blend of aged rums, both for a consumer clarity standpoint, and for the flavor of the spirit as well.
Despite the substantial proof, the first thing I notice putting my nose to this glass is that it’s quite surprisingly mild, both in character and ethanol presence. I sure as hell would never have thought this was anywhere near 114 proof. I detect some notes of toasted bread and light molasses, with faint hint of oak, a little booze and a bit of the Jamaican funk, but it’s mild in comparison with the Tiki Lovers White Rum.
On the palate, likewise this rum delivers some mild molasses sweetness, but is likely less overtly sweet than the white rum. The spice notes are pleasant, with notes of stem ginger, light fennel and anise, and cola. I get a sort of black tea maltiness, and some of the same light hogo earthiness, but it’s less pronounced than in the more vivacious white rum. All in all, this dark rum profile feels like it’s lacking some of the refinement I’d like to see in a more aged product. It’s serviceable, but feels slightly “raw” in character. Personally, I’d choose the White every time.
Pineapple rum is a staple of the cocktail/tiki bar scene, being an invaluable way to infuse a little fruity pizzazz into a variety of drinks, but it often feels less like a segment that is well represented in home mixology. There just aren’t as many pineapple rum brands on the shelves, and they’re a bit harder for consumers to properly use, given that they’re often not the sole liquor in a cocktail.
Like the other entries in this lineup, Tiki Lovers Pineapple Rum is a big, complicated blend, featuring both aged and unaged Jamaican pot still rums, aged Bajan rum, and rums from Trinidad and Guyana. It’s bottled at a slightly lower, 45% ABV (90 proof) and infused with pineapple juice extract, giving it no shortage of fruit punchiness.
And yeah, this stuff is really fruity, smelling exactly like a pineapple upside down cake in literally every respect—which is to say, it evokes not only the fruit syrup but cakey dough and lots of vanilla extract. It’s syrupy and very sweet on the palate, but has plenty of bright pineapple. Honestly, it’s overwhelming to taste neat—the pineapple is strong enough to maybe replace pineapple juice entirely in some drinks—but neat drinking really isn’t how you’re meant to sample this. One should think of this rum as a modifier, to be used as you would dashes of juice to add a little additional complexity to a cocktail. That of course makes it situational, but I think a little bit of this would play very nicely in the background of a hurricane or another fruit-forward cocktail.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.